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Capital Metro committee recommends pedestrian and transit connections agreement

Thursday, September 17, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

At about $130,000 each, pedestrian hybrid beacons have been shown to reduce crashes by 29 percent, car-pedestrian crashes by 69 percent and serious injuries and fatal crashes by 15 percent. The city has 84 of these crossings around the city and a new federal grant program could help install 10 more near local transit stops.

On Wednesday, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Operations, Planning and Safety Committee was unanimous in recommending the board of directors approve an interlocal agreement with the city of Austin to initiate the design and review process for the multi-year program.

The opportunity represents a stroke of good luck for the city. Following the city’s summary of pedestrian beacons in the 2018 Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, the city partnered with Capital Metro to identify high-priority locations where the beacons would improve safe access to transit, explained Ken Cartwright, vice president of capital projects. “And about the same time, there was an opportunity through (the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) to apply for an active transportation grant to support that.”

Using the federal grant dollars, CAMPO would provide 70 percent of the $1.688 million project cost while the city of Austin shares the $520,000 remainder with the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Under the proposed Pedestrian & Transit Connections Safety interlocal agreement, Capital Metro would provide $225,000 in funds over three years.

The 10 new beacons would be scattered around the city with several located outside of the urban core. Eight of the crossings would be installed in the immediate vicinity of existing bus stops serving routes 300, 10, 228, 142, 342, 325, 3, 803 and 337. Another crossing on South Congress Avenue approximately midway between Stassney Lane and Ben White Boulevard would also improve access to stops serving route 1.

When identifying crossing locations, Cartwright said the city and Capital Metro considered the distance to the nearest traffic signal crossing, the roadway speed limit and number of lanes, car-pedestrian crash history, proximity to locations serving those with special needs or high volumes of pedestrians, and whether the location is within an environmental justice area – a neighborhood disproportionately impacted by racial and economic inequality and public health issues.

Speaking in public comment, Zenobia Joseph urged the committee also to consider the stretch of North Lamar Boulevard from Kramer Lane to West Parmer Lane. Joseph said the corridor segment contains a number of dangerous mid-block bus stops – including the MetroRapid 801 stop at Chinatown Station – on a stretch of roadway that has over 36,000 trips a day.

“It’s not a small amount of vehicles: 20,000 vehicles per day was too much for the MetroRail over there at Highland for the white people when they did the 2016 study. So 36,000 should be too much for the minorities north of U.S. 183.”

Because the program involves use of federal funds, the process is expected to take a while. The city has already approved the interlocal agreement for its $295,400 share and the project has received environmental clearance. If approved by Capital Metro, the project will then go into a six-month review and approval phase at the Texas Department of Transportation after the design is finalized in November. If all goes smoothly in the contracting phase, construction would begin in November 2021 and continue through March 2023.

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