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City reaches halfway milestone on bike network buildout

Tuesday, September 28, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

This month marked a big milestone for cycling in Austin: The city’s All Ages and Abilities Bicycle Network reached its halfway completion point, making getting places by bike more comfortable and convenient.

So far, the AAA network includes 215 miles of bike lanes, 100 miles of which have been built since 2018. Though the build-out of the 400-plus-mile network is currently slightly behind schedule due to pandemic delays, the city still expects to finish ahead of schedule by 2025, according to a press release.

Laura Dierenfield with the Austin Transportation Department told the Austin Monitor that the plan’s main goal is to “open up the envelope of interest” to as many people as possible – particularly those who don’t feel comfortable biking on busy streets or in painted bike lanes.

Getting more people cycling will play a big role in achieving the city’s mobility and sustainability goals. By 2035, the city aims to get 50 percent of people biking, walking, scootering, riding transit, carpooling, or working from home versus driving alone in their cars. In 2019, 74 percent of Austinites drove alone to work.

The city specifically hopes to increase bike mode share by a factor of 5. Bikes only constituted 1.4 percent of mode share in 2019, though that percentage may be slightly higher now, given the global biking boom since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The progress so far is in large part due to the passage of transportation bonds in 2020, 2018 and 2016. The AAA network dates back to 2014, when City Council passed the Austin Bicycle Plan.

However, the AAA network plan is not without its critics. Bike Austin President Chris Riley provided a statement from the group’s board saying that the city is prioritizing “easier to build but less useful facilities” on the outskirts of the city instead of building out “the more frequently ridden inner-city network that will enable Austin to reach its bicycle mode-share goals.”

“Among the facilities planned in 2014 are many prominent segments on which there has been no movement at all,” the Bike Austin board wrote, pointing to planned bike lanes on Fifth and Sixth streets between MoPac Expressway and Interstate 35 and on Trinity Street between Lady Bird Lake and the Capitol as examples. “With just four years to go before the AAA network’s target date of 100 percent completion, there is no timetable for completing these segments, or many others.”

Bike Austin also deemed the facilities built so far in Austin “nowhere near the standard of infrastructure being built in leading cities” such as Vancouver, San Francisco, Paris or Seville.

The AAA network includes a range of bike infrastructure that the city deems comfortable for most users: bike lanes protected by concrete barriers, plastic flex posts, planters or concrete buttons; neighborhood bikeways, which use speed humps and other devices to help slow cars on neighborhood streets; urban trails, which are separated from streets altogether; and shared-use paths. Painted bike lanes, Dierenfield said, “are typically not considered an all-ages-and-abilities facility.”

Dierenfield said the city is rolling out the AAA network “in the most cost effective and efficient way possible,” and that more extensive and robust facilities are planned after 2025 in an “ongoing, iterative process.”

Community members may comment on the latest long-range bike planning through ATX Walk Bike Roll, the city’s new active mobility plan scheduled for adoption in 2023. Though the first round of community engagement for ATX Walk Bike Roll ended on Sept. 26, there will be at least two more public engagement periods, with the next one planned for spring. 

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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