Bonds for Bikes

Bicyclists ask committee to invest more in two-wheel transportation

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The bike racks at City Hall were full last Thursday night for the final public meeting of the Citizen's Bond Election Advisory Committee, the cycles' owners in search of big-time cash to fund a series of ambitious on- and off-road bicycle infrastructure projects. This week, however, as the committee finalized its recommendations, cyclists learned that while none of the $2 million in funds recommended for bikeways was cut, they will receive none of the $18 million in extra funds requested Thursday by groups such as the Texas Bike Coalition, the Austin Cycling Association, and Austin Metro Trails and Greenways.

The additional dough was intended to fund projects such as trails and bike facilities along the new SH 130 toll road, extending the slow-to-be-built Lance Armstrong Bikeway beyond the city limits all the way to Manor, installing the long-postponed Town Lake Boardwalk, which would bridge a gap in the waterfront trail east of the American-Statesman to the youth hostel, plus the Southwest Greenbelt trail, designed to run from Barton Springs to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Committee member and bike commuter David Sullivan said cycling advocates simply rolled out the high-dollar requests too late in the game. As community outreach Chair (and former Chronicle City editor) Mike Clark-Madison pointed out at Thursday's meeting, any funding increases at this point would have to be subtracted from another area. "Everyone respects everyone else's turf and everyone realizes that sacrifices have been made," Sullivan said. Cyclists should take comfort in the fact that no bikeway funds were cut, he said – of the six transportation subcategories, bikeways and sidewalks were the only two to escape a trimming. Sullivan said $10 million remains from 2000 bonds for bikeways – $4 million is still earmarked for the (maybe posthumous at this rate) Lance Armstrong Bikeway, and at least $4 million for trails is included in the open spaces category of this bond package's recommendations.

Speaking on behalf of the 1,500-member Austin Cycling Association, Preston Tyree reminded the commissioners of the difference between affordable housing – one of the night's oft-discussed bond items – and affordable living, in which he said there are easy ways to get where one needs to go without depending heavily on a car. The added funds, he said, were needed to unify roadway money designated for bike lane striping, federal transportation funds for bike facilities, and for the vast connectivity and tourism possibilities that the SH 130 trails and Lance Armstrong Bikeway extension hold.

Texas Bike Coalition Executive Director Robin Stallings brought the vision of the latter two projects home, saying towns including Georgetown, Hutto, Pflugerville, and Round Rock are eager and ready to link up to SH 130 bike paths, and pointing to an Envision Central Texas survey where 70% of respondents favored safe bike facilities. He also suggested that the city take a fresh look at its bike and trail plan and prioritize bike project phasing, "to get the most people on bikes and out of cars the fastest," the "most cost-effective way to relieve congestion."

City of Austin Bike Program Coordinator Colly Kreidler said a bike plan review is under way. More than 18 miles of new bike lanes have been recently completed, but more funds are needed to review areas that weren't part of Austin when the bike plan was adopted in 1996, as well as to implement new facilities where possible, Kreidler said.

Chris Symmank, a bike mechanic and bicycle commuting and maintenance teacher at REI, asked for improvements to offer safe transitions across main arterial roads like Highway 183, Loop 360, and I-35, which he called "a real dare to cross." Symmank fondly recalled the bikeways of Davis and Sacramento, Calif., which include striped, bike-only two-lane roads with separate traffic lights, turn lanes, and banked turns. As evidence of the demand for bike facilities, he said hundreds of people have come into his North Austin shop interested in bicycle commuting – which, he added, is a great stress reducer.

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