City Gets Street-Smart About Bikes
Local task force formed at behest of Mayor's Fitness Council and Urban Transportation Commission gets rolling
Facilitating bicycling as a viable transportation option
Examining causes of recent bicyclist fatalities and injuries in Austin
Addressing Austin's severe congestion
Identifying barriers to bicycle use
Encouraging bicycling for its health benefits
Laying the groundwork for a citywide bicycle-safety education initiative
Linking parks and open spaces with neighborhoods
Annick Beaudet, project manager for the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Program, will be coordinating the task force. Many feel Beaudet, a devout transportation bicyclist, has breathed new life into the bike program. She's heading up the bike plan revision and expressed excitement about "implementing the bike plan with new eyes," giving it a "focused look by a group of professionals that considers policy changes, code amendments, and different ways of thinking about street cross-sections to better address bike facility challenges." Some possible policy adjustments, she said, could include a city-mandated minimum safe-passing distance for motorists overtaking cyclists (an idea that's also a proposed state law) and a revisitation of whether parking should be allowed in marked bike lanes. Beaudet also emphasized the necessity of Street Smarts conceiving a public-awareness campaign for the city. "There has never been a city-led program to promote bikes for transportation or a share-the-road safety-awareness campaign."
Mr. Safety himself, Preston Tyree, a national transportation consultant and certified cycling instructor, is a Street Smarts participant. He offered this week to provide to all task-force members a free Road One bicycle traffic safety course, which he instructs in conjunction with the Austin Cycling Association. Tyree hopes Street Smarts will raise awareness that "there are cyclists out there, and there's going to be more of them." He's also interested in follow-through on the city's bike plan and envisions a city-sponsored online bike-route-mapping system, providing searchable maps of Austin's most bike-friendly streets. "More people don't bicycle places because they don't know how to get there, and they're afraid to ride in busy roads."
The League of Bicycling Voters, an ad hoc faction of Austin's most committed and vocal transportation bicyclists, collided with former Mayor Bruce Todd in his efforts last year to see City Council enact a mandatory all-ages bike-helmet law. The LOBV backed the creation of this task force as a safety-improving alternative to a helmet law. "The LOBV is going to make sure that safety is at the forefront of everything this task force does," said LOBV President Rob D'Amico, also a Street Smarts participant. Though no one trumpeted a pro- or anti-helmet agenda during the task force's first meeting, "everybody knows the helmet law is a subtext," said D'Amico, who noted that the group is seeking data from an ongoing Seton Hospital study looking at helmet use and bicycle-related head injuries. He applauded the mayor for making Street Smarts such a high-profile priority. A city-funded public-education campaign "promoting the idea that bicycling can be a safe and economical way to stay fit and get around Austin" is among the LOBV's objectives, he said.