‘Bicycle boulevard’ will lead to wasteful spending and hinder mobility

in Nueces Bike Blvd

'Bicycle boulevard' will lead to wasteful spending and hinder mobility

If you agree with the editorial written by Susan Harris in today’s Austin American-Statesman please let City Council know by visiting our How to Help page.  You can also contact the Statesman with your support by email to letters@statesman.com, by fax to (512) 912-5927 or by mail to Letters to the Editor, PO Box 670, Austin, Texas  78767.

I cycle for exercise, to enjoy Austin trails and to socialize with like-minded friends. I’m no Lance Armstrong, but I do have some “cycling cred.” I respect cyclists at all level of experience and support the promotion of bicycle safety and commuting in Austin.

The Austin City Council feels the same way, as evidenced by its adoption of the Austin 2009 Bicycle Plan Update in June 2009. The 540-page plan became an ordinance that’s being implemented by city staff; it details proposed actions to transform Austin into a world-class bicycling city. Full implementation of the plan over the next 10 years is estimated to cost $254 million.

Embedded in the plan is the proposed conversion of Nueces Street, from Third Street to MLK Boulevard, into a “bicycle boulevard.” The concept of a bicycle boulevard is to severely limit vehicular traffic capacity to create a calm streetscape where cyclists have priority on and unrestricted use of the road. That type of conversion project is termed a road diet. In the case of Nueces, city staff members have proposed a 70 percent to 90 percent reduction in vehicular traffic capacity.

As a city taxpayer, property owner and business owner, I oppose the proposed conversion because:

• As Austin’s motoring public is demanding relief to traffic congestion, it’s bad public policy to reduce any road’s vehicular carrying capacities.

• Bicycle boulevards are appropriate in primarily residential neighborhoods. To justify the Nueces conversion, the city erroneously characterizes the western sector of downtown as residential in nature, ignoring the fact that 100 percent of the parcels on Nueces, and neighboring streets, have been zoned for commercial use and occupied by commercial businesses for 40 years.

• That area is the next most likely sector of downtown to be transformed to meet Austinite’s desire for a dense mixed-use urban core; reducing vehicular capacity would be is counterproductive and could have a chilling effect on business growth, future redevelopment densities, property values and tax revenues.

• The city did not conduct an economic impact study to determine the effect that a reduction in vehicle capacity would have on the budget or the financial viability of the roughly 130 small businesses located along Nueces.

• The traffic flow works fine, judging by the number of cyclists who successfully share Nueces with vehicles with an exemplary safety record. Why spend tax dollars to fix something that is not broken?

It should not surprise you that a cyclist advocacy group is actively promoting the implementation of the bicycle boulevard. It maintains that the project is about creating a safe place for new and inexperienced riders, families with children, and everyday commuters.

Nueces is a commercial collector street lined with businesses, the county jail and criminal justice complex, and is only accessible by way of downtown’s busiest thoroughfares — Cesar Chavez, West 15th and Guadalupe streets. And no evidence has been presented that new or young riders abound here or desire to cycle downtown.

Advocates of a bicycle boulevard claim it would have symbolic significance, provide a solid foundation for future projects and encourage people to commute by bike. Yet, according to the plan, cyclists comprise less than 1 percent of all citywide commuters. And the city has presented no data that citywide bike commuting has significantly increased after spending roughly $40 million on bicycle infrastructure since 1998.

I am joined in my opposition by thousands of others who believe the city has lost sight of its budgeting priorities, shown complete disrespect for area business and property owners, and disregarded the important role that Nueces plays in downtown mobility. We have united as Austinites for Downtown Mobility and launched www.keepaustinmoving.org to voice our concerns about the ill-conceived project.

Our opposition to and public exposure of this boondoggle has had the absurd effect of causing city staff to seriously consider Rio Grande as an alternative for the bicycle boulevard, as if putting an adjacent street on a road diet and reducing vehicular traffic capacity one block over is somehow the solution.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and the Austin City Council must realize that reducing vehicular capacity on any commercial collector street in downtown Austin is a bad move. They should back up, reconsider the plan, amend it to remove the bicycle boulevard component on commercial streets and find an alternative solution for cyclists to share the road.

Harris is president of Site Solutions Inc., a commercial real estate brokerage company at West 18th Street and Nueces.

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