Errors in the Public Works Department’s Logic and Data

in Nueces Bike Blvd

Errors in the Public Works Department's Logic and Data

Errors in the Public Works Department’s Logic and Data by Bill Mange, Attorney at Law

First Error.

Bicycle Boulevards succeed best where implemented on residential streets.  Example: in the November 4, 2009 memo from Annick Beaudet to Boards & Commissions, a Portland, Oregon realtor is quoted:

“I couldn’t put a number to a higher sales price, but it [location of a property on a bicycle boulevard] is a definite plus.  People are looking for more walkable / bikeable neighborhoods.”

Click on this link to see the memo: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/agenda/2009/downloads/c7_bicyclebriefing_111009.pdf.

But Nueces Street is zoned 100% commercial and is occupied nearly 100% commercial.  Yes, many years ago Nueces Street was residential, but that day has passed.   These businesses need customers and clients who will, by the City’s own data, travel by car.  Yet the City’s Bicycle Plan will cause a 60 to 70% vehicle trip loss on Nueces Street, thereby congesting nearby streets and reducing parking on Nueces Street itself.

Second Error: Relying Upon Studies Based Upon Residential Areas.

The Public Works Department’s Research presented included: (1) a 2003 Emily Drennen Study – Economic Effects of Traffic Calming on Small Urban Business; (2) 2008 Streets to Live By, Transportation Alternative; (3) “Portland, Oregon”; and (4) a 2008 Victoria Transport Institute study.  Click on this link to see the list of research as presented by the Public Works Department: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/publicworks/downloads/nueces_design_charette_presentation_1-13-10.pdf and go to page 12.

1.The 2003 Emily Drennen Study.

The 2003 Emily Drennen Study of Valencia Street in San Francisco is not analogous to Nueces Street in Austin as of 2010.   Valencia Street is located in “San Francisco’s Mission District, which is primarily a low-income, working-class, and immigrant neighborhood.”  Click on this link to see the 2003 Drennen Executive Summary  http://www.emilydrennen.org/TrafficCalming_summary.pdf and go to page 4.

Nueces Street does not fit the description of Valencia Street.  It is not a residential neighborhood.

The types of businesses Ms. Drennen interviewed were: 22% books/videos/music related; 18.5% clothing; 11% restaurants / bars; 7.4% groceries; 7.4% technology related; 3.7% services; 3.7% commercial; and 22% other retail. Click on this link to see the 2003 Drennen Executive Summary and go to page 5.   These are the kinds of businesses you would expect to see in a residential neighborhood, but Nueces Street is not a residential neighborhood.  It is commercial.

The math is simple: 22% + 18.5% + 11% + 7.4% + 22% = 80.9% retail business of one kind or another on Valencia Street in San Francisco.  Nueces Street does not include nearly so much retail business.  Instead, its businesses by far are mostly professional and service related.

2.The 2008 “Streets to Live By” Study.

The “Streets to Live By” study is likewise not analogous.  Conducted in New York City, the study noted: “[i]n New York City, where most residents have a retail district within walking distance and everyone has a favorite store just a train ride away, livability initiatives have a high chance of success.”   To see this quote in the study, click

http://www.transalt.org/files/newsroom/reports/streets_to_live_by.pdf and go to page 4.  The study likewise noted: “New York City is perfectly primed to be one of the most liable cities in the world: it has high density, relatively well-mixed land uses, and world class transit system, and large population already accustomed to walking to the store and taking transit to work.  These amenities and cultural norms set New York City ahead of other city [sic] in the U.S. [for the purposes of transportation modification] ….”  “Streets to Live By,” page 16.

Perhaps most significant is that Table 2 of the Streets to Live By Study touts increases in residential property values and an increase in retail sales.   Austin is not like New York City in that it does not have high density, relatively well-mixed land uses, a world class transit system, or a large population already accustomed to walking to the store and taking transit to work.   Nueces Street is not residential; most of its businesses are not  retail.

3.”Portland, Oregon.”

Public Works Department does not cite a specific study regarding Portland, just listing it as a city with bicycle boulevards.  However, some research turned up this study: “Resident Perceptions of Bicycle Boulevards: A SE Salmon Street Case Study,” by Mariah VanZerr.   To see this study, click http://www.ibpi.usp.pdx.edu/boulevardperceptions.php .    This study related to a residential street.  It showed that even there, living on a bicycle boulevard did not influence respondents to the survey as to whether they would choose to bike.  Study at 10.   This residential study showed that 40% of the comments could be categorized as generally frustrated or openly hostile towards cyclists (though 48% could be categorized as positive about the boulevard).   VanZerr Study at 11, lines 19 – 22.   The residential character of SE Salmon Street is clear from the study: “Survey respondents were asked how long they had lived on SE Salmon Street.  Respondents ranged from having just moved to SE Salmon Street … to having lived on the street for a total of 30 years.  Survey respondents reported an average of 3 people per household and 1.8 vehicles per household.”  VanZerr Study at 6, lines 45-46 through page 7, lines 1-2.

4.2008 Victoria Transport Institute.

It is difficult to know to which study the Public Works Department is referring.  The only 2008 Victoria Transport Institute study found on the Web relates to “Managing Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) On Nonmotorized Facilities.”  http://www.vtpi.org/man_nmt_fac.pdf .   This study specifically “[e]xplores the appropriate way to manage nonmotorized facilities (sidewalks, bikelanes, paths and trails), taking into account the increasingly diverse range of potential activities and modes, including various mechanical Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) such as scotters, bicycles, and Segways.”  2008 Victoria Transport Institute Study at 1.   This paper does not appear to address the questions at hand here.

The Victoria Transport Institute may be independent as it claims, but that does not mean it is without a point of view.  Specifically, its point of view is pro-cycling.  http://www.vtpi.org/approach/index.php

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