Letter to Austin City Council

in Nueces Bike Blvd

Austin City Council

Nueces Street and the Bicycle Boulevard: Comprehensive Planning & Transportation Committee Meeting.

I attended the Comprehensive Planning & Transportation Committee meeting Monday afternoon as a person who works and drives on Nueces regularly. I drive to my office five days a week, and have done so for six years. My office has windows directly over looking Nueces where I get a birds-eye view of the traffic – auto, bicycle and pedestrian. The comments to the committee were inaccurate and shortsighted and the return from councilman Chris Riley was extremely rude.

It is apparent that the City Council, along with the League of Bicycling Voters, are attempting to turn Austin into our own little version Portland or Berkeley on the tax-paying backs of the very businesses they are trying to disrupt with this Bike Boulevard. Words like “landmark”, “iconic” and “premier” were being used to describe this great quest to take a very heavily traveled road and give it to the handful of cyclists who ride Nueces. While those words sound lofty and great, they do not accurately describe what the outcome will be if this project is allowed to move forward.

Proposed Plans for Nueces Bike Blvd.

Proposed Plans for Nueces Bike Blvd.

Logistically

  1. Nueces is a busy road, as are the other nearby streets. If you take traffic off of Nueces all of that traffic will have to go somewhere, we are not all going to magically start riding bikes. The options:
    a) Guadalupe/Lavaca: if you have driven on either of these roads you know how congested they are already
    b) San Antonio: Does not go all the way through so you have to go to Guadalupe/Lavaca or elsewhere anyways
    c) Rio Grande/West: The one thing all parties can agree on is that these streets are terrible. They are already busy, very tight and the pavement is so bad it will knock your bumper (or your bike reflector) off if you have to drive it everyday.

So where is that traffic going to go? It will be crushed onto the other already crowded streets or continue, albeit at a slower pace, down Nueces.

  • The firehouse at the end of Nueces uses this road on a daily basis, and sometime more, to get downtown. At the meeting it was said that the fire trucks could still use Nueces even with the traffic calming devices. This was said in the same breath as how important it was to make this a safe avenue for all types of cyclists. I don’t cycle often, but I know that I would not feel safe cruising down the street with a fire truck following me. Are we really willing to make an exception to safety so the handful of college students that use Nueces can get to Mellow Johnny’s easier?
  • The sally port to the jail is on Nueces, as well as a lot of the parking for the courthouse. Every day hundreds of people are required to show up for court and they circle and circle looking for places to park. As they circle they are using Nueces and they are hoping that they can find a parking spot on Nueces or near by. The inmates are brought right up Nueces in a converted school bus everyday. Many patrol cars and other county officials use Nueces on a daily basis in the course of their job duties. This is not going to change unless the City decides it is going to move those facilities to accommodate the couriers and college kids.
  • Nueces is a major bus route. There are buses coming down Nueces all day long and there are actually people at the bus stops getting off and on. So either we move the bus route to another of the streets mentioned above, making them worse or, like the fire trucks, the buses can continue to use Nueces and everyone will feel safe riding their bikes in front of a bus, behind a fire truck and along side a patrol car.
  • Nueces will never be a true “Bicycle Boulevard” as there will always be a stop at 15th and 6th street, there will always be fire trucks and police cars, and the buses have to go somewhere. So this glorious idea of creating a street where cyclists

    “will never feel threatened, intimidated or inconvenienced, and are encouraged to travel at their leisure down the middle of the street”

    is a bunch of bull.
    Yesterday in the State of the City speech Mayor Leffingwell stated that we

    “now live in the 14th most congested large city in America.”

    He said that

    “it’s way more than just a nuisance. In all sorts of ways – economic, environmental, and social – it’s a deadly serious threat to our quality of life. Unless we deal head-on with our traffic crisis, starting now, we’ll end up paying a very big price.”

    Now I know that LOBV will say that’s why we want to get people riding bikes, and that’s a great rosy scenario, but the truth is 99% of the people in this city will NEVER ride their bikes from Northwest Austin or William Cannon to downtown to go to work. There is just not the infrastructure downtown at this time to make that a viable option for the everyday joe that needs their car to run errands at lunch or pick up their kids after school. Even the LOBV spokesman mentioned he had to rush out of the meeting to pick up his kids. I’m just curious, were you driving or riding your bike with the pull-behind kiddy trailer?

    Economically

    In reading through the Master Plan materials I noticed that the last items mentioned in each discussion is the financial impact of this plan. I know there are several people who own property on Nueces that agree that diverting traffic elsewhere will hurt their businesses. My employer owns two properties on Nueces, one of which relies solely on walk-in traffic from the type of clientele who are not riding bikes. The numbers and ideas being thrown around are absurd. The idea that Bat City’s business might go up because cyclists actually drive slower and would be able to see his business better than someone in a car is ridiculous. Not to mention the gentleman from Bat City probably sees the same cyclists using Nueces that I do every day, and those are college students, not business execs who might have a need for his products. This bike boulevard was equated to a ‘one way road’ the difference is none of the people who purchased these properties purchased them on a one way road. They were purchased for two reasons:

    1. to expand a current business in hopes of prosperity
    2. to be able to sell for a profit if needed. A few things need to be considered before you divert traffic from Nueces:
      a) You own a business that requires your clients to come to your office. If that client has the option of hiring a lawyer, choosing a dentist, or hair stylists that is easy to get to with good street parking (because we know that lot parking is non-existent downtown) or choosing one located on a limited traffic bike lane with little or no parking, they are not likely to pick the latter. These are the types of business that are on Nueces-not homes where people would welcome less traffic and appreciate the bike boulevard like they do in Oregon and California.

      b) Doing this you limit the types of businesses that would want to buy the properties located on Nueces. Let’s say you have a company that requires their clients come to them and wants their storefront to lure potential new customers. This company is looking at buying a building on an active two way road with good parking and many potential eyes able to see it and they are looking at a building on a one way road where just cyclists and a few motorists drive by, plus it is difficult to get to and there is no parking, you can’t tell me they would pick option B just because the road is pretty and green.

      c) Even yesterday in his State of the City address the Mayor has recognized that businesses are struggling in Austin stating that

      “Commercial and industrial vacancy rates have jumped significantly overall, and remain high… Foreclosures have been rising for two years. Venture capital investments in Austin have declined dramatically, especially in 2009 – down by more than 60% from 2008 levels, to a 13-year low. And, we’re still experiencing a major credit crunch – in every sector – that’s curtailing investment, slowing spending, and holding back growth.”

    The last thing local businesses need is the City making things even harder for them just to appease a few people who probably would never ride Nueces anyway. He also talked about the importance of small local businesses, stating

    “90% of companies in Austin have fewer than 10 employees. And about 75% of all Austin jobs are with companies that employ fewer than 100 people. I think those figures make it pretty clear how critical small local businesses are to Austin. They are really the backbone of our economy.”

    Those are the types of businesses that are on Nueces, not big conglomerates that can handle a few less walk-ins or a little less exposure.

    It is easy for the bicyclists to call these ideas anecdotal, however the business owners who purchased their properties on the active two way street in hopes of growing their enterprise call this a reality when the City is deciding to completely alter the landscape of their operations. I can attest that property taxes in this area are not cheap and I would bet they won’t go down if these owners can’t sell their buildings.

    Purpose

    Regarding the intent of this plan it is obvious, from their own words, that

    “This project is an opportunity to do something much more meaningful than just a bike lane or sharrow. First, it’s a conscious decision to do something significant to boost the “presence” of bicycling in Austin. This is about putting bikes smack dab in the middle of the lane and letting them ride down a nice straight, flat corridor (eventually from 29th and parts far norther’ to downtown). It’s about creating a place where bikes know they are not only welcome, but celebrated. It’s about letting families ride down the street knowing that they have the preferential treatment and can expect that motorists won’t honk and harass them. It’s about letting motorists know that they must drive with a different set of expectations, slower and with more care.”

    Again, while this is a nice expectation and I would greatly appreciate this near my home, trying to shove this in the middle of a completely commercial district where, I would guess, there are not many families traveling via bicycle, is absolutely ludicrous.
    The win-at-all-costs attitude of these cyclists was apparent to those of us on Nueces the day the City put out the traffic monitors. I stood in the front of my office and watched a different crowd of cyclists ride down and back, over and over, in, what I assume, was an attempt to inflate the numbers of bikes on Nueces. I guess I could have posted somewhere that the people who work here drive up and down Nueces on the day the strips were out, but most of those people would have done it anyways because they had to get to work downtown. Not to mention, those strips were put out on the one mild day of January when the sun was actually shining and they were not left out when it started raining or when it got cold again, and of course they weren’t put out when it was 100+degrees.

    Regarding councilman Riley’s questioning of Ms. Harris during the meeting on Monday – I would like to remind him that regardless of affiliations, expectations or hobbies he works for the citizens of Austin – all of the citizens of Austin, not just the 1% who ride bikes. This applies to all of the councilmen and women involved in this decision. Just because Lance Armstrong, our local Austin hero, puts a shop at the end of the road doesn’t mean we need to pave the road in gold for the VERY FEW people who might ride that yellow brick road. If the City wants a real look at Nueces they should put a video camera up and watch the few college students and couriers that travel Nueces along side the cars now. This would show that there are no 10 year olds riding unsupervised, there are no families, there are no bikes with pull behind carts, there are no wheelchairs and that most of the pedestrians are there to catch the bus. I would guess that the rest of us that drove home on MoPac or I-35 that day would hope that our City council would spend its time and resources solving the actual problems facing the MAJORITY of Austinites, instead of creating new ones for those of us who fight to get around town each day. After all, I thought that we were a government for the majority, and not the 1% and the majority of us stuck in traffic aren’t there so we can get to Nueces to ride our bikes to Mellow Johnny’s.

    (Coincidentally as I write this it is raining and there are no bikes on Nueces-imagine that)

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