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The State and Future of Biking in Austin

This month, Austin voters resoundingly affirmed the city’s proposed plans for better active transportation and transit networks. After years of dedicated community engagement from Capital Metro and local advocates like the coalition Transit for Austin, Proposition A, a tax increase to fund a massive expansion of Capital Metro’s transit network, and Proposition B, an active mobility bond, both passed handily.

During the lead-up to the election, most of the spotlight fell on Project Connect, the central question at the core of Prop A. With an initial investment coming in at $7.1 billion, Capital Metro’s system plan has been years in the making, its genesis dating back to the ashes of the last light rail proposal in 2014 (which succeeded 2000’s failed plan).

With shiny new additions like multiple light rail lines, an underground downtown transit tunnel, and an electrified bus rapid transit fleet, Project Connect fomented heated debates between advocates and antagonists. Austin’s population is projected to double by 2040 to nearly four million, raising  stakes for a city already supersaturated with personal vehicles. Although Prop A ended up securing a healthy 58% of votes, it felt precarious.

Parts of Austin benefit from protected biking and walking infrastructure.  

Prop B, on the other hand, drew little attention in local news but passed with a heartier 67% backing. The six-year, $460 million active mobility bond dedicates funding specifically to sidewalks, bikeways, urban trails, and safety, including Vision Zero and Safe Routes to School. Currently, the city’s All Ages and Abilities Bicycle Network, established in the 2014 Austin Bicycle Plan, is estimated to be 40 percent built out by the end of 2020, a bit behind its 50 percent target.

On its own, Prop B will be immensely helpful in building out a truly connected network for bicycling and walking and meaningfully expand ridership. But built in tandem with transformative improvements in transit options, the two propositions together could earnestly help Austin achieve its mobility and climate goals (and, if Project Connect’s $300 million for anti-displacement investments is thoughtfully distributed, some of its equity aspirations as well).

Prop B isn’t the first time Austinites have voted in support of funding better biking and walking. This newest mobility bond arrives on the heels of the 2018 Transportation Infrastructure Bond, aka Proposition G, and the 2016 Mobility Bond, which supports projects scheduled through 2024.

The 2016 Mobility Bond secured $720 million for transportation and mobility improvements along key corridors, including $137 million for the kind of local mobility projects that Prop B is destined to help realize: sidewalks, bikeways, urban trails, intersection safety, substandard streets rehabilitation, and Safe Routes to School. In 2018, Prop G injected $160 million to be used for similar transportation infrastructure and safety projects that improve life for pedestrians and cyclists. In 2019, as fruits of these funds, the city was able to complete over 30 trail and bikeway projects.

As of now, like most places in America, Austin is still far from a perfect biking or walking city. Just recently, the city announced it has begun phasing out its Healthy Streets

A protected intersection in the Mueller neighborhood of Austin.

program, despite positive feedback. The first set of streets were removed in early October. The last time Austin submitted a Bicycle Friendly Community application was in 2015, when it earned a Gold-level award. Communities that engage regularly with the BFC program are evaluated based on their progress towards goals set by the League. While local bike advocates press their communities for change, it’s the local officials making decisions that impact biking and walking who apply for our awards. 

Elsewhere, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is moving ahead with a plan to widen I-35, the main highway that bisects downtown Austin. Not only is adding lanes counterproductive to managing traffic demand, but I-35 is considered to be one of the deadliest highways in America and this expansion would only exacerbate that reality. But there’s more: originally built in the early sixties as a tool of racial segregation to contain Black and brown residents in the east side of the city, I-35 will remain a monument to that history for as long as it stands. An expansion of its lanes, particularly in the wake of this year’s Black Lives Matter protests, would be baldly callous. This is why we need advocates like you.

If you’re interested in learning more about biking in the Violet Crown, you can follow local advocacy groups Bike Austin and Bike Texas. You can also browse our map of the state, on which we’ve charted local bike shops, clubs, instructors, and businesses.