City Council to consider transit priority, bus lane changes

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

City Council members voted 9-1 to approve an ordinance that could potentially improve traffic congestion in Austin with changes to right-of-way rules and the installation of separate signaling for transit buses last Thursday.

Two weeks ago, the Austin Mobility Committee unanimously recommended council members vote in favor of the ordinance, which would revamp how buses operate in transit lanes on Guadalupe and Lavaca streets, two major roadways affected by heavy traffic near campus.

“We recognize the need to move more people in the same space, and that happens, at least with current technology, with buses right now,” said Donna Tiemann, chief of staff for Ann Kitchen, Mobility Committee chair. “Until we get more people engaged in buses, we’ll continue to have a building of more and more congestion.”

Officials with the Austin Transportation Department and Capital Metro presented potential changes, or “transit priority initiatives,” to transit lanes that include installing separate signaling for bus lanes, which would give buses the ability to “jump” ahead of traffic when necessary. This, along with requiring crosswalks be moved away from the intersection, allowing buses to turn in front of traffic. This would effectively avoid the awkward signaling between buses and cars in other lanes after picking up passengers, officials said.

Biology senior Sylvia Ofor, who drives around Austin as her primary mode of transportation, said she thinks the transit priority initiatives and the separate signaling will help ease traffic congestion on busy roads while also keeping transit as a viable option for Austinites needing alternate forms of transportation.

“Our bus system is important because it does help a lot of people,” Ofor said. “Even if you do have a car, you sometimes don’t want to use your car in Austin because it’s easier to just use the bus.”

Guadalupe and Lavaca Streets — from Cesar Chavez Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard — are two major roadways near campus with transit priority initiatives in effect on a small-scale. For example, the roadways already have separate transit lanes in effect. The proposed initiative would then prioritize those existing lanes over other lanes, allowing buses to move in front of traffic if necessary to avoid backups.

Andy Der Tatevasion, a UT alumnus who works as a loan collector in the UT Office of Accounting, said he is always concerned with traffic signaling and how buses merge on roadways.

“I feel like if there [were] more lights or more signals for people, they would be better able to make decisions when they see a bus trying to merge,” Der Tatevasion said.

The council’s vote last week will not formally approve anything, but it will direct city staff to consider the many options for improving transit at their disposal. Staff will then return to the council and present their findings later this fall, giving them ample time to gather input from the public about which direction to take.

“The public might be fine with one piece of it and may not be comfortable with another aspect,” Tiemann said. “It’s all about finding the right balance so we don’t get ahead of the public in their transition to different transit options.”