Sidewalk, bike lane improvements necessary for multimodal transportation system

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Elliott McFadden, Austin B-Cycle Executive Director, addresses Austin’s new Bike Share program outside City Hall on Wednesday morning. Austin’s $2 million bike sharing program opens Dec. 21. 
Elliott McFadden, Austin B-Cycle Executive Director, addresses Austin’s new Bike Share program outside City Hall on Wednesday morning. Austin’s $2 million bike sharing program opens Dec. 21. 

With the upcoming vote on Proposition 1, light rail and roadway improvements have been dominating the Austin transportation debate. But an important voice in the transportation conversation is missing. Sidewalks and bikeways are at the heart of a successful multimodal transportation system, and just by looking at the Austin Chronicle’s Sidewalk Fail! gallery, it is undeniable that this piece of the system is woefully inadequate.

Though public transportation cannot realistically ferry every user to the doorstep of their destination, it can get them close. But any form of public transportation system is useless if people cannot safely access their destination from the given stops. The gallery’s interactive map shows a concentration of inadequate pedestrian walkways in Austin’s urban core, the heart of many public transportation activities and destinations.

Pedestrians aside, sidewalks present a problem for bikers as well.  Austin has recently made several major improvements to bike-ability, most notably to students in tandem with the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit system on Guadalupe, and for that it should be commended. But despite this improvement, the lack of bike lane between 27th and 29th streets puts bikers either on the road with college student drivers, a notoriously reckless bunch, or on the sidewalks dodging buckling concrete slabs and interfering with pedestrians.

At the last City Council meeting on August 28, the proposed Urban Trails Master Plan, a network of off-street, paved shared-use paths aimed to connect the city while increasing safety, raised environmental concerns from neighborhood associations and ultimately, did not pass. Admittedly, the proposal for 12 feet wide concrete pathways does seem less like trails and more, as citizen Joseph Gilliland put it, like “mini roads.” Though the methods caused concern, the overwhelming public sentiment approved the intentions of the plan.  The Austin consciousness today is centered on macro transportation possibilities. But it is a partnership, and the macro roads and rails will not be used without improvement to the micro sidewalks and bikeways.