submitted by Kerry Kimbrough

On Monday afternoon, the Land Use and Transportation subcommittee of the City Council again took up the SCB striping issue. The ostensible purpose was to review the input from stakeholders that came out of the October meeting and balloting conducted by the Public Works staff. But that’s not exactly what happened. When the full Council voted in September to remove the curb islands, they directed PW staff to consult with stakeholders and come up with some options for what to do next.

The stakeholder ballot process was the way staff (somewhat reluctantly) decided to do that. So the LUT meeting began with PW Director Sondra Creighton presenting the results. Most of this material is available online at http://www.cityofaustin.org/publicworks/shoalcreek/ . Without a lot of discussion from Council members, Creighton highlighted the basic points.

  1. Option 2 (car-free bike lanes, parking on 1 side) drew more votes than any other single option (but slightly less that the total for Options 3, 3B, and 3C, which are nearly identical).
  2. Cyclists preferred Option 2 by a 4-1 margin. Neighbors preferred Options 3X by a 3-1 margin. Residents who are also cyclists preferred Option 2 by a small margin.
  3. Comments from neighbors express weariness with the money that has been spent and the fuss that has been made.

For bonus points, Creighton introduced a team from the Texas Transportation Institute, whom she hired to research the design issues presented on SCB. TTI interviewed municipal transportation officials from various cities around the country, including Denver, Madison, Milwaukee, Oakland, and Berkeley. One of TTIs findings is that no one was willing to claim that bike-friendly facilities or narrow traffic lanes reduced operating speeds. Also, some experts interviewed suggested “sharrows” and serpentine chicanes (where the 1 parking lane alternates from one side to the other) as elements that could be helpful on SCB. But SCB is a peculiarly complex situation, and it turns out that no one has really dealt with it.

That gave Brewster McCracken, the LUT chair, the opening he needed to take things in a completely different direction. McCracken proposed a “bake-off” — a 9 month pilot project, during which several different design solutions would be implemented at different points along the SCB roadway. The purpose would be an extended, real-world, tryout to find out what works and what doesn’t. The experience gained would be applied not only to a SCB solution but also to other places in Austin that face these issues. In fact, said McCracken, such pioneering knowledge could be used all across the country.

And which options would be part of the tryout? Well, not only Options 2 and 3X but also the serpentine, traffic circles, bike lane dividers, and even curb islands. After a little discussion, the other LUT members (Dunkerley and Leffingwell) agreed, the motion for the pilot project was approved, and staff was directed to go make it happen. Creighton was shell-shocked. ANA executive committee members who promoted the pilot project to McCracken were slapping backs. Dunkerley was fretting about the yet unknown costs. And Leffingwell was still trying to figure out how curb islands got back on the table. More later, as the world turns.

Regards, Kerry

Webmaster note: The above report is Kerry’s recounting of the meeting and reflects his opinion. Others at the meeting interpreted the outcome differently.  Feel free to submit your comments on the meeting.