AUSTIN (KXAN) — “Safety, comfort and livability.”
Those are three aspects Laura Dierenfield hopes commuters take away using the new temporary bike lanes on Congress Avenue.
Dierenfield is the division manager for the Austin Transportation Department. The temporary lanes are meant to “balance the needs of everyone who uses the street,” she said.
The City of Austin installed them Tuesday morning from 11th Street down Congress Ave. across Ann Richards Bridge to Riverside Drive. The cones mark the protected space in the outside general travel lanes on both sides of the avenue. Existing parking used for local business and residential access won’t be changed to benefit the “Shop the Block” initiative.
Another factor is social distancing. The city said the lanes will be in place “as long as necessary to offer a safer and more comfortable space for people to maintain physical distancing guidelines.”
“Citywide, we’re experiencing much, much lower traffic volumes. Really, extremely low compared to what it would normally be. And that’s really to do with the stay-at-home work safe order and just the very different economic environment we’re in,” Dierenfield added. “But with that said, we’re watching carefully and will respond accordingly as volumes change, but at this time we don’t have concern… What we’re really trying to do is create more open street space… to walk and bike safely, get physical exercise, and make essential trips safely.”
Bicyclist Zack Schmid, who uses Congress Ave. to commute often, said he doesn’t believe it’ll necessarily make spaces safer in regards to COVID-19.
“I mean, when you’re on a bike you’re disturbing a lot of air, moving a lot of air. Your germs are getting everywhere. You’re distributing your germs. I don’t really see the social distancing aspect of it at all.”
But he does feel the temporary lanes are “a step in the right direction” when it comes to the future of Congress Ave.
“That’s the way it needs to go. In the future, nobody’s gonna own a car. Everybody’s gonna be Uber-ing around by driver-less cars and they’ll just drop you off and it’ll be just this network of city streets with gardens and stuff that just knit the city together. You don’t need to be dropped off right in front of your restaurant, you can walk two blocks.”
The Austin City Council wants transportation and mobility city leaders to look into making the lanes, or something similar, into a permanent fixture when social distancing is no longer needed.