AUSTIN (KXAN) — A pro-cycling group on Tuesday named two Austin routes to its 2017 list of Best New Bikeways in the U.S., the first time the city has been on the list since 2013, when Colorado-based PeopleForBikes started compiling it.
The Mopac Mobility Bridge, which crosses Barton Creek and helps connect southwest Austin to the rest of the city, is No. 2 on the list, and the protected bike lane on Third Street downtown is No. 4 on the list.
“Austin’s work connecting networks of bike paths and low-stress bike lanes is among the most impressive in the country right now,” wrote Kyle Wagenschutz, director of local innovation at PeopleForBikes, in an email announcing this year’s list. “These projects clearly show Austin wants its bikeways to be not only comfortable for anyone to use, but also convenient to where people want to go.”
It comes as the effort grows in Austin to get people out of cars and onto their feet, bikes or buses.
“It’s not a big hassle right here,” Matthew Langston said Monday morning, waiting for a bus to take him downtown from his apartment on South Lamar Street. He doesn’t have a car, and he doesn’t have a problem with that.
“Not a lot of people walk as much as I do,” he said. “It’s definitely more pedestrian-friendly, Austin. A lot more bikers.”
His neighborhood south of the river is one of three the city has been targeting since October as an expansion of its Smart Trips Austin program, encouraging people in the Travis Heights, Zilker and Bouldin neighborhoods to choose other ways to get around besides cars.
Tien-Tien Chan, program manager at the Austin Transportation Department, said outreach has been going well the last couple months. “The neighborhood seems really excited that we’re there,” she said.
There are roughly 13,000 households in that part of the city, and the expansion aimed to reach about 1,200 people, according to Lonny Stern, the program manager on Capital Metropolitan Authority’s side of the collaborative. So far, they’re about halfway to that goal with about a month and a half to go. That involved hand-delivering “tool kits” containing walking, biking and bus-riding resources to people who are interested in getting out of their cars.
Stern has been hosting “transit adventures” in the program neighborhoods to encourage people to try using the bus system to explore new parts of Austin, and the city has been sending out brand-new citywide bike maps — the first update since 2014 — to people who request those tool kits. The maps are also available at bike shops and through the transportation department.
“I can’t say whether we’ve changed the hearts and minds of every resident in the neighborhood yet,” Chan said, but the outreach appears to be working.
In the last phase of the project, the city saw car trips drop by 8.7 percent and transit trips increase by 5.6 percent. Chan and Stern expect similar numbers in this current phase, and possibly an even greater drop in car trips because of the cooler fall weather encouraging people to walk and bike more.
At the end of the year the city and CapMetro will start looking at which neighborhood will be the next to see Smart Trips, based in large part on which areas already have bike and bus infrastructure in place. Stern said he’ll be pushing for the program to expand into east Austin, where new bus routes will be online next year.