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New infrastructure makes biking easier in Austin

Bike lanes, racks and road markings all part of city's bike-friendly efforts

Pam LeBlanc

Rolling hills and a mild climate have long lured cyclists to the Greater Austin area.

Recreational bikers cruise downtown individually and in organized group rides. Weekly road bike races draw throngs. And one of the world's greatest cyclists calls our city home.

But, during the last few years, the buzz about cycling in Central Texas has hit higher decibel levels throughout the metropolitan area.

From new bike lanes and road markings to the expansion of a bike and pedestrian bridge, a slew of recent projects has illustrated Austin's commitment to residents who get around on two wheels instead of four.

Among the improvements:

Downtown Pfluger Bridge Extension. The existing Pfluger Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge crosses Lady Bird Lake just east of Lamar Boulevard. An extension now under construction will extend the bridge over West Cesar Chavez Street and should be finished in early 2011. When complete, it will connect South Austin to downtown Austin, the Seaholm District and the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, a cycling route that runs east-west through the heart of the city.

Fourth Street Bridge. Part of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, the Fourth Street Bridge over Waller Creek lets cyclists ride a two-way bicycle facility separated from the MetroRail and motorized traffic. It also leads directly to a bicycle and pedestrian crossing under Interstate 35.

Lane markings. Shared lane markings, or "sharrows" — icons painted on the street to indicate that bikes and motorists should share the lane — on Guadalupe, Lavaca, Dean Keaton and 51st streets let motor vehicle drivers know they are driving on a highly trafficked bicycle route. A designated box painted green at the intersection of Anderson Lane and Shoal Creek Boulevard lets cyclists know they should move to the front of the line, and signs reminding motorists of cyclists' lawful right to take the center of a lane have been posted around town.

Bicycle racks. More than 800 bike racks have been installed in the last 21/2 years as part of a city program that provides them free to existing businesses and within the city's right of way.

Bike lanes. New bike lanes have been installed on Metric Boulevard, South Lamar Boulevard, Martin Luther King Boulevard, West Fifth and West Sixth streets, Exposition Boulevard, Chicon Street, Rosewood Avenue and 12th Street, all major thoroughfares.

"All the infrastructure improvements we've installed recently will produce new bicycle riders, which in turn makes the roadways safer for all road users," says Annick Beaudet, city bicycle plan coordinator.

That's because the more the public sees cyclists on the road, the more "normal" it becomes. And when motorists expect to see cyclists, the roads are safer for both users.

The improvements are attracting national attention, too. Austin is one of 25 communities in the United States with silver status in the League of American Bicyclists' Bicycle Friendly Community rankings.

There's still room to get better. Ten cities have gold status, and three — Boulder, Colo., Davis, Calif. and Portland, Ore. — are platinum.

One goal is to get more folks riding their bikes to work and school. That's the focus of a month full of cycling activities, including Bike to Work Day and the Austin Commuter Challenge, held each May.

Based on a 2008 community survey by the city's Bicycle/Pedestrian Project, 1.3 percent of Austin residents now cycle to work. City officials hope to increase that to 2 percent by 2015 and 5 percent by 2020.; 445-3994

How we get around

Mode of travel*

Driving (excluding carpools) 93%

Bicycle 6%

Bus 5%

Carpool 4%

Taxi 3%

Other 6%

None 2%

* 1,881 people polled in Austin-Round Rock statistical area

Source: Scarborough Research 2008

Roads traveled in average week*

Interstate 35 72%

MoPac Boulevard

(Loop 1) 56%

U.S. 183 50%

U.S. 290 37%

Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360) 35%

Texas 71 35%

N. Lamar Boulevard 33%

Ben White Boulevard 29%

Congress Avenue 29%

William Cannon Drive 28%

S. Lamar Boulevard 28%

Burnet Road 27%

RM 620 26%

Airport Boulevard 25%

Texas 45 tollway 20%

RM 2222 19%

U.S. 79 18%

Bee Cave Road

(FM 2244) 15%

Texas 130 Toll Road 15%

183-A tollway 13%

Bastrop Highway 10%

Southwest Parkway 10%

Other highway 18%

None 2%

* 1,881 people polled in Austin-Round Rock statistical area

Source: Scarborough Research 2008