The Austin Transportation Department’s ongoing study of mobility options and street infrastructure in downtown, known as the Austin Core Transportation (ACT) Plan, has entered its second phase of community engagement — and before you completely glaze over, we’d like to make a case for why you ought to care.
With the future public transit improvements of Project Connect seemingly in the lurch at the moment in terms of a final downtown design, it’s important to give the city a strong public opinion on the way we’d like our streets to look regardless of which rail layout moves forward. The first phase of public engagement for the ACT Plan that kicked off last year showed an overwhelming degree of support for sidewalks and protected bike lanes on downtown streets, and this second phase of the plan’s development allows you to provide feedback on precisely how those elements might be integrated into the overall streetscape — after all, most downtown streets are only 80 feet across from building to building, so there will always be trade-offs in how that space is carved up for various transportation options.
The bottom line is that we’ve designed our cities for much of the last century with car traffic at the top of the pile, and everyone else choosing to walk or bike instead has to fight over what’s left. Adjusting that balance might feel like a huge inconvenience to drivers, but that’s only because the deck was stacked so hard towards accommodating cars in the first place. All of the potential design options seen on this survey still include lanes for cars, but that space no longer comes at the cost of narrow sidewalks, unprotected bike paths, or dedicated lanes for public transit. It’s a type of design we’ve already seen downtown via the Great Streets program, but the ACT Plan hopes to further balance the use of downtown streets as more transit enters the mix.
Alongside street design, one of the methods discussed in the plan for increasing mobility through downtown while opening up more space for multimodal options like bike lanes is the conversion of current one-way streets for two-way operation, something that will already likely be required on some streets due to the design of the widened I-35. With the additional changes to the street grid needed for Project Connect, allowing traffic to travel both directions on some of these streets could improve access — here’s the most extensive potential conversion option:
Now that you’ve read all that, you’ll be delighted to learn that filling out the survey for Phase 2 of the ACT Plan will probably take you less time. Bad news is you’ve only got until the end of March to finish it — that’s this Friday, folks. Better click here now.