Texas Bicycle Coalition recently teamed up with the Austin Cycling Association (ACA), Austin Ridge Riders, Austin Metro Trails & Greenways (AMTG) and the Green Girls to present a unified front of thousands of Austinites who support expanding and improving Austin’s bicycle infrastructure.
Citizen action of this scale strengthens the Coalition’s and local cyclists’ political clout and demonstrates that cyclists are willing to get involved in the political process to achieve their goals. Texas communities are beginning to recognize the value of including bicycles in the transportation network. Texas Bicycle Coalition looks forward to the opportunity to collaborate with other local cycling organizations to get bond referendums across the state to include funding for bicycle facilities. Please inform the Coalition when your community has the potential to secure funding for needed bicycle facilities.
The Coalition sent an email action alert on January 3 to approximately 350 Austin-area members. ACA and the Ridge Riders also sent action alerts to approximately 2,000 combined members asking that they join the Coalition at the final public hearing before the City’s Bond Election Advisory Committee (BEAC) on January 5. Coalition staff and volunteers followed up the emails with personal phone calls asking members to attend. The Coalition was very encouraged by cyclists’ responses to the action alert and phone tree. The goal was to assemble 40 cyclists to crowd the room and deliver a visual message to the BEAC that Austin needs more investment in bicycle infrastructure; more than 75 cyclists showed up.
Staff members collected 78 names of attendees on a petition at City Hall. The petition asks the BEAC and the Austin City Council to recommend $20 million for bike bonds in the upcoming May election. Texas Bicycle Coalition, ACA, the Ridge Riders and AMTG will submit this petition, along with a detailed letter explaining how the money will benefit specific trail projects, to all BEAC and Austin City Council members.
Coalition Executive Director Robin Stallings, along with ACA Legislative Committee Chair Preston Tyree and University of Texas doctoral candidate Amy Holte, delivered persuasive arguments before the BEAC. The three speakers were supported by scores of cyclists in the audience wearing neon bicycle pins. Texas Bicycle Coalition has successfully utilized this strategy before the Texas Legislature, packing a room with supporters and respectfully selecting key speakers. The Bond Committee seemed to appreciate that only three cyclists commented, as dozens of other citizen groups had signed up to make a final plea before the committee.
The Coalition asked that the BEAC recommend $20 million to be designated for bicycle infrastructure improvements. Currently, the BEAC is proposing just $2 million. This May, Austin citizens will decide whether or not to pass a $600 million bond package. Previous bonds have assigned 15 percent of the overall transportation package to bicycle facilities, yet the current proposal of $2 million would represent just 2 percent of overall transportation bonds.
The $20 million that the Coalition is recommending will enable the City to build bicycle arteries to connect existing and planned bicycle routes. Planning bodies in Austin are encouraging development in East Austin to alleviate pressure on the Edwards and Barton Springs Aquifers. State Highway 130, a through-way alternative to Interstate 35, is under construction from San Marcos to Georgetown east of IH-35. The Coalition has been supporting Texas Department of Transportation efforts to include a dedicated bicycle facility along the SH 130 route that will spawn a network of trails for transportation and recreation in the rapidly developing area.
The neighboring communities of Manor, Pflugerville, Hutto and Williamson County, with growing populations, are building trails that will eventually connect to Austin’s bicycle network. U.S. Representatives Lloyd Doggett (D-25th District), Michael McCaul (R-4th District) and Lamar Smith (R-21st District) have secured millions of dollars in the recently enacted federal transportation bill to build bicycle trails in the central Texas area. Austin has a choice opportunity to build a well-integrated bicycle network that serves the metropolitan area.
The Bond Election Advisory Committee will make its recommendations to the Austin City Council in a couple of weeks. Ultimately, the City Council will determine the bond package that residents will vote on in May. Texas Bicycle Coalition has been in touch with City Council members and is cautiously optimistic that they will support the $20 million to advance the bicycle transportation and recreation network in Austin.