breaking news

Appeals court halts, for now, abortion for immigrant teen in Texas

LeBlanc: Give those new bike bridges time before condemning them

Cyclists need to find route, plan commutes before they start using bridges


The bridges and pathway, a joint project by the city of Austin and TxDOT, opened June 14.

Ben Wear counted the number of cyclists headed to work via the bridge soon after it opened.

LeBlanc and some readers say Wear’s tally of riders was unfair and ill-timed.

The route means cyclists can ride all the way to downtown Austin from Southwest Austin via protected lanes.

As a regular bicycle commuter, I wanted to pedal furiously to Ben Wear’s house, avoiding gridlock traffic, and shout choice words in his ear after reading his column last week dismissing the new bike bridges in Southwest Austin as a “glorified scenic overlook.”

Wear, in case you missed it, staked out the new complex of bridges over Barton Creek and Loop 360 — a $14.5-million joint project between the Texas Department of Transportation and the city of Austin — barely a week after it opened. He stood at the trail head between 6:15 and 9:15 a.m. on a sultry Friday and counted the number of cyclists who used the 14-foot wide path to get to work. If they were just out joy riding, they didn’t count. Neither did pedestrians.

He tallied nine people — “on average one commuting cyclist every 20 minutes, or three per hour” — and proclaimed that “even if that number was off by a factor of 10 because of the heat and the other factors, that would mean all that money was spent to help about 100 people. You have to ask: Was it worth it?”

I’ve got multiple issues with Wear’s story, as do others in the cycling community.

First, can we give the project a wee bit more time before we condemn it? To rate the success of a new piece of infrastructure just days after its unveiling isn’t fair.

I remember the opening of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) when I was a kid. No crowds there, and I’m pretty sure it ranks as a wise investment today. Let’s look to the future. Cyclists had no advance announcement of exactly when the bridges would open, and people need time to adjust to a bike-to-work routine.

As reader Brandon Tucker wrote when I posted Wear’s column on the Fit City page on Facebook: “Ben, it’s not a Shake Shack. Let people discover this thing exists.”

Second, why pick one of the hottest days of the year for your tally? Some would-be commuters skip the ride when it’s blazing hot. Wear conducted his research in the morning, before the inferno fully cranked up, but the forecast called for fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk highs that day. Cyclists pay attention.

Third, what difference does it make if people are riding to work or just for fun and exercise? Do we make that differentiation when we’re looking at road counts? How many people drive MoPac on their way to the Butler Trail around Lady Bird Lake or to a downtown restaurant? A lot.

But perhaps most importantly, I’m a firm believer that it’s going to take a multimodal approach to ease congestion here. Every cyclist who rides that bridge means one less car on MoPac and one less occupied parking space. It’s going to take an integrated system of buses, bike and pedestrian paths, trains and roads to make a difference in our growing city. We can’t just slap down more road lanes in an attempt to force feed the city more vehicles.

After Wear’s column ran, I heard from a peloton of cyclists who say they’ve been using the bridge for everything from commuting to work to getting to a pub crawl (thank you for not driving a car!). Others told me they didn’t know the route had opened, and some said they’ll bike when it cools off.

“This bridge is the perfect way for me to ride from south Austin to downtown SAFELY,” wrote Sarah Stewart.

“A one-morning survey on a day with a heat advisory sounds like a way to justify an opinion, not ask a valid question,” wrote Kent Browning.

“I’ve been traveling for much of the approximately 14 days the bridge has been open,” wrote Bret Cunningham. “Don’t worry, it will get used, Ben. And my wife and family will appreciate it keeping us safer.”

Infrastructure like this will help increase the number of Austin residents who bike to work. A 2014 report by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that 1.5 percent of the work force in Austin biked to work. That’s up by 66 percent from 0.9 percent in 2000. We’ve got a ways to go, but those numbers aren’t going to climb if we don’t spend some money up front to make people feel comfortable cycling.

We should encourage the trend. Biking is fun and healthy. Biking to work equals a free workout. And according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, more than 36 percent of adults in the United States are obese.

If you haven’t checked out the bridges yet, I’d recommend a ride. To get there from Zilker Park, take the multiuse trail along the northbound lanes of MoPac Boulevard south to Loop 360. From the south, access the bridges from the west side of MoPac via the Gaines Ranch Loop crossing over MoPac. If you’re on the east side of MoPac, it’s just north of the shopping center where Specs is located.

And please, enjoy the view. It’s a vast improvement over the taillights on MoPac.


Cyclists pay for the road, too: Here’s how

Bike bridges help link Southwest Austin to downtown

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Killeen police searching for man accused of sexually assaulting 7-year-old
Killeen police searching for man accused of sexually assaulting 7-year-old

Authorities in Bell County are asking for the public’s help in searching for a man suspected of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old. According to Killeen police, authorities obtained an arrest warrant for Antoine Latrell Williams on Wednesday. He is accused of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Police believe he may be driving a black Nissan...
Appeals court halts, for now, abortion for immigrant teen in Texas
Appeals court halts, for now, abortion for immigrant teen in Texas

One day after a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to allow an undocumented teenage immigrant to have an abortion in Texas, an appeals court temporarily blocked the order and set oral arguments for Friday morning on whether to allow the procedure to occur. The order by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia still...
AUSTIN CITY COUNCIL: Here’s what we’re watching today
AUSTIN CITY COUNCIL: Here’s what we’re watching today

The Austin City Council is back today with a busy agenda. The council could move forward on an anti-lobbying ordinance update that has been months in the making that revises the city’s rules on contractor interactions with the city. The rules have revolved around waste contracts; the updated ordinance would shorten the period in which bidders...
AUSTIN POLICE CONTRACT: Thursday is last day for deal before impasse
AUSTIN POLICE CONTRACT: Thursday is last day for deal before impasse

Austin police and city officials are concluding negotiations today for a new employment contract that could either result in a new agreement or a possible impasse that could have serious impacts on officers and the city. The talks have spanned several months for a new contract and have ranged from friendly to contentious at times. Issues that remain...
Texas congresswoman on Weinstein: Sexual assault prevention ‘as much the woman's responsibility’
Texas congresswoman on Weinstein: Sexual assault prevention ‘as much the woman's responsibility’

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, whose district covers part of the Dallas area, has weighed in on the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal. According to reports, Johnson puts some of the onus for preventing sexual assault on female assault victims. According to Fort Worth NBC affiliate KXAS, Johnson said: The TV station reports that Johnson...
More Stories