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PolitiFact: Lane changes coming in Prop. 1 plan

Advocates of a $720 million transportation bond proposal on Austin’s ballot say the proposed spending will ultimately relieve traffic congestion all over.

Yet a group opposing Proposition 1 warned that the plans touted by Austin Mayor Steve Adler entail handing over 27 miles of existing car lanes to buses and bicycles.

An ad from the Sensible Transportation Solutions for Austin PAC in the Oct. 23 American-Statesman had this statement: “The mayor has promised that passage of this proposition will ensure a decrease in traffic congestion. How will the mayor’s removing 27+ miles of traffic lanes around the city and replacing them with lanes dedicated to usage by bicycles and lots of increasingly empty buses help ease congestion?”

We wondered if all those lane removals are penciled in to make way for buses and bikes.

Travel lanes on stretches of major roads would be wiped out, we found, though more than half the reductions would make way for raised medians and turn bays — not buses — and, with the exception of part of Guadalupe at 24th Street, no removals are planned just for bikeways. Also, the group didn’t take into account car lanes that would be added with bond funding.

Michael Levy, the PAC’s treasurer, told us he drew the count of 27-plus lost miles of traffic lanes from research by Roger Falk of the Travis County Taxpayers Association that focused on major city byways that would be affected by $482 million in the bond intended to reconfigure parts of nine “smart corridors.”

Falk sent us a document showing what he said he calculated based on city-posted smart corridor studies. All told, Falk’s document indicates that one to two lanes on portions of seven major roads would no longer be available to car traffic, for a total of 32.1 “vehicle lane miles removed.” Some 4.4 lane miles would be “returned” in spots, the document says, leaving a net loss of 27.7 lane miles.

The document doesn’t talk about removed lanes becoming bus or bike lanes, nor does it take note of the car travel lanes that would be added outside the smart corridors, which wasn’t considered in the PAC’s count of lost lanes, Levy acknowledged.

After we shared Falk’s document with city officials, mayoral spokesman Jason Stanford said the city’s corridor plans actually show 4.4 lane-miles of traffic lanes that would definitely give way to bus lanes — specifically, a lane in each direction on a 1.2-mile stretch of Guadalupe Street near the University of Texas and a lane in each direction on a one-mile portion of East Riverside Drive.

Meantime, Jim Wick of Move Austin Forward, a pro-proposition group, told us that by his calculation, city plans to replace two-way center turn (or chicken) lanes along parts of multiple corridors would lead to 14.8 lane miles getting replaced with raised medians. Wick said that another nine miles of the two-way center turn lanes on corridors have either already been taken up by medians or stand to be converted, under city plans, to left-turn “turning bays.”

Stanford and Wick each said city plans don’t call for any traffic lanes to be replaced by bikeways. Separately, Falk said by email he wasn’t aware of any lane removals specifically planned to make space for bike paths.

For another perspective, we asked Chandra Bhat, director of the University of Texas Center for Transportation Research, to assess the lanes-lost claim. Bhat told us that he reviewed some of the city corridor plans before concluding that the expected removal of center/chicken lanes will make way for medians and turning bays, not lanes for buses or bikes.

Otherwise, Bhat said, there are stretches such as part of Guadalupe for which the corridor plan indicates auto travel lanes becoming bus lanes. Bhat estimated such conversions could remove up to three-to-eight existing travel lane-miles in total, depending on engineering decisions. Asked to assess the PAC’s full claim, Bhat said: “From all that I can see, I don’t see how they could come up with that magnitude of reduction in auto lane mileage.”

Our ruling:

The PAC said transportation plans linked to Proposition 1 on Austin’s ballot remove “27+ miles of traffic lanes around the city,” replacing “them with lanes dedicated to usage by bicycles” and buses.

About that many car travel lane miles stand to go away if the bond proposition passes. However, 20 removed lane miles would be converted from center-turn lanes to raised medians and turning bays — not bus lanes. Also unsaid: The bond proposal would support the addition of at least 14 lane miles open to car traffic outside the city’s smart corridors.

We rate the claim Mostly False.

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