Austin will be one of 10 American cities named to a “big jump” project to boost bicycle ridership, a Colorado-based cycling advocacy group and city officials said Tuesday.
But it is unclear what the real-world effect will be of that designation, announced by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and others at a new conference a few feet from the Lance Armstrong Bikeway downtown on West Third Street. The Boulder group, PeopleForBikes, is not giving Austin any funding for bike facilities or cycling education in connection with the inclusion in that group of 10 cities, Austin officials said, but does anticipate giving community groups as much as $300,000 over three years for “education and encouragement programs.”
And the city is well into years of increasingly vigorous commitment and spending on the “high-comfort” network of bike lanes and off street trails that advocates believe could result in a doubling over the next three years of daily bicycle usage for commuting and other trips, at least in the city’s core. That in turn could make a discernible different in traffic congestion, at least in downtown, officials said.
“Every person who’s riding a bike could’ve been behind the wheel” of a car, said Robert Spillar, director of the Austin Transportation Department.
The current cycling numbers for Austin remain modest, despite all the investment and commitment of street right of way to cycling facilities in recent years. Laura Dierenfield, the city’s division manager for active transportation and street design, said less than 2 percent of Austinites commute by bike, according to the most recent five-year rolling average figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. That figure is 5.5 percent for the city’s core, which she said encompasses 39 census tracts in Central Austin.
That is the figure the city would hope to double, both through projects like the east-west Armstrong bikeway, improved trails and, in particular, education and public outreach efforts to get people to try cycling as a transportation strategy rather than merely for exercise and recreation.