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Map Says Many Austinites Bike to Work, But Do They Feel Safe?

City of Austin

It’s no secret that Austin is a biking city. And while cities around the country are gearing up for National Bike to Work Day, riding to work is nothing new for Austinites: according to Census data, people here commute by bike four times more often than the national average. 

To prove it, the city released a map breaking down bike commuting by neighborhood. But while more people are pedaling to work, cyclists don't always feel safe on Austin roads.

KUT news intern, Austin Feldman regularly commutes from his home in West Campus to work on his bike. It’s just a few blocks.

But he’d ride everyplace – if he felt safe.

“I feel that what [Austin] lacks isn’t even infrastructure,” Feldman said. "It happens to be education between motorists and bicyclists to know the rules of the road and [how] to best navigate the city in tandem.” He’s not alone.

“We all hear stories of these people being hit from behind,”  said Jack Sanford, a program manager at Bike Texas, a statewide nonprofit bike advocacy and education group. “If we can separate cars from bikes and have everyone in their own travel lanes based by speed…more people would commute.”

“I would like to see more of what the city is already doing, which is much more than striping,” said Sanford. “We all know paint on the street isn’t going to protect a cyclist from a distracted driver. But what Austin is doing … is protected bike lanes. These protected lanes are the way of the future to get people on bikes.”

Although the U.S. Census shows that just two percent of Austinites ride their bikes to or from work, that seemingly low number is deceptive.

“Two percent… is actually a pretty big number for cities in the U.S.,” said Sanford. “The fact that census data is showing that Austin is hitting 2 percent is huge ... It shows how much great work people in Austin have done to make it a great city for biking and walking.”

There are many reasons why people choose to bike to work. Some of the most common include saving money on gas, protecting the environment and getting exercise.

“[I bike to work] because it saves me money in gas and parking,” said Monica Herrera, a local biker. “[But] there are not enough bike lanes and some of them need to be improved because they are barely visible.”

Rand Cutter also bikes to work, but she sees things a little differently. Cutter thinks the bike lanes are “fantastic,” but “there are too few bike racks on campus and at other destinations… [and] employers should offer incentives or organized “bike carpools” for employees.”

“Safety is always the number one priority,” said Annick Beaudet, a program manager with the City of Austin Public Works Department. “Secondly we look at congestion management, which … would be  focusing priorities on areas where we know there’s a lot of short trips under three miles being made on our arterial network. And those are trips that realistically could be substituted by a bicycle.”

Beaudet called that “the sweet spot” for turning motorists into bicyclists. She said the city wants to focus on safety, accommodations and other “urban ills” that can be cured by more bicycling.

“Not only through [lessening] congestion but also through the cumulative effects that more active living can have on our quality of life in Austin – the cost of healthcare, transportation and housing,” Beaudet said. “All of those things start to be cured a bit by using a bike more for transportation.”

Emily Donahue is a former grants writer for KUT. She previously served as news director and helped launch KUT’s news department in 2001.
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