Austin’s new street design guide aims to make roads less automobile-focused

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As the city of Austin begins implementing the 2016 Mobility Bond Program, some of those new and updated roads could get a makeover.

On Tuesday, Austin transportation officials rolled out a draft version of its updated Austin Street Design Guide that shows new designs for streets with travel lanes, bicycle facilities and sidewalks, including raised bike lanes that would put those facilities at the same height as sidewalks.

“We need to balance our network more. It’s too predominantly autocentric now,” said Annick Beaudet, manager of the Austin Transportation Department’s Systems Development Division. “We absolutely understand that … there is a need to drive cars. This is a true multimodal approach.”

Austin street designBecause the city completed its corridor plans in the last few years, Liane Miller, project manager with the transportation department, said staffers reviewed the streets’ current conditions and updated the plans with any new development that has occurred and with some of the new design guidelines.

“I know in some of the corridors they are recommending raised bike lanes where maybe those weren’t in the original corridor plan because they were developed eight years ago and design guidance has evolved over time,” Miller said. “We are hoping [the corridor plans]are a perfect pilot test because we do have funding now to do a lot of in-city design.”

Jeff Whitacre, an associate with consultant Kimley-Horn hired to assist with creating the new guidelines, said the guide is more of a technical manual that describes desired widths of travel lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks.

Austin street designThe guide has five cross sections for urban roads and five cross sections for suburban roads and also provides recommendations with options to modify when needed, he said. An example is the guide recommends allowing 7 feet in the right of way for sidewalks.

“If we’re trying to find space in the right of way, we know that if it’s a constrained environment we can shrink that down to 6 feet,” he said.

Additionally, the city will test the new design guidelines over the next nine months and has encouraged other departments, such as public works, as well as those in the private sector to use the guide and provide feedback.

Miller said the city is updating its street design criteria because Imagine Austin comprehensive city plan calls for increasing transportation options, reducing residents’ dependency on driving, expanding cycling and sidewalk networks and improving transit service.

“Imagine Austin has a envision of complete communities, a connected network of activity centers where daily needs are located closer together making shorter, more convenient trips possible,” she said. “These centers, if well connected, with the right street design, can increase opportunities for waking and bicycling instead of driving.”

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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