austin bicycle advisory council favors bike lanes on mesa drive

Tuesday night the Austin Bicycle Advisory Council voted in favor of bicycle lanes on Mesa Drive in northwest Austin.

The Austin Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC) met Tuesday evening in the bullpen room of Austin City Hall to discuss the bike lanes on Mesa Drive, a street located in the Northwest Hills area of Austin.

In the end, the BAC members supported a solution that includes bike lanes with either parking restricted or bike lanes with no parking on Mesa. Out of the votes, five BAC members voted for the motion, zero opposed and two abstained. However, this is just the BAC’s opinion, the City of Austin will ultimately decide which proposal to choose.

“[Mesa] is a street that was set for routine maintenance, and when that happens we have the opportunity to make a near term safety and operations improvement of the street,” active transportation program manager for the City of Austin, Laura Dierenfield said.

Mesa Drive is near schools as well as residential homes and is often frequented by bikers. At the moment there are no lane markings on the street, people can park on Mesa and there are no bike lanes. Plus, residents are concerned about the speed with which people drive.

“The speed limit is 35 — not 45, not 55. People are always driving too fast; it’s like MoPac,” Mesa Drive resident Zachary Summers said.

The area under discussion is between Cat Mountain Drive and Far West Boulevard, with Knollwood Drive being the center point.

The meeting began with two proposals for the area; each one with its own set of problems. The first proposal was to restrict parking to only the west side of Mesa to provide parking-free bicycle lanes.

But residents were worried about having to cross the street and they felt that the speed limit is never enforced.

“I hate the one where I am not allowed to park in front of my own home, because…I have three young children and if I have to cross, people here are going 60 miles per hour,” Mesa resident Sophie Ting said.

This resulted in the second proposal, restricting parking on the west side of Mesa Drive south of Knollwood Drive, and restricting parking on the east side of Mesa Drive north of Knollwood, which maintains parking-free bicycle lanes.

There was some resident support for this proposal. However, there was more strong feedback from people who said having access to on-street parking on both sides of the street is more important than having a parking-free bike lane.

After discussing the proposals at public meetings the final proposal was created through the merging of the first two.

The current and revised proposal would allow on-street parking on both sides of Mesa, and the existing bicycle lane would be converted to a wide shoulder that would serve both on-street parking and non-motorized street users.

The reasoning behind this proposal was that there is hardly ever anyone parked on Mesa.

Despite her earlier concerns, Ting confirmed this, saying, “The city is true — parking on the street is not that frequent.”

However, she is worried that when her friends with families come to visit and they have to park on the street, crossing Mesa could be dangerous.

Bikers are also concerned about their safety. Ting doesn’t let her children bike on Mesa because she believes, “it is not safe to bike on this street.” But her husband, Noel Ting, mentioned if something was done about the bike lanes they probably would bike.

Professional bicyclist Retta, who declined to give her last name and is also a Mesa resident, said that she has to “stay close to the curb and have lots of lights on, especially at night,” in order to stay safe.

She said, “saying to drivers this [bike lane] is just for bikers might help with the long term life of a biker.”

But Mesa resident Jay Byler is not in favor of changing the street — he believes it is fine the way it is. He thinks most of the people concerned about bike lanes are from out of the neighborhood.

Byler said, “There were 600 people that went to the meeting or wrote about having a dedicated bike lane but there are only about two that live in the neighborhood. It does not harm the people who are not from the area.”

Now that the BAC has voted, an official conclusion about what will happen on Mesa is still pending. Active transportation program manager Laura Dierenfield does not know when the city will make the final decision.

“We are working through all of the feedback we have received from the community, and we will be doing final analysis to make the final determination,” Dierenfield said.