The Austin Transportation Department released its recommendations on Dec. 5 for the one-mile section of Guadalupe Street that runs through the University of Texas campus, know as “The Drag,” and proposed reducing capacity for cars while increasing transit and bike infrastructure.
The $33.7 million proposal includes recommendations to add a dedicated bus lane in each direction on Guadalupe from 29th Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard; reducing car lanes on that same stretch from two in each direction to one in each direction; removing on-street parking, which would make space for protected bike lanes and wider sidewalks; and converting part of Nueces Street north of 24th Street to two-way traffic.
Why, critics wondered, would reducing car capacity on an already-congested roadway help? The answer, from the city’s perspective, is that while the changes wouldn’t help more cars move through the corridor, they would help more people – using modes like transit and bicycling – move.
“I’ll be super blunt: (The plan) will probably not help vehicle traffic,” Lee Austin, a traffic engineer with the city who worked on the report, told the Austin American Statesman. “It’s a tough decision to make here,” she added, “but Austin as a whole has a made a decision that we don’t want to prioritize giant, multilane roads.” Austin told the Statesman if the city improves bicycle, pedestrian and transit access along Guadalupe it can accommodate three times as many people as cars alone.
Plus, widening the road to add car lanes is not an option, given the existing university buildings and infrastructure along that part of Guadalupe.
Capital Metro has said that dedicated transit lanes will mean faster trips – which will also mean better reliability. The city’s report shows that having those dedicated lanes would shave several minutes off each bus trip and that those time savings will attract more than 200,000 new riders annually.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott was an early critic of the City’s proposal, tweeting out “Wonder why Austin roads are more congested? Because of policies like this that reduce car lanes.”
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) December 6, 2017
But some organizations praised the proposal. “Thanks to extensive research from organizations like the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, we know that one of the best ways to mitigate traffic congestion is by reducing the number of people driving alone during peak travel hours – and it only takes a small percentage of commuters making that shift to have a big impact on the overall system,” said Alix Scarborough, Program Manager at Movability Austin. “We applaud the Austin Transportation Department’s recommendations to add capacity for more travel modes on the Guadalupe corridor, as efficient buses and protected bike lanes will also make it more convenient for people to choose options like transit or bicycling. Combined with the mobility policies that more and more Austin employers are beginning to adopt, that kind of planning can help give people better mobility options.”