Austin continues to investigate bus access on the future Lady Bird Bridge

Photo by Austin Transit Partnership

Wednesday December 15, 2021 by Willow Higgins

Austins Municipal Transport Commissionadvising municipal authorities on transport-related matters, met last week and continued discussions about the possibility of expanding the means of transport available on the future Lady Bird Bridge. The subject was also discussed at a public design workshop organized by the Austin Transit Partnership, and the city will continue discussions into the New Year.

The aptly named bridge crosses Lady Bird Lake and offers another way to cross the river from the north or south. The first plans for the bridge include the addition of the Blue Line Light Rail, an important component of the urban transit expansion Project Connect, as well as the pedestrian and cyclist connection. The northern end of the bridge will lead to a green area by the water, which will also serve as an important connection for local public transport. But on Tuesday Commissioner Samuel Franco urged his colleagues and Austin Transportation to consider making the future Lady Bird Bridge even more multimodal and bringing bus routes into space.

While the first plans for the bridge were being made, the bridge itself was not yet designed; The city will offer the public a tender in an international design competition, in which world-famous architects such as Santiago Calatrava will take part.

The commission brought in Peter Mullan from the Project Connect office to give Preliminary background On the bridge. So far, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority has not included buses on this bridge in its initial planning and preliminary design for two reasons, Mullan said. The area on the north side of the lake that will be the community’s hub will be very limited in terms of space. Second, from a light rail operations standpoint, Mullan said it was best practice for light rail vehicles and buses not to use the same lane. While there are exceptions to this rule of thumb, “(the Austin Transit Partnership) light rail experts … generally do not want to combine other modes of transport on the route, almost without exception,” said Mullan.

However, Franco said that ATP should present the design challenge to the experts who will take part in the design competition.

“You are about to post a bid to world class design firms to help solve these problems. All I ask is that in this tender we say, “If you can find a way to incorporate buses into this system as well, please incorporate that into your design” … block that now and don’t even give in To allow world-class designers to see things from a different perspective is a grave injustice, ”said Franco.

Mullan expressed concerns about including unrealistic expectations in the tender.

“We don’t ask for fantasy, we ask for reality. I think we want to be as clear as possible in our instructions … about how this bridge is operated, ”said Mullan. “And here, too, the instruction from Cap Metro was not to provide a bus connection here.”

Franco linked his concerns about the lack of bus access on the future bridge to an equity problem with Austin town planning. Prior to the UTC meeting, Franco also emailed ATP detailing his concerns about the lack of bus access on the bridge. He quoted his email at the meeting.

“The light rail system only has one east and one west route. While I am sure it is well meant, this footprint does not serve most historically underrepresented parts of our city, ”the email read. “As we ponder these past design flaws and tackle a new design for the bright future of our city, we must not allow the design of this new bridge to promote the repressive and racist past of our city.” In theory, bus interconnection could on the bridge to allow the East Austinites more mobility in transit, said Franco.

While Franco asked the commission to finally write a memo to the city council asking Austin Transportation to include the potential for buses in the RFP for the bridge, the commission decided they needed more information before proceeding. Mullan will contact the Commission with details of the technical and operational constraints on the draft that may allow or limit the possibility of buses being included in the plan.

The Commission will resume the matter in January.

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