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The Chronicle gets Shoal Creek badly wrong

This week's Chronicle badly misremembers the history of the Shoal Creek Blvd. Debacle of '00; casting city staff as villains and Jackie Goodman and the neighborhood as heroes. Here's a short (correct) timeline, along with what they got wrong:

1. Prior to 2000, SCB allows parking in bike lanes. This is something which nobody would do today; these bike lanes predate modern bicycle traffic engineering practice.
2. SCB's turn comes in the "let's ban parking in existing bike lanes" carousel. The past couple of years saw the no-parking signs go up on about a half-dozen streets with old bike lanes such as Mesa Dr.
3. City staff from bike/ped program decides to be nice and come up with a plan which allows on-street parking on one side of the street (see this picture). Chronicle writer misconstrues this as a bike lane "on one side of the street".
4. Neighborhood freaks. Jackie Goodman sides with them, of course.
5. Staff and neighborhood come up with an "alternating sides" strategy where there's still only parking on one side, but it winds back and forth every so often.
6. The "alternating sides" strategy is tested and fails.
7. Charles Gandy comes in and convinces the neighborhood and a couple of well-meaning but naive cyclists that this plan can work.
8. City engineers reject that plan for liability reasons (damn straight - look at the pictures again if you have to).
9. Fallback plan of maintaining slightly modified original layout with some bulb-outs. IE, instead of 12-13 ft travel lanes with 7-8 ft "bike lane with parking", we get 10-ft travel lanes with 10-ft "bike lane with parking". Chronicle writer misrepresents city engineers' opposition as against this fallback plan rather than to Gandy's 10-4-6 disaster.

And of course the conclusion to the article comes from Paul Nagy. As one person on Michael Bluejay's page put it:

Any possibility that a mutually beneficial result could emerge from a consensus-based process -- however slight -- was completely dashed when the whole process was hijacked by Paul Nagy. There was a point where Gandy had hood-winked everyone into thinking a panacea solution existed, when he should have known better that his "solution" would never make it past city engineers. (I actually don't feel bad at being deceived by this snake oil, as so many others -- except Dahmus -- were also taken in, including many from the bike community.) I place full blame for that on Gandy for playing politics by trying to please everyone when it's clear that that is impossible. We hired him as an "expert," and clearly he is not.

At the point where the original design -- which was agreed upon by the original consensus committee as final -- was tossed back, Nagy and Gandy jumped on the opportunity to assume the helm without any input from anyone else. There is NO cycling voice in the process AT ALL now.

Pure hatchet-job. Where are you, Lauri Apple and Mike Clark-Madison?

Here's the letter. Let's see if it makes it in.

In reference to this week's column by Daniel Mottola, allow me to suggest that in the future a columnist who picks up a long-running issue for the first time be encouraged to familiarize themselves with the history of the issue before writing a wrap-up. For one thing, the city staff proposal originally presented by a long-serving and dedicated employee of the bike/ped program had bike lanes on both sides of the street, with on-street parking allowed only on one side. No proposal with a bike lane on one side of the street only was ever proposed.

More importantly, both Michael Bluejay (http://bicycleaustin.info/roadways/shoalcreek.html) and myself (http://www.io.com/~mdahmus/trans/shoalcreek.html) have long had summaries of the issue with diagrams. I highly encourage people to look at the picture of Charles Gandy's original proposal at http://www.dahmus.org/iofiles/trans/consultplan.html (showing a cyclist narrowly avoiding getting disembowled as they attempt to travel between a SUV and a parked truck) before coming to conclusions that Jackie Goodman's "give the neighborhood whatever they want no matter what" position was the right one.

The city engineers deserve medals, not ridicule, for standing up for the safety of cyclists and against the bogus 4-foot-bike-lane next to substandard-parking-lane design supported by Gandy and the neighborhood. The "shared multipurpose lanes" were a REACTION to their threat not to sign off on Gandy's plan, another thing your columnist gets wrong.

In short: the Shoal Creek debacle showed that even on the most important route in the city for commuting cyclists, the city doesn't have the guts to put safe travel for cyclists ahead of on-street parking (even when on-street parking is preserved on one side of the street). The multipurpose lanes are essentially what was on the street to begin with - a solution that no traffic engineer or bicycle coordinator would today approve -- bicycle lanes which cars can park in at will.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commissioner
and Only No Vote on Great Shoal Creek Debacle of '00

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Bicycling in Austin , Personal , The Shoal Creek Debacle , When Neighborhoods Go Bad

Comments

I think it's important to undersand that the so-called "test" of the "alternating sides" alternative was horribly flawed. It was, in fact, a joke, and I suspect it was intended to be a joke, with the desired outcome being failure.

The test was performed a very short time (I think only a few days? Maybe a couple of weeks at most) after the short test section was put in place. This was unfortunate, as most users of the street didn't have enough time to adjust. It was a fairly confusing surprise when drivers and cyclists came upon this inexplicable stretch of road at too-great a speed.

The test section remained in place for many months after the test was concluded, and I noticed that both driver and cyclist behavior improved markedly in the section after only a few weeks, with everyone staying where they belonged, and with speeds noticeably slower through the section.

The criteria for judging the test a failure were ridiculous, and in the end I believe it was merely the complaints of a few loud residents who opposed the plan from the outset that really influenced the outcome -- far more than an objective analysis of a representative situation.

I consider this really sad, as the "alternating sides" alternative, perhaps slightly modified to include curb bump-outs in the transition zones, and maybe also with slightly more gradual transitions, was far and away the best alternative of all.

Thanks for the comments, Lane.

I'd agree with most of that -- I think you're right in pointing out that the city staff was dubious of the alternating sides approach and may have therefore not ran the test long enough. I don't know how long the test would have had to be to have been valid, but it's pretty clear from their subsequent actions that the neighbors wouldn't have stood for it even if the test had succeeded.

I also agree that alternating sides with nice transitions was better than one-side only for the whole length; the beauty of pick-a-side-and-stick-with-it for the whole length, though, is that it could have gradually been turned into the alternating-sides approach as money became available.

Oh, two more things. I think you fail to mention (or, perhaps don't mention emphatically enough for my tastes, anyway) two important points. First, what has been the lasting effect of SCB? Does the city still have a policy of removing parking from bike lanes? What role does "neighborhood consensus" have in establishing and abiding city policy?

The other thing that I think is really important to point out is that the city flouted its responsibility when it allowed naive (at best; uncaring at worst) neighborhood residents to trade cyclist safety for resident parking convenience on public transporation facility. Streets are for transportation for all (car drivers as well as bike riders and pedestrians), not for convenient car storage for a few residents. I view any such safety/convenience trade-off as entirely unacceptable.