PeopleForBikes calls Austin’s $14.5-million bike bridge one of country’s best bikeways

The bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the Barton Creek gorge next to MoPac Boulevard was recognized as one of the best bike projects in America by PeopleForBikes. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Remember the rumblings that surrounded the opening of the bike and pedestrian bridges over Barton Creek and Loop 360 earlier this year? Despite all that, a national bike advocacy group has named the project one of the 10 best new bikeways in America.

RELATED: Bike bridges open, linking South Austin to Zilker Park

The bridges were one of two Austin projects to make the list compiled by PeopleForBikes, which has 1.2 million members across the country. The protected bike lane along Third Street earned the same honor.

First, some background. The bike bridges along Loop 1 (Mopac Boulevard) were a $14.5-million joint project between the Texas Department of Transportation and the city of Austin. My co-worker, Ben Wear, criticized the project after it opened, questioning whether it was worth the expense to help so few bike commuters.

RELATED: Barton Creek bridge built, but few coming so far

That ticked me off, so I responded, pointing out that he didn’t see many cyclists on the day he researched his story because they didn’t know it was open, and it was an extremely hot day. Plus, I said, Austin needs a multi-modal approach. Just building more traffic lanes into downtown Austin just force feeds more cars and trucks into a city that can’t handle it.

A separated bike path runs along a section of Third Street in downtown Austin. BEN WEAR/American-Statesman

RELATD: LeBlanc: Give those bike bridges time before condemning them

Back to that list, though. Officials at PeopleForBikes made their picks based on how the projects contributed to connectivity throughout the city and a city’s level of investment. Staff members talked with local and national infrastructure experts around the country, and emphasized projects that linked low-stress bikeways such as protected bike lanes, off-street paths and neighborhood bikeways.

“Austin’s work connecting networks of bike paths and low-stress bike lanes is among the most impressive in the country right now,” said Kyle Wagenschutz, director of local innovation at PeopleForBikes.

He noted that the two Austin projects were part of the reason that Austin was chosen for the group’s Big Jump Project, an attempt to double or triple bike use by 2020.

“These projects clearly show Austin wants its bikeways to be not only comfortable for anyone to use, but also convenient to where people want to go,” Wagenschutz said. “That’ll pay off in health, happiness and congestion-proof mobility.”

The other project that was recognized, the crosstown bikeway on Third Street, serves thousands of cyclists each day, said Laura Dierenfield, active transportation and street design division manager at the city of Austin’s Transportation Department.

I’ve been using that lane a lot lately, while pedaling from swim practice at the University of Texas to the Statesman offices. Cement islands separate the bike lanes from motorized traffic, and include their own bike signals, which give cyclists a few seconds head start on cars and trucks.

Here’s the complete list:

  • Georgia Path Parkway, Atlanta
  • MoPac Mobility Bridges, Austin
  • Jackson Street / Capital City Bikeway, St. Paul
  • Third Street, Austin
  • Williamsburg Bridge approaches, New York City
  • Bancroft Way, Berkeley, California
  • Jay Street, New York City
  • Seventh Avenue bicycle boulevard, Ellensburg, Washington
  • New York Avenue / Michigan Avenue couplet, Indianapolis

Honorable mentions went to Northern Boulevard in New York City and Michigan Avenue in Detroit.

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