Mobility committee hears case to stop cars blocking bike lanes

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Tuesday September 13, 2022 by Samuel Stark

Mobility Committee members on Thursday heard an argument for implementing a program that would step up enforcement of vehicles blocking bike lanes in hopes of making the roads safer for cyclists.

Although the committee took no action on the future of the Bike Lane Bounty program, City Council members who sit on the committee seemed to recognize the importance of discouraging motorists from parking on bike lanes.

Councilor Paige Ellis noted that encountering a vehicle on a bike lane where it is least expected is one of the most dangerous aspects of cycling in the city. “For (every) millions of dollars dedicated to bike lanes, if they’re blocked, they’re utterly useless,” she said.

The Urban Transportation Commission unanimously recommended a Bike path closed program earlier this summer. Currently, residents can use the 311 app to report a vehicle blocking a bike lane, which may or may not result in an officer investigating.

One problem with the current system is that by the time an officer arrives at the designated location, the vehicle in question will often have already departed, Spencer Schumacher, a member of Austin’s cycling advisory board, told the Mobility Committee. Citing data he analyzed from the last 200 complaints on the 311 website, Schumacher said nearly 70 percent of submissions were marked as “no problem found.”

“Pretty much every delivery person knows that,” he said. “They know that as long as they’re there less than 45 minutes — less than an hour — there’s no way they’re going to get a ticket, which is why there’s this big disruption.”

The same data showed that protected bike lanes – separated by a barrier – are less enforced than unblocked bike lanes. Schumacher said there are fewer parking meters near these protected lanes, so an officer is less likely to stumble upon an offender.

“That’s why the UTC recommendation is so important… Ultimately, what happened is that protected bike lanes have become more dangerous than unprotected bike lanes because of these parking violations,” he said.

Schumacher also shared a tragic story depicting the dangers of blocking a bike lane. “I’ll end by telling you that story Of 3-year-old Elizabeth Grace Shambrookwho was killed in Chicago this summer while riding on the back of her mother’s bike when a city truck blocked the bike lane and led her into the back of a semi-truck, which dragged her 20 feet down the street, killing her instantly.

If the program is accepted, a A photo uploaded to 311 of a vehicle parked in a bike lane would serve as additional evidence for enforcement of parking ordinances, said Mario Champion, the proposal’s author. A city official would then determine whether the incident was a criminal offense. “(The program) uses only the 311 mechanisms that we already have and provides an additional source of enforcement potential,” explained Champion.

Another element of the recommendation encourages the council to streamline current regulations, which allow vehicles to park on cycle lanes unless a sign indicates that they are not. Champion said the laws need to be reversed to say parking is never allowed on the bike lane unless a sign is in place says so explicitly.

The City Council is now deciding whether to pass the program into law.

“This is definitely something that’s on my mind,” Councilor Natasha Harper-Madison said. “I’m looking forward to the follow-up.”

“I think these are really important recommendations and I want to help ensure that kind of enforcement happens,” Ellis said.

Photo provided by a Creative Commons license.

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