City Council passes bike plan, continues CodeNEXT discussion

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Nathan Wilkes, Austin Transportation Department spokesman, talks about the Bicycle Master Plan at City Hall on Thursday.

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

At their meeting Thursday in the newly renovated chambers in City Hall, the Austin City Council passed the Bicycle Master Plan and agreed to discuss the land development code rewrite at their next meeting.

The City Council unanimously passed the Bicycle Master Plan after hearing from three members of the public and amending the resolution. Nathan Wilkes, Austin Transportation Department spokesman, presented the plan as a reboot of the former 2009 Bicycle Master Plan.

“Bicycling is a way to connect people, and to create affordability and create a healthy Austin,” Wilkes said. “In the 2009 plan, it was, ‘What can Austin do to be better for bicycling?’ Now we’re saying, ‘What can bicycling do to meet [Austin’s] goals?’”

The three main points the master plan addresses include creating an infrastructure of protected bike lanes that people would feel comfortable using, connecting the network of lanes to make all of Austin accessible by bicycle, and changing the way people take short trips — 3 miles or under — from automobile to bicycle.

Wilkes stressed that the 2014 bicycle master plan is not the same as the 2009 master plan.

“I wanted to speak a little to the project level implementation process — how we get projects on the ground,” Wilkes said. “This is the master planning process. What’s in the 2009 plan is not going to be on the ground verbatim. It has to be tested by the public.”

According to Wilkes, the planning process of the current master plan started two years ago.

“We kicked this off in August 2012,” Wilkes said. “We started public outreach about a year after we kicked off. Those meetings continued until February 2014. We received a lot of positive feedback; we received 2,000 some comments in support.”

According to Wilkes, the bicycle plan and the urban trails plan are intertwined, and the success of one relies on the success of the other.

“This network is not just made up of protected lanes,” Wilkes said. “The urban trails are a key component of this network. Without those, it would be fragmented. The investment is a $151 million investment, including the investment in the urban trails.”

The City Council also opened the land development code rewrite, CodeNEXT, up for public hearing. Several members of the community testified about their preferences on how to approach rewriting Austin’s land development code. 

City staff and the hired consultant firm Opticos recommended “The Deep Clean” approach as the best way to approach rewriting the code. “The Deep Clean” would completely reformat and reorganize the code, while only implementing a “medium” extent content rewrite. Some citizen speakers were in favor of “The Complete Makeover” approach, which would consist of a more extensive rewrite and take longer than “The Deep Clean.”

A few speakers advised against the City Council making a decision at all. Zilker neighborhood resident David King used the tale of Goldilocks as an example of how simplistically the City Council sought to solve the code rewrite.

“I don’t think any of these proposed options reflect Austin’s values and culture,” King said. “I would ask that we take the time to build an Austin option — not a generic one, two, three. If you make a decision on the code alternatives, you are locking the next Council into that decision. What is the rush to make the decision now? There’s plenty of work to be done on the new project without making a decision now. It can wait until the new Council.”

Without City Council member Bill Spelman on the dais, the City Council stayed divided between the two approaches. They will discuss CodeNEXT again on Nov. 20.