Amy Babich  Candidate for Austin City Council, Place 5

Human Power Party

P.O. Box 49084, Austin, TX 78765 * (512) 453-0438 *

Position Statements
Details on Transportation Agenda
Interview with Bicycling in Austin Newsletter
Recent letters to the Austin Chronicle
Profile by the Austin Chronicle

Links to other sites
Early Voting Locations
Austin American-Statesman article about Amy, 2-8-99 (The Statesman charges $5.95 to read this article on their website, and won't allow us to reprint it here.)
Amy appeared on the cover of the October 17, 1997 Austin Chronicle, which carried a feature story about Austin cycling. (The Chronicle lets you read that article for free.)
Reviews of Amy's 1998 novel, "The Age of the Bicycle":
   Review in the Austin Chronicle
Review in MSRRT (Minnesota Library Association Social Responsibilities Round Table)
Bicycling in Austin website

Agenda on Transportation

This statement of the candidate's position on issues is, by its nature, always incomplete and subject to revision. If you have suggestions or questions, please contact Amy.



1. Facilitate non-motorized transportation (walking, bicycling, wheelchairing) as a major mode of transportation. Currently, people say that non-motorized transportation accounts for less than 10% of trips, but this number could be increased to 30%, 50%, or more by making some changes in city policy.

a. The city must take responsibility for sidewalk construction and maintenance. All Austin roads need well-maintained sidewalks on both sides. We need to equip the roads we have with sidewalks before even considering building new roads. Since bond money for sidewalks is continually diverted to other projects, we need to fund sidewalks heavily and make sure the money does not get spent on something else. Sidewalks are extremely important, and should not be considered an afterthought.

b. Bicycling is an easy and enjoyable way to travel around Austin. It appeals to many people as a way of moving around, but most people are afraid to ride bicycles on Austin's streets. We can change this situation, and it should be a top priority to do so. Here are some tools we can use to make the streets safer and more inviting for bicyclists and pedestrians:

i. A network of paved (or surfaced like hike-and-bike trails) bicycle highways running parallel to major high-speed roads. Alternatively, full-width lanes for bicycles only on high-speed roads, with barriers such as bollards to prevent cars from using these lanes or drifting into the bicycle space. A sidewalk for pedestrians should run parallel to the bicycle highway.

ii. Bicycle boulevards. A bicycle boulevard is a street which is punctuated every few blocks with barriers which turn the street into a sequence of cul-de-sacs for cars, but a through street for pedestrians and bicyclists. There are ways to set up barriers that can be removed by operators of buses, trams, and emergency vehicles needing to get through.

iii. Car-free streets, and car-fee zones in general. It's important to have at least a few areas of the city that are actually free of cars, so that people can see what it's like. As with bicycle boulevards, car-free zones can admit buses, trams, and emergency vehicles.

iv. Secure bicycle parking. Currently the city spends millions of dollars on parking garages with no place for bicycles. It's not safe to leave your bicycle chained to a parking meter while you are at work. Currently, most workplaces, stores, and entertainment places have no bicycle facilities. The law demands that every business and residence must provide car parking, but not bicycle parking. This needs to be changed. All workplaces should provide secure, covered bicycle parking.

v. Lockers and showers at workplaces need to be available, so that workers with long summer commutes can be as well-groomed and dapper as their gasoline-powered colleagues. Privately run locker-shower facilities for public use should also be encouraged.

vi. Bicycle and pedestrian paths and bridges should be constructed to provide shortcuts for non-motorized transportation through cul-de-sac neighborhoods. (For example, a bicycle-pedestrian shortcut from the Highland neighborhood to Highland Mall would be useful.) In lieu of bridges, push-button pedestrian lights (like the one in front of the School for the Blind on West 45th Street) can be used to help people walk across busy streets.

v. The current warrants for traffic lights, stop signs, speed limits, and so on, are decided at the state and national level, and overwhelmingly favor motorized traffic above nonmotorized traffic. We need to have more local control of these matters. When residents of a neighborhood find crossing a street dangerous and daunting, and the neighborhood requests a stop sign, traffic light, lower speed limit, or pedestrian pushbutton light, the request should, in general, be granted, not refused because it does not jibe with state and national traffic standards. These national standards have produced a situation nationwide in which people are afraid to walk around or ride bicycles. Let's change this on the city level. Waiting for the state or federal government to solve our transportation problems is futile.

vi. Traffic light policies need to be re-evaluated. Currently, when there is an imbalance in traffic volume on intersecting roads (i.e., road A intersects road B and carries more cars than road B), traffic light policy (which gives road B a longer red and shorter green light than road A) tends to widen this imbalance, rather than equalize it. Also, when a pedestrian at a busy intersection pushes a button for a WALK light, the pedestrian has to wait for a long time at a dangerous, unpleasant, and unhealthy intersection. Traffic lights across arterials do not, in general, give bicyclists and pedestrians enough time to cross the street safely. Many, many traffic lights are activated by sensors that fail to detect bicycles and pedestrians. Correcting this has not been a top priority. It should be. In programming traffic lights, pedestrians and bicyclists should be favored over motorists. Otherwise, the percentage of Austinites who drive motorcars everywhere will continue to grow, not shrink. We should be trying to shrink this percentage.

vii. When construction projects require the closing of a street to cars, there is nearly always a way to leave a passage open for pedestrians and bicyclists. But currently nobody even thinks about doing this. Pedestrians and bicyclists are much slower than motorists, and so are more inconvenienced by long detours. The city should have an enforced policy of leaving passage for pedestrians and bicyclists through construction which closes streets to cars.

viii. Austin's hike and bike trails are used for transportation by pedestrians, bicyclists, and wheelchairists. Currently, such trails are often closed without any warning or signage. We should have an enforceable and enforced policy requiring trails to be left open when at all possible, and requiring warning signs to be posted when trails are closed.

ix. Currently, public and private cars and trucks often park on sidewalks and block them. People plant bushes and allow them to grow over sidewalks. Businesses block sidewalks with merchandise. Sidewalks and curb cuts must be kept open for wheelchairists, pedestrians, and bicyclists. We need a public awareness campaign to this effect. People here do not seem acquainted with the idea of sidewalks as transportation corridors.

x. Cars should not be allowed to park in bicycle lanes. Private cars should be stored on private property when not in use. The safety of pedestrians and bicyclists should take precedence over the convenience of motorists. Pedestrians as well as bicyclists currently travel in bicycle lanes, as most streets have no sidewalks.

xi. The City of Austin should stop placing open garbage cans at the right-hand edge of the street (in the bicycle lane if there is one). Garbage cans should not be left open after emptying. In warm weather, they smell extremely bad. The bad smell is discouraging to pedestrians and bicyclists.

xi. Motorists should be publicly encouraged to switch off car engines when the car is standing still. There should also be a public awareness campaign encouraging motorists to slow down in residential neighborhoods, and to watch out for pedestrians and bicyclists.
xii. Repeal the bicycle helmet law, unless we are willing to pass a similar law requiring all car drivers and car passengers under 18 to wear racecar helmets, with a $50 fine for noncompliance. Raising public awareness of bicycle safety is a good idea, but helmets are not the only factor in bicycle safety. It's important to emphasize that the main threat to bicyclists is cars, and the main life-preserving strategy is visibility. This involves lights, back flashers, and reflective tape on bicycles. Helmets can be useful, too. But most of the world doesn't use them, and foreign cyclists do not die like flies in bicycle crashes. Give away free helmets, by all means, but repeal the law. Don't subject bicyclists to measures that you would not even consider imposing on motorists. It just discourages bicycle use and encourages car use.

xiii. When roads are opened to cars or widened to accommodate more cars, overall motor traffic volume increases. When roads or car lanes are closed, overall motor traffic decreases. We should avoid building new car roads or widening the car roads we have. The roads we have need repairing and equipping with sidewalks (on both sides) and bicycle lanes, We can't afford both to build new roads and maintain the roads we have. We have enough roads. Let's put road money into maintenance, sidewalks, and bike lanes, rather than new road construction.

xiv. Get rid of low tax rates for parking lots for cars. Get rid of zoning rules requiring parking space for cars at every business or residence. Require that bicycle parking be provided wherever car parking is provided.

xv. Re-examine rules for pedicabs, bicycle tandem taxis, and other bicycle-based businesses. Where the rules are so stringent that such businesses become prohibitively expensive to operate, change the rules.

xv. There are signs posted all over Austin Near intersections which read BIKE LANE ENDS. Very few people know what these signs mean, or how bicycles and motor vehicles are supposed to behave at intersections. The behavior prescribed by law is that bicycles, cars, and trucks line up in single file in a lane at an intersection. These confusing signs need to be replaced with something intelligible, such as BICYCLES MERGE WITH TRAFFIC AT INTERSECTION or BICYCLES USE WHOLE LANE AT INTERSECTION, with illustrative picture. Other unintelligible signs should be replaced by something that people can understand.

2. Provide adequate public transportation. Public transportation needs to go everywhere, arrive at any given stop at ten-minute intervals, be cheap or free for riders, and run all night. From midnight to 5 a.m. service may be less frequent, but the system must continue to run.

a. Improve the bus system. Buses must come often and run all day. Smaller buses are better than larger ones. Electric buses are much better than diesel. Consider replacing some buses with trams. The Dillos would be ideal for this. It's absurd to run fake trolleys that blow smoke in people's faces.

b. Many women report that they feel unsafe standing alone at deserted bus stops. Bus stops should be enclosed and roofed, and should be flanked by at least some small retail operations: news stands, vendors with carts, small stores. The necessary zoning changes should be made immediately.

c. Bus drivers need to receive training on dealing with bicycles and pedestrians. Don't pass a bicycle with less than three feet of space between your vehicles. Don't rush past a bicycle and then stop right ahead of it at an intersection or bus stop. Don't stop a bus in the middle of a pedestrian crosswalk.

d. Some of the buses in Capital Metro's fleet need immediate replacement. Some of the buses put out large plumes of black smoke, and some make strange noises when operated.

e. It might be a good idea to divide up running the bus/tram system into smaller pieces. Right now, Capital Metro management does not seem to observe the condition of its bus system or respond to customer complaints.

f. Make use of trams (also known as streetcars or trolleys). These are lighter than light rail, and much cheaper. Investigate the use of trams in other cities (Toronto, for example). Trams are electric and run on lightweight tracks, They are more pleasant to ride than buses (the ride is smoother), and safer (their path is predictable, they don't belch smoke, and, since they don't carry their engines, they weigh much less than buses).

g. We may not be able to count on Capital Metro to make the needed improvements to Austin's transportation system. We should not rely too much on Capital Metro. The City of Austin itself can provide public transportation to supplement Capital Metro's efforts. Private businesses should also be encouraged to provide transportation, in the form of buses, trams, and paths for pedestrians and bicyclists.

h. When a proposed business site is opposed by a neighborhood because it will increase motor traffic volume, the business should supply its own transportation system. Variances for extra parking spaces for cars should not, in general, be granted. Businesses should be held responsible for moving employees, goods, and customers in and out without increasing overall motor traffic volume. Businesses can run their own shuttles, buses, and trams. They can also hire bicyclists with trailers to deliver goods.

i. Buses should go all the way into destinations such as Barton Springs, shopping malls, and parks, not drop passengers a quarter mile or more away, sometimes across busy streets. A quarter mile on a busy street can be a long trek for a pedestrian, particularly a disabled pedestrian or a parent with small children.

j. Buses and trams should enable older children to move freely around the city by themselves, without their parents. Our current practice of keeping children in their parents' cars until they are old enough to drive cars themselves is extremely counterproductive.

k. Remember that the goal of a public transportation system is to enable people to move around freely without cars and even without bicycles. Don't design a system that won't work without cars.

l. Stop subsidizing private cars with public funds: free parking spaces for city employees, car allowances in addition to salary for city officials, free parking in general. Cars are expensive, both monetarily and in other ways, for our whole society. Put the cost where it belongs -- on the private car owner. Don't let cars park in bicycle lanes or on sidewalks. If a household has three cars, some of the house's yard should be used for parking the cars, not public street and sidewalk space. Sidewalks should be acknowledged as public space, and maintained by the city.

m. Advertise the airport bus and put it in the same part of the airport as other ground transportation. The airport bus needs to run at least until midnight, especially is the City Council continues to meet there. Discourage the practice of driving a car to the airport and leaving it parked there while you travel. Eventually, depave the airport parking lot.

n. Some citizens have been advocating innovative forms of transportation such as monorails. These should certainly be researched. Other weird-sounding transportation facilities worth investigating include:

i. covered enclosed elevated bicycle highways with fans to drive a tailwind for the cyclists;
ii. a device used in Norway to move pedestrians and bicyclists up extra-steep hills;
iii. a lightweight wireless electric tram allegedly in use in Brixton, England.

o. Car libraries should be encouraged. The city could run one for its employees. A car library owns many cars. A person becomes a member of a car library by paying about $500 per year in dues. A library member has access to the library's cars. A member checks out a car when he/she needs to use one, and then returns it. This system is ideal for people who use cars, but not very often. It lets a person invest less money in the car culture, and reduces the number of cars in the city.

p. Stop spending money to get people across town faster by car. Since we're trying to reduce car use, such spending doesn't make sense. The money can be used, instead, to help people move around safely and swiftly on foot, by bicycle, and by public transit.

q. Until the Lamar Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge is completed, restrict car traffic on the existing Lamar Bridge to one lane in each direction, to improve public safety.

r. Wherever the City Council chooses to meet, it should be in a place that it easily accessible to bus riders and bicyclists, until at least midnight.

3. Build the light rail system. Build as much of it as possible, both in-city rail and commuter rail. If light rail gets defeated at the polls, use the money to build trams and extend the bus system. Do NOT use public transportation money to build highways or highway lanes for cars (this includes high-occupancy vehicle lanes). If light rail passes at the polls and we get to build the first leg of it, please let's remember that one rail line is not a transportation system; it's a small fragment of a transportation system. Build light rail, but don't expect it to solve all the city's transportation problems. It will improve mobility for a lot of people.

a. A car-free bicycle path should run parallel to the light rail system, and also to the commuter rail system. A pedestrian sidewalk should parallel the bicycle path.

b. The purpose of a rail line is to enable people to move around without cars, not to improve traffic flow on the highway. As long as more cars keep driving on more highways, no improvement of traffic flow there will be permanent.

c. It should be possible to take bicycles onto Austin's trains.

d. Like buses, trains should run frequently and run all night.

Website hosted by Michael Bluejay, who supports Amy's campaign but is otherwise uninvolved with it.