A "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper" Protected Bike Lane in Austin

The number of protected bike lanes in the United States has exploded by greater than 700 percent this decade, from 78 in 2011 to more than 580 today. A protected bike lane is a bike path that is physically separated from cars by barriers that sometimes include curbs, planters, bollards, dividers or other features. One of the newest is in the Mueller neighborhood of Austin, Texas.

The two-way protected bike path in Mueller connects to a local park and makes it safer for kids biking to and from a nearby elementary school. The bike path is a logical next step for Mueller. The former site of an airport, the Mueller Community is being developed as a transit-oriented neighborhood that makes it easier for residents and visitors to walk and bike.

The protected bike path is also a great next step for Austin, which has already made a name for itself as one of the best bike cities in America. Austin’s progress in this area is being well-documented by John Simmerman. Simmerman may be familiar to regular readers of Strong Towns. He is the president and co-founder of Active Towns, a nonprofit focused on profiling the people, places and programs that promote a “Culture of Activity.” Simmerman has written for Strong Towns, appeared on our podcasts, and been the feature of a short profile.

We love how Simmerman uses high-quality video to inform and inspire people about how good design contributes to active living and community wellness. In this short video from late July, he captured the community celebration of the Zach Scott Street bike path. Residents describe the benefits they’re already seeing. These include safe passage for cyclists and pedestrians, how it is keeping cars below the speed limit, and the way it is bringing residents together. In fact, a thirteen-year, twelve-city study found that protected bike lanes not only made cyclists safer — they made pedestrians and even drivers safe as well.

We at Strong Towns also love how the Zach Scott Street project took an incremental approach. John Simmerman told us the project combines “quick build materials and techniques along with more permanent (hardscape) facilities.”

“Eventually the community will upgrade the ‘softer’ materials,” he said, “but there was an urgency to employ a more ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper’ approach to certain sections that did not absolutely demand the more expensive, time-consuming materials.”

We’re excited to see what else is in store for John Simmerman and Austin’s biking infrastructure. Simmerman is working on a full-length documentary called Making the Big Jump, about how cities across the nation are massively boosting the number of cyclists.

Meanwhile, back in Austin, the city has already started on its next protected bike lane.