Can Bikes Coexist with Pedestrians?

bike-pedestrian#BikeAroundBlanton: Pedestrians Vs. Bikes

Finding good, attractive routes for bike, pedestrian, and car traffic is one of the core challenges of city planning, and one that the University of Texas Austin is having to face retroactively in their Blanton Museum complex on the south side of the campus.

Some of us bike through this exact area on a daily basis, and to be honest, I’m pretty dismayed at how glaringly this has been relegated to “afterthought” status. I expected more out of a school with a big-name architecture department. At the same time, I’m hoping for a logical resolution and am happy that the issue is getting the attention and thought it deserves.

First the Complaining

I’m sure the architects who designed the Blanton — probably Herzog & de Meuron Architekten AG, Basel Switzerland (Design Architect), in conjunction with Booziotis & Company Architects, Dallas, Texas — could cite some pleasant statistics about the enormity of their accomplishment. After all, it’s the 5th largest university in the country and was #1 up until 2003. And this lovely museum is sited at the south entrance, directly north of the state capitol and Austin’s thriving downtown.

So, Herzog & de Meuron Architekten, why was there zero thought put into this critical bikeway? How are 50,000 students supposed to leave the campus? I thought Switzerland was bike-friendly. I know UT is a bike-centric place, but sometimes I get mixed signals. A great example is the temporary bike ramp that was thrown up in front of Blanton during construction. This ramp required bicyclists to make a sharp turn halfway up, which was especially distressing during the final phases of construction when the ramp was framed with metal pipes and plywood. I half-expected to discover an impaled biker on those pipes every time I passed through.

I’m also not unaware of the implied suggestion in the hashtag “#bikearoundblanton”, ha ha! Any route through this area is near or “around” Blanton, but… we know how you really feel. 🙂

(And yes, I’ve been biking east of this corridor of contention. Even before the signs went up, I’d “one-foot” it through the area, coasting with one foot ready to go down and stop at any moment. To do otherwise during prime hours is reckless.)

Okay, Some Actual Modest Proposals

I agree with some of the discussion on the Bike Blanton Facebook page: making this junction a “no bike zone” is only going to cause confrontation and frustration. This is akin to throwing up a “no water” sign in the middle of the Mississippi.

When you build conditions that create traffic, like a giant university spittin’ distance away from a bustling downtown and a legendary bar scene, you get traffic. That traffic will not be denied.

I also am in favor of a “central courtyard” bike path that allows both bikers and peds the sightlines to see one another. I’m not in favor of a bike highway, though — kids and families need to be able to pass through this area without getting steamrolled by careless bikers. Perhaps the path could be textured or given an undulating up-and-down grade.

Perhaps there could even be a fun and visually interesting physical barrier to draw attention to the boundaries, like a translucent dangling fringe “curtain” that would line the edges of the bike path, dangling from about 10′ down to about 3′. This would alert pedestrians to a change in conditions and encourage bikers to stay off the grass. (Yes, this concept is inspired in part by the yellow-danglies art display, borrowed from First Night, that was installed just north of Blanton for many months and is fondly remembered.)