East Riverside Corridor Could Be Beautiful

You may have noticed that East Riverside Drive has seen some changes recently. Once lined with apartments that housed a large number of college students, the area is undergoing redevelopment, thanks in part to market demands and in part to the City’s East Riverside Corridor Master Plan.

When the corridor was home to college students many of them had the option of using public transit to get back and forth to campuses, and didn’t need to drive on East Riverside. But a new mix of residents and businesses are moving in, and they’re bringing their cars. Traffic flow on East Riverside is now topping 40,000 cars a day.

We’ve seen this before: South Lamar Boulevard has gone through a similar transformation, with new businesses and multifamily residents bringing more people than ever to that stretch of the street. Traffic congestion has risen accordingly, and now it’s one more bumper-to-bumper road clogging movement in Austin.

It would be a shame to watch the same thing happen on East Riverside, wouldn’t it? Well guess what – we don’t have to watch that happen. We have a chance right now to plan for increased traffic before we’re sitting in one traffic jam after another. A City of Austin study recommends reducing East Riverside’s lanes from six to four between I-35 and SH 71. In place of those two extra car lanes, urban rail tracks and stations, as well as protected bike lanes and wide sidewalks would take shape.

Not surprisingly, there’s been some hue and cry about the idea of taking away lanes. Just look at this recent Austin American-Statesman story which – as usual – focuses on the voices who think taking away vehicle lanes is a bad idea. Some of these voices are the very same ones bemoaning the state of Austin traffic. Yet our daily experiences, as well as most transportation models, show us that efficient flow traffic is about more than numbers of lanes. While we are improving how traffic works – reducing lane change conflicts, intersection choke points, etc – doesn’t it make sense to integrate of other travel options as well? If we don’t force everyone to drive for every trip, traffic on the roads is relieved for everyone. Giving people safe ways to get around – besides driving – is the first and absolutely necessary step.

Would you rather have East Riverside look like this in 15 years?

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Or this?

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