Three Ways Austin Is Doubling the Rate It Builds Bike Routes - StreetsBlog USA

If you want to learn how a city can start doing good street projects faster, keep an eye on Austin, Texas.

In 2014, when he was authoring Austin’s plan for a citywide “all ages and abilities” biking network, city bikeway designer Nathan Wilkes threw together an Excel chart that might have been easy to laugh at:

It looked like the chart you might see in, for example, thousands of pitches to venture capitalists: “First, we muddle through for a few years. Then, a miracle occurs.”

But here’s the thing: sometimes miracles occur.

Wilkes said this month that he didn’t know, when he sketched that chart, that there would be a $720 million bond measure on Austinites’ 2016 ballots for improving mobility in the city, including $20 million exclusively for new bike lanes, $26 million for multi-use trails, and $28 million for school-access projects that will also include bikeways. Lots of the multimodal projects will include better bike lanes, too.

He didn’t know that 60 percent of Austin voters would approve the measure, either.

Now, Austin’s bike infrastructure team is facing the next phase of a pleasant problem: They have to figure out how to double the rate at which they’re making the city better.

With the money spigot about to open, Wilkes updated his chart this month to reflect progress on the bike network so far. It also reveals the scale of Austin’s challenge in the next few years:

“We’re going to move faster than we’ve ever moved,” Austin Active Transportation Manager Laura Dierenfield said.

Her team is looking to three things in particular to help speed things up.

1) Field engineering: Finishing the design on site

Imad Salem of MWM Design Group is the city’s “finest contract field engineer,” said Austin bikeway designer Nathan Wilkes.

Austin has identified a handful of engineers with a knack for laying out possible improvements to existing streets and paths with strings, sticks, and their eyeballs. On some days, they get an exciting assignment: head out to a site along with a team of builders and actually change the street in a matter of days or hours.

Though this approach has been used in Austin for years, it’ll be important for continued rapid delivery of smaller projects. In her interview this month, Wilkes described how, the previous day, the city had closed a quarter-mile gap connecting a trail to a protected bike lane.

Preliminary engineering plans had taken two years. But to get the project on the ground, Dierenfield met with a field engineer about getting the last phase of design done immediately. Thanks to one of the city’s standing contracts with local construction companies, workers could grab a set of standard materials that day and follow the engineer’s instructions on how to install them, charging pre-negotiated unit costs instead of going through a slow procurement process.

“We did that at 10 a.m.,” Wilkes said. “I stopped by last night and they had upgraded the whole trail.”

2) In-house consultants: Hiring experience, not just skill

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