To deal with ever-increasing automobile traffic and congestion on downtown streets, the City of Austin, Texas, has put a new twist on a old solution—biking. This December, the city will begin its first bike share program, beginning with 11 stations and 110 bicycles in the downtown area, and expanding next spring to a total of 30 stations and 300 bikes in the entire metropolitan area.
“I believe bike sharing is the single best addition we can make to augment Austin’s existing transit system,” wrote Craig Staley, director of Bike Share of Austin, on the city’s Sustainable Austin Blog. “Nothing else is as inexpensive and quick to implement.”
In 2012, Austin was awarded a $1.5 million federal grant to fund implementation of a bike share program. All bikes will feature always-on front and rear lights for safety purposes. The docking stations and bike kiosks will be powered by a combination of solar, AC, and batteries.
Considered to be one of the more progressive cities in the U.S. in terms of developing and implementing sustainable transportation, with over 40 initiatives and more than 180 individual “green” actions and projects, Austin provided the perfect backdrop for the ASCE-sponsored Transportation and Development Institute (T&DI) Green Streets, Highways, and Development Conference: Advancing the Practice, on November 3-6.
The conference gave the engineers, city planners, builders, designers, and academics in attendance the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and expertise in sustainable practices in the area of transportation. Attendees were able to earn up to 20.5 PDHs.
How Sustainability Can Benefit Transportation
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, sustainability as it relates to transportation is defined as the reduction of energy consumption and enhancement of the environment, while improving and modernizing transportation systems and spurring economic growth. That includes investments in high-speed rail and NextGen satellite technology for air traffic, ambitious new fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, funding more integrated and efficient intermodal transportation systems, providing transportation alternatives and funding for cleaner public transit bus fleets, developing America’s marine highways, and reducing risks and improving reliability of transporting hazardous materials.
“What this conference was really about,” says David J. Carlson, CSR-P, A.M.ASCE, scientific committee vice chair of the conference, “is elevating the topic of how sustainability can be a benefit to transportation development plans, projects, and programs. What are some of the challenges that are inherent and what are some of the opportunities to improve their project delivery and the triple bottom line through the processes of sustainability?”
“We really didn’t want this conference to be an array of transportation panel presentations,” explained Sandra F. Otto, P.E., F.ASCE, executive committee chair. “We wanted this to be a robust and varied program of workshops, sessions, and events that would be delivered in different formats. For example, we had a technical session called ‘Sustainability versus Resiliency,’ moderated by [Conference Organizing Committee Chair] Marsha Anderson Bomar, with two experts [Martin Janowitz and Michael D. Meyers] who debated why each framework is the most important for infrastructure-design decision making.
“We also had a joint workshop from the FHWA [Federal Highway Administration] and ISI [Institute for Sustainable Development] about two recently developed sustainable rating systems, INVEST and Envision, and how they are helping to assist in the planning, design, construction, and operation of sustainable infrastructure. The hands-on workshop not only gave insight, general overviews, and [the ways] to use two sustainable tools, but also gave attendees a sample problem and [guided] them to work through it using these evaluation tools.”
Seeing How the City of Austin Implemented a Complete Street Network
Among the highlights of the conference was a Green Street by Bike mobile workshop, where attendees, under the direction of City of Austin staff, biked approximately 9.75 miles around the city and learned first-hand how the city implemented a complete street network, which effectively manages such things as stormwater, trees, and waste. The tour included the city’s first rain garden at One Texas Center, multiple cycletracks, and traffic-calming structures.
“What was so nice about the bike tour is that it gave us a chance to get out on to the streets of Austin and see first-hand a lot of these green transportation strategies and projects that have actually been implemented,” notes conference attendee Kelly Lindow, P.E., M.ASCE, a water resources engineer with the Baltimore, Maryland, firm Rummel, Klepper & Kahl. “A great deal of the tour was taking us on roadways that had been recently integrated to combine car travel, parking, and bikeable streets; so we were able to see how the streets have been transformed.
“Staff from the City of Austin that [sic]were leading the tour were able to offer a lot of insight on the history of the projects, the challenges that have been overcome, and the success stories on how a lot of these projects made the neighbors happier, the commercial businesses happier, and even the motorist happier because they had better access to parking and the streets in general.
“It was a neat experience to physically get out on the streets and see a lot of these green projects in action.”
Other Conference Highlights
Among the other highlights, Ryan Gravel, AICP, a senior urban designer with the Atlanta, Georgia, office of Perkins+Will, held a plenary session on how to transform an economy through sustainable development. Gravel’s master’s thesis in 1999 was a vision for what would be the ambitious Atlanta Beltline, a 22-mile transit greenway that is transforming Atlanta by generating sustainable economic growth and improved quality-of-life in more than 45 neighborhoods. Gravel shared with attendees some lessons learned about how the Atlanta Beltline is transforming the economy of the city through smart, sustainable, and profitable redevelopment.
In the closing plenary session, Kanten Russell, a PM/designer with the Action Sport Group of Stantec Consulting Services and a professional skateboarder, and Michael McIntyre, RLA, a principal with the firm, discussed how to take underused community space and turn it into exciting recreational environments.
There was also a compelling panel discussion on how to change street, road, and highway design codes in a workshop entitled, To Whom Do Your Standards Apply? Yada, Yada, People Centric. Serving as moderator, Carlson gave audience members an opportunity to discuss the issue of moving from very auto-centric codes and standards to more people-centric standards, which take into account context and the multi-modal users of the system, with the 5 distinguished panelists: Gary W. Schatz, P.E., PTOE, assistant director, City of Austin Transportation Department; Barbara McCann, author of the book Completing Our Streets: The Transition to Safe and Inclusive Transportation Networks, founder and former executive director of National Complete Streets Coalition; Linda Bailey, Federal Transportation Policy Advisor, New York City Department of Transportation, and acting executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials; Kurt Schulte, senior project manager with Kimberly Horn and Associates; and Nancy Boyd, P.E., L.E.G., Washington State Department of Transportation, deputy state design engineer.
How to Bring the Public Onboard with Sustainable Development Projects
“One of the critical questions that people really got engaged in at this session and at this conference,” says Carlson, who is vice president and director of Sustainable Development at the Washington, D.C., office of the Parsons Corporation, “was the topic of how to bring the public along and have them see the value in a lot of the sustainable programs that we are trying to promote.
“When you are a civil engineer and you have to go before a roomful of citizens in a community to talk about sustainable projects and you come up with some suggestions for them to consider that fit with what they are after, it really makes the process go much easier. So, I think the attendees really got a lot out of it and I only heard positive remarks and positive feedback.”
“Many of the [engineering] conferences that I tend to go to, I find are either very, very broad or very, very specific,” concluded Lindow. “But at this conference we had an interesting mixture of technical sessions, workshops, and plenary sessions, all focused on this one goal of making our streets greener and more sustainable.”