1. Austin’s Bicycle Master Plan has spurred the development of hundreds of miles of bike lanes and street safety improvements throughout the city. These improvements have calmed traffic and created an affordable, healthy transportation option for Austinites. Do you support the full funding and implementation of Austin’s Bicycle Master Plan?
Rich DePalma: Yes -I support the full funding and implementation of the Bicycle Master Plan as well as future expansion. Biking has proven itself as a feasible alternative to cars for transit in Austin -in District 8, it’s one of our only options as we have so few bus stops. Additionally, it is a benefit to public health (with safe routes), and important aspect of our infrastructure and social capital in Austin.
Bobby Levinski: Yes; as a former daily bicycle commuter, I understand how important it is to have safe and maintained bicycle infrastructure to make bicycling an easier alternative for commuters. I used to be able to travel ~3.5 miles between work and home–entirely through a combination of trail, bike lanes and lower-traffic streets. My current commute isn’t as easy (long gaps in infrastructure and scary curb cuts), so it’s certainly impacted my choice to drive more. In 2016, I supported the calls to increase the funding for both bike and pedestrian infrastructure in that transportation bond package.
2. Austin’s Urban Trails Master Plan uses existing trails and creates new trails in public green spaces to connect on-street bike and pedestrian facilities, establishing a citywide network of safe bicycle and pedestrian routes. Do you support the full funding and implementation of the Urban Trails Master Plan?
Rich DePalma: Yes -I support the full funding and implementation of the Urban Trails Master Plan. I also hope to be able to also find local partners to assist with the execution and funding.
Bobby Levinski: Yes; as noted above, trail connectivity was such an important part of my prior commute. It was safe and, quite frankly, peaceful. We have some great opportunities to expand connectivity through a robust urban trails system.
3. In 2013, the City of Austin launched its bike share program, Austin B-cycle, with a $1.5 million federal grant matched with $500,000 in private donations. Since its launch, the program has set national records for bike share systems, and has been financially self-sufficient in its operations. But the program faces ongoing challenges as it strives to maintain an efficient, equitable system in a rapidly evolving market. As a Council member, will you support additional funding mechanisms, from the City of Austin or other local, state or federal sources, to grow Austin’s B-cycle system?
Rich DePalma: I know Austin B-Cycle well and I am a fan. When I served on the Austin Parks Foundation (APF) Board of Directors (2012-2013) I enthusiastically approved APF’s initial donation to be a founding partner of Austin B-Cycle.As a candidate for city council and as a current City of Austin Parks and Recreation Board member, I am not comfortable about stating my support of city funding directed to any partner outside of any grant or RFP process. I do feel comfortable in stating that I support investment into Austin’s bike share infrastructure.
Bobby Levinski: I am very much impressed with what B-cycle has been able to achieve, and we should support its integration into our mobility system. B-cycle is a nice option to get quickly across town without needing to move your car again and find parking. Without knowing the specific request, it would be irresponsible for me to make an uninformed commitment; however, I am generally supportive of B-cycle’s mission, and I’d like to help.
4. Do you support the implementation of dedicated, protected bicycle facilities on Shoal Creek Boulevard?
Rich DePalma: Yes
Bobby Levinski: Yes. Parking in a bike lane defeats the purpose of a bike lane.
5. In the face of climate change, congestion, and other problems associated with cars, a growing number of cities have been eliminating parking requirements for new development. Would you support eliminating parking requirements in the following areas, and stepping up the management of on-street parking in & around those areas as needed? a)West Campus b)South Central Waterfront c)Transit Oriented Developments?
Rich DePalma: a) Yes b) Yes c) Yes
Bobby Levinski: a) West Campus -Yes; and we’d need to also address on-street parking management for the neighborhoods immediately surrounding. b) South Central Waterfront -Yes; this is an area where a regional parking management system would make a ton of sense, along with shuttles to South Congress and Zilker Park. I am currently on the Zilker Park working group, and I will be advocating for a shuttle system from this area. c)Transit Oriented Developments -Yes; having worked as a real estate attorney and working with lenders to finance projects, I generally agree with those that say it is the market dictating the number of parking spaces, not the city code, so these kinds of code amendments don’t concern much as they do others. To me, the City’s focus would be better spent on the “T” of the TOD, so we are improving mobility for residents.
*As a caveat to all of the above answers, I would not support removing requirements for ADA-compliant parking spaces nor would I support removal of requirements for bicycle parking. These are not the kinds of parking that the market would naturally provide, and they serve critical needs.
6. Are there other potential changes to the Land Development Code that you would support in order to promote cycling, walking, and transit?
Rich DePalma: Safe shared streets for a variety of transitmodalities; Commitment to transit oriented development; Increased housing density along corridors and closer to job, commercial, and cultural centers; Grade separation mixed use lanes for non-vehicular traffic-either sidewalks or mixed use pedestrian/bike/scooters; Bus/HOVLanes; Improved wayfinding and signage.
Bobby Levinski: (1) It is important that we maintain the sidewalk requirements and other design elements of Subchapter E (Commercial Design Standards) within the code instead of allowing them to transition over to the rules process.The rules process is much easier to amend and does not have as much opportunity for public input. Also, we need to minimize opportunities to get waivers and variances to such standards. This ensures predictability and consistency in the application and development of our community values. (2) As envisioned by the Imagine Austin Growth Concept Plan, we need to relax code regulations along designated transit corridors and within town centers, so that we are increasing density in areas that can be supported by transit. (3) Although this isn’t necessarily a code change, I think it would also be important to mention that we need to stop giving away our right-of-way. For a period of time right-of-way vacation became a cheap and easy way for developers to expand their buildable areas, but it limited our options in the future to expand upon mobility options that we might not even know exist yet.
7. City staff have proposed a new Street Impact Fee that would apply to new development. Presentations to date indicate that proceeds from the fee could be used only for street improvements that increase automobile capacity. Would you work to ensure that any such fees could be used to support other modes of transportation, including biking, walking, and transit?
Rich DePalma: Yes
Bobby Levinski: I understand that City staff have raised concerns about Chapter 395 of the Texas Local Government Code as a limitation on the potential use of these funds; but that interpretation appears pretty narrowt o me after reading the relevant state statute. I’d want to take a deeper dive into any applicable case law or other applicable statutes, but this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve disagreed with one of the City’s legal interpretation. If there are ways we can legally expand the usage of the fees to address the full extent of the mobility impacts of the proposed development, I am supportive of those efforts.
8. The city code currently prohibits the use of motor-driven devices on trails. But it allows electric bikes, scooters, and similar vehicles in bike lanes if they are powered by a motor with a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour. Would you support a code amendment to allow some electric vehicles on trails?
Rich DePalma: Yes -I would support a change to allow for electric vehicles with limitations, and only with a clear plan of how to effectively enforce.
Bobby Levinski: I do not support making wise commuting choices illegal. We of course need to address any potential safety concerns to keep pedestrians and runners safe, but prohibition may not be the only way to do that. The other concern that I’ve heard raised is that, if allowed on the trails, the scooters (and thus their batteries) could wind up in our creeks, which could damage water quality. That’s a legitimate concern, and I’m not sure what the solution might be for that yet.
9. In 2017, Austin’s Bicycle Advisory Council asked that all city departments work to provide reasonable accommodations and access for effective pedicab service during events and in traffic plans. Pedicabbers continue to face difficulties during special events, including a lack of dedicated lanes and staging areas. As a Council Member, will you take action to support the use of pedicabs and other non-automotive vehicles at special events?
Rich DePalma: Yes
Bobby Levinski: Yes; that same action should be taken by council.
10. Please tell us briefly about your recent experience with riding a bike. How many times have you ridden in the past month? The past year?
Rich DePalma: I ride my bike with my son to school every morning. Prior to running for office, I enjoyed regular family bike rides around my neighborhood with my children as well as in Circle C Metro Park. On occasion, I ride (slowly) with Circle C Veloway park adopters.
Bobby Levinski: I’ve only ridden electric scooters in the last month to get around downtown quickly between meetings, and this year I have tended to ride my bike just for quick trips to the store. However, there have been many times in my life that I have been a daily bicycle commuter (esp. 2015-2017). Also, when I briefly moved away for employment, I served as a board member of Bike Friendly Fort Worth, a bicycle education non-profit that worked to promote bicycle safety and bike-friendly infrastructure.
Additional Questions for District 8 Candidates
11. As plans for changes to the Y at Oak Hill continue to take shape, will you work to ensure that these changes include improvements for pedestrians and people on bicycles?
Rich DePalma: Yes -As the former Vice President of Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods, I helped work with the community and TxDOT to ensure that current plan includes dramatic improvements for both pedestrians and bicyclists. As a member of the Parks Board, I am working with Ridge Riders to also create a trail along Williamson Creek starting at the Oak Hill Y and heading East.
Bobby Levinski: Yes. And, the best way we can do this is to proceed with a true parkway for the redesign of the Y. Right now, TxDOT is proposing a 6-line highways, with 6 service road lanes, but they have failed to consider the parkway proposal which can be delivered quicker and under-budget. The parkway proposal would also allow for more room for pedestrian and bicycle facilities to improve the overall connectivity of the area. The Oak Hill Neighborhood Plan, which I worked on while I was a council aide, envisioned the redevelopment of the Y as a green town-center that could serve the needs of the residents in Southwest Austin. From my perspective, the foundation of the town center would be establishing a well-connected grid between the properties there, and the streets would be pedestrian-scaled and bike friendly. My goal would be to help kick off those conversations between the landowners so that we could get settled on code amendments that would enable such a vision to occur.