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?
Natasha Harper-Madison: Of course I support fully funding and implementing the Bicycle Master Plan! The Bicycle and Urban Trails Master plans work together to accomplish two critical goals to getting our city truly bicycle-friendly: 1) they create a fully city-wide network to make most trips feasible by bicycle and get people out of their cars, which not only creates healthy lifestyles and combats climate change, but also helps everyone who still wants to drive by reducing traffic congestion; and 2) by maximizing the miles of protected and separated routes, they create the perceived safety that research has shown to be the tipping point for individuals in deciding whether to become cyclists at all or to increase their cycling. Both master plans are an important part of making Austin a healthier, less-polluting, and less-congested city.
Vincent Harding: Yes, I support it. It is important for us to build the transportation system of the 21st century, and that needs to include bicycles. From an affordability standpoint, it costs people less to use bikes as transportation instead of cars, and bikes are much more environmentally friendly than cars.
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?
Natasha Harper-Madison: Yes I do. Please see my points above regarding the Urban Trails Master Plan and how it works together with the Bicycle Master Plan.
Vincent Harding: Yes. I support providing safer paths for pedestrians and bicycles. This will help connect the city better. Additionally, increasing the number of people that bicycle and walk instead of using cars will help the environment.
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?
Natasha Harper-Madison: What I can commit to is looking comprehensively and holistically at fostering alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles, the current dominant mode of transportation in Austin, and one that is unsustainable. Currently, B-Cycle is an important part of that and certainly seems to be a part of it for the future. Recent developments in Austin and elsewhere with dockless bikes and scooters have both promise and substantial problems. We clearly need to be thinking about docked and dockless transportation solutions, and how they interact with pedestrians and autos. I fully expect B-Cycle to be part of our future, but I will be considering ALL options to creating a healthier, less-polluting, and less-congested future.
Vincent Harding: Yes. I support working with other government agencies and the private sector to increase our bike share systems. As the former Chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, I have communicated with elected officials in Central Texas before and will look to leverage these relationships to accomplish Austin’s goals.
4.Do you support the implementation of dedicated, protected bicycle facilities on Shoal Creek Boulevard?
Natasha Harper-Madison: I absolutely support a dedicated, protected bicycle lane on Shoal Creek. We need to be honest as a city about whether we are committed to making cycling a true alternative to driving, and this is an important North-South route.
Vincent Harding: Yes. Additionally, the city should also look at expanding existing sidewalk right of way to potentially allow for a dedicated walking path and a dedicated bicycle pathway without removing the number of car lanes.
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?
Natasha Harper-Madison: This a decision that needs to be made with evidence, but the evidence is in. West Campus has a clear surplus of parking because we as a city are requiring them to build it. The explosion of cycling and walking in West Campus has been magnificent and we need to stop requiring people to pay for parking spaces they have no use for if they will sit empty every day. The Downtown zoning district shows that developers will build parking as-needed, even if we don’t require them to. Parking requirements are really about making sure there is adequate parking on the street, but in a place like downtown, West Campus, or the Waterfront, that isn’t a concern and we should not have required parking that does nothing but drive up the cost of housing. Similarly, we shouldn’t have parking required *for* Transit Oriented Developments, but we should be mindful when they are in neighborhoods surrounded by more house-scale residences, and look to solutions that might include residential parking permits to make sure we’re not just pushing parking from the transit-oriented developments into surrounding neighborhoods.
Vincent Harding: Most financial institutions require some sort of parking in order to receive financing for a project. Thus, I am in favor of evaluating the decrease in parking requirements and the management and maintenance of on-‐street parking.
6. Are there other potential changes to the Land Development Code that you would support in order to promote cycling, walking, and transit?
Natasha Harper-Madison: Generally, I am pro-housing, especially in a time when our scarcity of housing is driving prices up into ranges that few Austinites can afford. The Land Development Code is a complex and far-reaching piece of policy, and it doesn’t help anyone to treat it without nuance. That said, I support making sure our commercial corridors have the kind of streetscape, sidewalk, and tree/shade requirements to foster a healthy street life and positive pedestrian experience. I also acknowledge and support the wealth of research that shows that you need certain levels of density on transit corridors to make them fiscally feasible. I support changes that make it easier for people to live closer to where they work so not everyone has to get in a car and drive on I-35 or Mopac just to make a living. And I support changes to help slow gentrification and the McMansion-ization of Austin that is driving displacement. I support changes to our Code that make all these things possible.
Vincent Harding: Seek to provide greater density on corridors, missing middle housing behind it, and protect the core of neighborhoods to prevent further displacement. Greater density on the corridors allows us to expand access to cycling, walking, and transit across the city. We need to make sure that development of housing options across Austin and each District are more fair, which will allows us to expand more across the city for more walkable and bikeable parts of the City.
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?
Natasha Harper-Madison: Only allowing the Street Impact Fee to go towards car-supportive changes is backward thinking. We *must* change our thinking if we are serious about not handing our children a hotter planet, let alone dealing with Austin traffic. I support investing our transportation dollars with the guiding principle that we are trying to make it easier for *people* to get where they are going, not *cars*. So, yes, I would strongly support allowing the fees to be used for other modes of transportation.
Vincent Harding: Yes. I would work to use impact fees to improve transportation broadly, which may include cars, biking, walking, and transit.
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?
Natasha Harper-Madison: Because we need more trails in Austin, we currently ask our present trails to do double-duty as recreational trails and transportation routes. Until we have enough bike lanes and multi-modal trails to separate those uses, we need to be careful about maintaining our existing trails as safe and welcoming places. So I do not support allowing often-faster electric vehicles (beyond those needed by people with mobility issues) on trails. As we build out our trail network, I am open to changing policies with changing infrastructure, but not until then.
Vincent Harding: I would need to study the impacts on motor vehicles on trails and evaluate the impact before making a conclusion. This change would have safety and environmental implications. I need to make sure that people are safe.
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?
Natasha Harper-Madison: I am all about transportation *solutions*. I have witnessed pedicabbers being an effective solution to crowded events and if they can move people more efficiently than cars, we should absolutely accommodate them to make it work. I would need to examine each situation individually, but if pedicabs work, let them work!
Vincent Harding: Yes. I will support pedicabs and other non-‐automotive vehicles at special events. It is important to provide safe transportation during special events, and I would like to help improve the system so it works more efficiently. I will evaluate the best options to do this.
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?
Natasha Harper-Madison: One of the benefits having the opportunity to live in a city like Austin is that we celebrate innovation. An area we need to increase our intelligent planning is making more communities more friendly for cyclist. I ride my bike weekly, at least 5 times monthly and about 60 times annually. I have found it occasionally challenging to do so safely in my neighborhood but continue to do so because I love the ability to visit local merchants and run errands without driving.
Vincent Harding: I have ridden my bike once in the last month and several times in the past year. I enjoy it, as it provides a break from my daily routines, and I’ve appreciated riding my bike since childhood.
Additional Question for District 1 Candidates
11. The 2016 Mobility Bond included funds for evaluation of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail Phase 3, which would connect the end of the Northern Walnut Creek Trail to the Southern Walnut Creek Trail.Assuming the project proves feasible, would you work to identify and secure funding for design and construction of this trail?
Natasha Harper-Madison: There is a persistent and –frankly –racist myth that people of color don’t bike. This is old thinking in more ways than one. As we make cycling a truly viable alternative mode of transportation for more people and not just recreation, we will see more cyclists of every color. That said, we need to be focusing more resources on developing recreation opportunities –especially healthy recreation like cycling –for people on the east side. The Walnut Creek link is a wonderful vision that would provide both recreational and practical transportation opportunities for the people of District 1, and I fully support it, and that includes $$$.
Vincent Harding: Connecting the Northern and Southern Walnut Creek Trails would not only provide a safer, more feasible option for citizens to travel by, but also offers an alternative for those who are looking to travel by more environmentally-‐ conscious methods other than by car. Thus, I would work to identify funding for this trail.