Traffic-Calming on Barton Hills Drive

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Barton Hills is the latest of many Austin neighborhoods to add significant traffic-calming strategies to its major thoroughfare, Barton Hills Drive. Years in the making, they’re intended to slow traffic, increase safety for cyclists and pedestrians, and respond to the increase in cut-through traffic that has become an inevitable consequence of our growing city and massive South Lamar development.

The section of Barton Hills Drive that connects Barton Skyway with Robert E Lee Road is wide, ambling, and devoid of stop signs – which up until recently, made it an easy street for motorists to zip down at rates that far exceeded the street’s 30 MPH speed limit, even unintentionally. And as commercial and residential buildings continue to go up on South Lamar at unprecedented rates, these features have made it an increasingly popular cut-through for motorists hoping to bypass a long and heavily trafficked stretch of South Lamar.

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Trepidation among residents about the ongoing effects of South Lamar development on traffic reached a hilt when there was a fatal car accident on Barton Hills Drive in spring 2014. It spurred several neighbors into action, with neighbor Melanie Gantt convening a meeting at her house to discuss how to address the problem. They put together a committee and began doing research on various options. After exploring the possibility of adding stop signs, roundabouts, and other traffic calming measures and consulting the experts, they concluded that the “best way to slow down a street that’s too wide is to ‘put the street on a diet,’ ” says Melanie.

The project was soon taken over by the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association, and an urban design architect was brought in to create a rendering of what the street could become. The group took the plan to the City, at which point it discovered that Barton Hills was already in line for resurfacing and restriping and had been identified as a street that needed traffic calming. After a great deal of thoughtful discussion and debate during four community forums that were open to neighborhood residents, it was decided that these would include planters, protected bike lanes, and turtle humps.

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Proceeds from a penny tax earmarked for road improvements paid for the improvements. The new bike lane is specifically designed to enable cyclists to merge onto the hike and bike trail without having to cross Barton Hills at the blind curve immediately preceding Robert E Lee Rd. It will be separated from the traffic line with turtle humps, which, when they are installed, will also make it more evident to motorists that parking is no longer allowed on the same side of the street as the bike lines. And the concrete barriers, which are intended to narrow the ride and force traffic to slow down in both directions, will be beautified with plants and made more visible with reflective paint.

As is the case whenever big change occurs, neighborhood reaction to the efforts is mixed, but Melanie is optimistic that when they become used to the new design, people will see it serves its intended purpose. “Ultimately, we know we’re not going to be able to stop motorists from using Barton Hills Drive as a cut-through, but slowing them down will make the street safer for everyone than the wide-open boulevard that invited excessive speeds.”

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