Hey, good news from the Austin Business Journal: “Of the largest 100 urban areas in the country, Austin had the third-highest decrease in the proportion of workers commuting to work by private car or van, according to the report. Between the year 2000 and 2011, 4.5 percent of Austin-area commuters stopped driving to work.” Only DC and New York beat out Austin for percentage of people who have abandoned single-driver commuting (and not by much; DC decreased by 4.7% and NYC by 4.8%).
This decrease arises partly from the increase in telecommuters and partly from increased bicycle and public transit use: Cap Metro usage increased by almost 23% between 2005 and 2010, while bicycle commuting increased 0.3% between 2000 and 2011—at less than 1%, that doesn’t sound like much but it is the 16th-largest increase in bicycle commuting among the 100 largest US urban areas. I’ve seen the number of bike lanes proliferate wildly in the last few years, which doubtless helps. I know I saw a gradual but steady increase of folks biking along South Lamar after the lanes were added (without the lane, it was a tad bit suicidey for bicyclists on S. Lamar), and that increase was likely taking place all over the city.
And while the constant influx of new people is a sore point among current residents (as the t-shirt says, “Welcome to Austin. Please don’t move here”), if we’re getting people from other large cities who are accustomed to using mass transit, our transit system can only benefit. Like any transit system, Cap Metro faces the problem of providing service in a car-worshipping city—more people would use the system if the buses ran more often, but the bus schedule is limited by limited ridership. Cap Metro managed to get a commuter rail line going a couple years ago (limited but increasingly popular) and next year debuts a rapid bus line (which will take me right to work on a magic bus that runs on clean diesel and has the ability to extend the green as it approaches stoplights).
I’m a bus and bike commuter out of choice, because I find driving simultaneously boring and stressful. Austin’s traffic is growing in infamy and density every day, so each time I’m in the bike lane zipping past a line of cars or relaxing with a crossword puzzle on the bus, I marvel at the tortured souls sitting in automotive lockdown when maybe they don’t have to. Cars offer the illusion of control, but I feel that abandoning that illusion offers me greater peace. Granted, I can’t help but fume when a 5:07 bus doesn’t arrive till 5:27, but at least I’m wasting only my energy, not my gas. And biking to work makes me feel intimately connected with both my city and myself. Judging by the decrease in single-car commuting, it seems other folks are discovering the peace of alternative transportation as well.