On tour: From the most fit to the least fearful…


One of the best things about being on tour is we get to see the absolute best of the places we visit. And that’s been true this time around, as our friendly hosts have shown us extensively and generously around their cities and neighborhoods. Their love and knowledge of where they live is infectious and they’re able to show us the compelling details and stories that we might otherwise not have noticed.

We did not, unfortunately, see the best of Austin. We were just there overnight — we had no event, but I wanted to check out the bike scene in the renowned “Portland of the South.” But we lacked both bikes to explore on and an excited tour guide to show us the good parts — and in fact, the folks we did meet seemed decidedly unenthusiastic about their city. One man explained to us that there was nothing fun to do except leave the city to go for a hike. Sigh.

We saw some nice places — the riverfront and its pathways and swimming holes were idyllic, and there were some cool clusters of places for the city’s many young, hip residents to hang out, most of them marked by an abundance of parked bicycles. But the routes we found between them were harder to handle.

I suspect that there is a decent network of residential back streets that you can bike on, and that much of Austin’s bikey charm happens here. But we saw mostly major, fast throughways without shoulders or bike lanes, so that is all I can report on. Plenty of people did ride bikes on these arterials, many of them fashionably clad and helmetless. About half of these were taking the lane aggressively, at times with the guidance of a sharrow but usually without it; the other half took to the sidewalk. Our sympathies tended to lie with the latter. “The great thing about Austin,” commented Joshua, not a bicyclist himself, “is that from the most in-shape to the least fearful, anyone can ride right down the middle of the lane.” He cackled and added, “That doesn’t leave anybody out, right?”

Our observations of Dallas were much the same, both in the bias of our car-centric experience and in the division of riding styles. Apparently the vehicularist contingent, the fierce advocates who believe that individuals’ riding skills are more important than infrastructure and traffic speed when it comes to bicycling transportation policy, is strong in this region — from Tulsa to Houston, we’ve been hearing tales of how these dedicated folks have set the tone for years, to the detriment of progress for bicycling in these cities.

I’ve tweaked Joshua’s slogan slightly for alliteration — “From the most fit to the least fearful.” The anti-bike lane movement is welcome to take it on as its new motto. Also, I would very much like to be disabused of my bike-negative impressions of Austin and Dallas. Please chime in and tell me it isn’t so!

(Postscript: The photo above is of a street in Austin called Speedway, which at first made me laugh because it seemed so quiet and residential — and then made me shudder as we had to jump out of the way of a car barreling down at us at top speed.)

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14 Responses to “On tour: From the most fit to the least fearful…”

  1. M1EK April 19, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    Uh, that street in your picture? It has bike lanes. (I live a block away from it, 9 blocks south of this street sign). Kind of makes me question the entire thesis, to tell you the truth.

    • Elly April 19, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

      Hi there — yep, Speedway has a bike lane, and then it disappears. But please say more. This is one thesis I hope is wrong.

  2. Jym Dyer April 19, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    • According to some minicomix that we used to distributed in Oaklandia in the 1990s, one of the funnest things to do in Austin (aside from skeeter huntin’) is to fill up some innertubes and go floating in the water. Very strange innertubes, though, I dunno how anyone could fit them into a bicycle tire.

  3. Kagi April 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    I’ve only visited Austin once, for a vacation of about four days — but I biked the whole time and really liked it. The central part of the city has a pretty good grid system, so, yeah, we spent most of our time on low-traffic back streets. The city puts out a really excellent bike map, which I can’t recommend highly enough. The Pfluger Bike/Ped bridge is pretty impressive — and, coming from a river city with NO bike-friendly bridges, I was happy to see that all the bridges in Austin have some kind of accommodation. The Lance Armstrong Bikeway on 4th St. looks really cool, though I can’t say I actually used it a lot. But the thing I liked most was the sheer numbers of people on bikes: my wife and I were never alone out there, like we usually are in NC. It makes a huge difference in the way car traffic treats you.

    • Elly April 22, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      Kagi, thanks for the counter-perspective. Next time I go to Austin (or anywhere else) I really need to have a bike with me, is the big lesson here.

  4. John Brooking April 22, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Owning the lane is not aggressive. It is assertive. There’s a difference. Being in the lane makes you more visible and relevant to motorists. You’re complaining that cyclists actually make use of their right to do this, rather than being confined to narrower special use lanes at the edge of the road, where they are less visible and more prone to intersection conflicts?

    • Joe Biel April 23, 2012 at 8:10 am #

      Yawn. Suddenly very bored. From the most in shape to the least fearful! When grandma takes the lane on her way to cribbage we can talk.

    • John Brooking April 23, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

      So adding a bike lane and maybe some bike boxes to a 4 or more lane arterial is going to make it safe for grandma (possibly untrained or with physical issues) to cycle to cribbage, or (another common example) your 6-year-old daughter to cycle to school? I don’t think that’s true. One facility does not fit all situations.

      I’m sure neither of us wants to rehash all the usual arguments. I’m just stating my opposition to describing lane control as “aggressive”, because it’s not. It’s not a battle, it’s a cooperative activity that most any adult of driving age can do, including some grandmas, given some confidence. Sure, they wouldn’t want to at first, due to fear that is reinforced by the MYTH promoted by both non-cyclists and facilities advocates that that you must be super fit and keep up with traffic to do it.

      I was also commenting that I thought Elly was criticizing the people who ride in the lane, although I may be mischaracterizing her, so I’ll retract that if that’s the case.

  5. christopher April 23, 2012 at 6:26 am #

    “Apparently the vehicularist contingent, the fierce advocates who believe that individuals’ riding skills are more important than infrastructure and traffic speed when it comes to bicycling transportation policy, is strong in this region — from Tulsa to Houston, we’ve been hearing tales of how these dedicated folks have set the tone for years, to the detriment of progress for bicycling in these cities.”

    Can you elaborate on this point? Are you saying that those of us who get out and ride despite the inadequate bike infrastructure (Houston in my case) are actually hurting progress? I figure that being a visible cyclist in the community demonstrates that there is demand for bike infrastructure. It sounds like you are saying the opposite – we are getting by without it, so why build it? Am I reading you wrong?

    • Elly April 23, 2012 at 7:58 am #

      Christopher, I believe you and I agree. There are people who call themselves vehicular cyclists who oppose building any bike infrastructure because we should all just be able to ride with whatever kind of car traffic presents itself. That’s the idea that I’m critiquing here.

  6. Sam April 23, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    My first visit to Austin was very much like this one. I drove in and repeatedly kept getting lost – I couldn’t figure out how to get into the city. And what little we did see just sucked.

    My second visit, I met a fellow blogger who showed me around…and it was more sane. But I didn’t notice a whole lot of bike infrastructure on main connecting thoroughfares – they were a fight to the death sort of spaces.

  7. Ian Dille May 3, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Elly, give me a shout next time you’re in Texas, and we’ll hook you up with some good local guides. Some of your impressions of Austin are accurate, however, you certainly missed out on much of what makes the city such a great place (though, admittedly, not always) for bicyclists. Of all Texas cities, Austin is certainly doing more on the infrastructure end than most, with new buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks, and bicycle boulevards in the most populous areas. Oh, and down here, Portland is the Austin of the Northwest. Safe travels. Ian.

    • Elly May 8, 2012 at 10:10 am #

      Will do, Ian! And very much looking forward to it. I *want* to love Austin.


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