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

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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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