A few weeks ago, I accidentally (on purpose) may have started a bike gang. After some scheduling difficulties, a handful of us gathered for a potluck and another night time bike ride. Although small in number, each person brought an interesting perspective and passion to some aspect of bicycling as transportation, recreation and fun. So here are a few thoughts and images about this interesting experiment in neighborhood and community organizing for better and safer biking and walking in yes, Austin, Texas.
Our host was the affable A, who rides to work every day. He also has kids and goes on rides with them. Like A Dude did a couple of years back, he did the MS 150 ride for Multiple Sclerosis. Mostly a solitary rider, it’s been a revelation for him to ride with other people. He has certainly seen his share of bad drivers and poor infrastructure. He got interested in the group through a mutual friend but work and family will keep him busy. However, we did plan a Labor Day family-friendly ride, so I hope he’ll join us for that.
A shared a funny story about a UPS truck that keeps blocking the bike lane. He pursued the classic strategy of starting at the bottom (UPS store) and working his way up (City Councilmember Greg Casar). Using the 311 public information system, photos, he just continually kept calling people.
Eventually he got an Austin Transportation Department person to investigate. They agreed there was a lack of signage and put up some more plastic bollards, which the trucks promptly began driving right over. But it was his talking to the Councilmember that got some action, and at least temporarily the trucks are not parking in the bike lane. So he sounds just like the effective advocate we need on Team NEATXBG.
The Newbie / Environmentalist
I met B years ago and we recently crossed paths. He’s not ridden a bike in four years, and recently I met him at Yellow Bike Project to get it working again. That was mostly successful and required some tweaks, but tonight he showed up with a new helmet, no working lights, but confidence, skill and bravery enough to make the several mile trek.
Later he joined A and myself as we tooled around a bit and did just fine. It won’ t be long before he’ll be out there given ol’ A Dude a run for his money. It should also be mentioned that B is involved with the climate change movement. Though he has a car, he’s very judicious about driving it and lives pretty frugally, too. I was proud he ventured out and joined us.
The Urban Assault Rider
I don’t actually know much about the kind of bike riding L does, but she just moved here from Houston, so I’m going with Urban Assault. Currently two of her bikes are in a jumble mashed up in her garage — thanks, movers! She also built one of her bikes, and that tells me she’s no slouch when it comes to mechanics and knows her way around a bike. So far she hasn’t got onto any Austin roads, but I’m hoping she will soon. I’m happy to show anyone what I know about biking in Austin, so maybe she’ll take me up on that offer.
But another reason to ascribe urban riding to L is that in Houston, she was part of a crew that helped maintain over 200 ghost bikes. That to me is simply awesome, wonderful, lovely and amazing dedication to honoring the memory of bicyclists killed by cars. It’s no secret that biking there is a big challenge, since it’s probably one of the most car-centric big cities in North America. Bike Houston is working on it, but to bike there if you’re not on a trail is risky, for sure. So the facts that she both rode there and lived to tell the tale, and cares about her fellow cyclist make me very happy to have her in the gang, er, on the team.
H is a soft-spoken man who does not (currently) ride a bicycle. Yet he came to our first meeting and again tonight even though he had a conflict. That’s because he’s interested in making transportation better for everyone, which is why he’s also the chairperson of the neighborhood association transportation committee. That is pretty cool, at least in my book. He also knows about good design, like how bike lanes enhance a community, rather than detract from it.
To me, his involvement speaks volumes about his sense of civic duty. He also has kids who bikes, so he has their safety in mind, but also that of all the other kids on bikes in the neighborhood, too. I’m really grateful he attended, and I hope to attend his next meeting so I can learn more about what’s going on with the bigger picture of bike lanes, sidewalks and roads in the area. Hopefully we can get him on a bike soon, too!
Night Ride #2
Our first ride was to examine infrastructure, which we did and stopped to discuss. This was just to have a little group ride for two guys not used to it and for me, someone who doesn’t get on that many because they’re too early, too fast, or both. We went up a busy street with one bike lane, full of debris, and into the hood where we stopped at a pocket park that will take years to open.
Proceeding onward we found the roads rather empty and the cars did not hassle us tonight. Dropping B off at home, A and I continued a while, chatting about various things. L had to get going and didn’t have her bike and H isn’t ready to hop on just yet. After parting way, I peeled off to run an errand. On the way back I picked up some leftover watermelon and an artisan tea B had brought. A showed me his pet chinchillas, which were cute but not that cuddly. All told it wasn’t a big ride at all, but it’s another notch in the belt. An activity that was education, recreational, social and emphasized being safe a round and visible to cars. That’s all good stuff.
What We Learned
Summer’s always tricky because the smart people with vacation money tend to get the hell out of Dodge, at least for a while. A number of people were gone or busy, and it was a Friday night in Austin, where there’s always plenty to do. But I learned that one can never have too many bike friends, that some people really do care about bike safety and want to do something about it, plus, when someone offers a place to meet with beer and snacks, that is a) nice b) delicious and c) not something you turn down.
Also, regardless of our different approaches and use of the bicycle, from 0 to my 110 miles per week average currently, the bike is a unifying force. Whether it’s enough to make our Labor Day ride a monthly thing, or have a group that documents problems and advocates for solutions, or something else, we shall see. I’m not too worried; either it’ll make it in some form or fashion, or it won’t. But I suspect and hope it will, at least for the kids. That’s the least we can do, is to get them on bikes to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and make it safer in the process.
To my new bike gang mates, thank you, and ride on! If you wanna join, contact me via the details on the About page.
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