Dear Austin, Texas: We know, you’re the Live Music Capital of the World. You like to Keep it Weird. You’re the People’s Republic of Austin. You got a Gold rating from the League of American Cyclists in 2015. And yes, you are making some improvements with Mobility Bond money. To be sure, you are way ahead of Dallas or Laredo or many other places. But you can’t sit on your laurels. So, A Dude respectfully disagrees about the bike lanes being paved with gold. That’s because I ride your streets practically every day, and from where I sit (on my bike seat), you have a LONG way to go. Let’s talk about one small step we in the tiny but mighty North East Austin Texas Bicycle Group took for bicycling kind.
On Sunday, Austin (a new member of NEATXBG – that’s his name), Barrett, Leslie and Thomas and their two kids (in a trailer) joined me for a ride. Our mission: to seek, document, and eventually report and have fixed just a few of the fails that make cycling in Austin less safe than it is purported to be, can be and should be. If you want more people to ride, you’re going to have to step it up and make it a lot safer and accessible. Can you do better? Si se puede. Yes, you can.
How do I know the bike lanes of Austin are not gold? Because, 4,185. That is the number in black in the above image, in-between the 207 (followers) and 611 (rides in 2019). 4,185 is the amount of miles I’ve biked this year to date, all in and around town. Sure, there are those who’ve done more. But I think that distance (and time, and effort) makes me an expert. I’m certainly more than qualified to tell you that if anyone is happy to accept our rating as gold, then it’s fools gold.
In our short ride, we found numerous sections of grass, glass, broken or choppy pavement, lack of painted lines, missing protected bollards, disappearing sidewalks, and a lack of lanes at all. Of course, we know there are budgetary constraints. However, some of these places have clearly been lacking for years. Places that have been reported to the City 3-1-1 system are more often than not ignored. Some are just probably due to no one reporting them. So our little group took an hour to see what we could see.
Take these four images, for example: 1) A parking place for disabled drivers. In front of that is a spot for a delivery truck, which routinely blocks the spot, the bike lane, and has knocked over the plastic bollard, even though it was moved. 2) A very wide street with no bike lanes that should have them to connect streets that do. Missed opportunity! 3) and 4) Tall grass growing out into the non-existent bike lane and a dangerous bump in the asphalt by the drainage culvert.
Next up, we have these gems: 1) and 2) show a street that is a major connecting one that used to have a bike lane. Now you can barely see the line. It was repaved, but they forgot to, or were just too lazy or maybe underfunded to re-stripe it. Also, car drivers just roll through the intersection. Very unsafe! 3) The bike lane continues but there’s a right-veering car lane. While there the leader nearly got hit by a speeding car that did not yield the right of way. Better signage and street markings are needed for sure. 4) Bad pavement, especially at high speed at night, can be a make or brake situation – meaning if you don’t see it and slow down in time and hit it wrong, you can break bones, or worse, your bike. Fail!
As you can see, it’s not all bad. Where there is a bike lane, it’s wide and paved. Plenty of places don’t have bike lanes at all, or maybe not even a shoulder or sidewalk in an emergency. When the road is wide, car drivers do tend to give cyclists a wide berth. So we’re not saying we don’t appreciate all that. It’s just the many, Many, MANY places where it’s downright dangerous to ride that concern us.
Here’s a last collection: 1) The bike lane is full of gravel and weeds. 2) and 3) show a side walk going from partially obstructed to just completely overgrown and non-existent. At the top of these three photos is a section of bamboo that until recently had grown completely out into the bike lane, and it will grow back soon like the weed it is. 4) Austin explaining how dangerous this construction is because it requires cyclists to take the lane with traffic bearing down on them while going up hill on a curve.
These are only the photos I took. We will compile them all onto a map created by another NEATXBG member and eventually report all these areas to the City. If 3-1-1- doesn’t correct them, we will take it to our Council Members. This is all volunteer work, but long overdue with the lack of an organized bike advocacy group in this area. I’m grateful to these folks and hope we can organize other rides and make this hyperlocal approach a standard practice it at least a took for bicycle advocacy city wide. Not holding my breath on that one.
While it may seem (or even be) like picky details, and not a big deal, let me tell you it is. If you have to ride a bike on the street to get to work or the store etc., and then out in the lane risking your life more than necessary, then that defeats the purpose of bike lanes. If you’re new, young, old, or just slow, such details can mean the difference between not riding at all, or riding and getting hit or killed by a car. It’s like they say, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Make some noise in your town and squeak on!
For my previous posts about this group and topic, see I Think I May Have Just Accidentally Founded a Neighhborhood Bike Gang, and North East Austin Texas Bike Group NEATXBG Potluck and Night Ride #2, plus Neighborhood Bicycle Activism: Think Globally, Act Locally.
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