Friday, December 27, 2013

Upgrades and Revolution Part 2: The Drag

This is a bit later than previously anticipated - I apologize, I got swamped. Now, to business. People for Bikes recently declared the 10 best protected bike lanes in the U.S. Check out number 3! BAM! That's us! Reading that article is honestly what prompted me to go photograph the new infrastructure so without further ado, the rest of my ride.

After I pulled off the Red Line Trail around Airport, I dipped into the neighborhood, connected up with Guadalupe and headed south. Right off the bat I saw something I'd never seen before. A bike shop!

This is Monkey Wrench Bicycles, the smallest, localest shop I have ever been in, hands down. A very helpful one, at that! About a week back, my bike had gotten knocked over and the front fender had literally bent back on itself. The fine folks at Monkey Wrench bent it back with a pair of pliers and sent me on my way, free of charge. The fender has a bit of character to it now, but it's back in business. They had KHS in stock but after inquiring, can order whatever you might need.

Guadalupe has at least SOME form of bike accomodation all the way down. As it gets busier and more dangerous, the accomodations change to account for the level of travel.

Just north of Rio Grande 
That said, there's one area that the infrastructure gets a bit....dodgy. It goes from the striped bike lane, goes green over the transition to Rio Grande, then becomes a lane with cars and buses. It does include Sharrows, but in the land of student drivers I trust those about as far as I can throw them. 
Because, for all you who are unfamiliar with Austin and her fair traffic is DENSE. I would (without any factual knowledge of whether or not this is true) hazard to call it the most densely populated city in Texas. However, the infrastructure available has not caught up with the population. Consequently, our traffic is absolutely heinous and the further you go towards downtown, the dodgier it gets. Sharrows are....laughably insufficient for safety down that way.

While this doesn't really tell you the scale of things, this is a small taste of what you're dealing with.

But then at 24th St, something absolutely magical happens

That right there friends, is a legit separated cycle track. Call it Amsterdam-style, a separated bike lane, a cycle track - who cares. It's a place to go down the road and you're physically separated from motor vehicle traffic by a line of parked cars. The bus stop is set on the traffic side of things, so you don't even have to share that. It's amazing. It's everything I hoped it could be and more. I'll just put up the photos and let you join me on my cruise through the Drag towards downtown.

Visiting an old friend
One little bonus issomething I've heard called the "Copenhagen left," though whether it comes from Copenhagen, I'm not sure. Basically, if you're approaching an intersection and need to make a left, you proceed through the green and stop in this box. Then, when the direction you need to go receives the right of way, you proceed in that direction. It sets up the intersection so a bike can successfully and efficiently make a left without changing into the motor vehicle lefthand turn lane. Neat, right?

I swung north, and visited another central Austin friend:

Then stumbled across a lovely surprise! Another fancy bike lane, this one on Rio Grande!

This one, while not as elaborate, is still incredibly helpful for getting downtown a bit further west between Guadalupe and Rio Grande and when combined with the very southern end of the Shoal Creek Trail, makes it easy as pie to access Cesar Chavez, The Lance Armstrong Bikeway, 4th St eastward - basically all of downtown.

After this, I lost the light. So I hit the pub with a friend, shared a few beers, then eased on homeward for the day. For the record, I took Woodrow. It does also have a bike lane.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Upgrades and Revolution Part 1: The Airport Bike Lane

A post in 2 parts. Some time ago (to the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the comments section of the local paper) the city of Austin had some of our urban planners make the trip to Amsterdam. There was some meeting of minds, and here in our fair city upon their return, something remarkable is happening. They're putting in dutch-style separated bike lanes in some parts of the city that could DESPERATELY use the help.

Now for folks here who AREN'T from Austin, we are the 3rd-most congested city in the United States. We're also one of the smallest cities on the list of "most congested," which is it's own kind of special. If I leave my job in North Austin at rush hour, getting to my sister's house 19 miles across town is a 45 minute trip sitting in traffic, MINIMUM. Congestion relief is honestly one of the biggest challenges facing this city as our population continues to explode. 

See the other issue here is Austin has taken a very different course than most cities in Texas when the inevitable population explosion came. When it happened in north Dallas, the result was immense sprawl. Austin, however, is building up, not out. We're fitting so many more people into the same space and the result is Doctor Who-esque gridlock. 

The Red Line Trail is a proposed project for a trail that will parallel our metro-rail system from Leander to downtown Austin - if it's successfully completed the first thing I'd like to do is ride the full length of it. For the moment the first bit has gone in between the Crestview and Highland stations.

First thought: WHY CAN'T WE HAVE ONE OF THESE DOWN LAMAR?! Seriously. Here I am at Airport and Guadalupe:

And here's the Red Line Trail:

Facing southeast towards Highland Mall

Facing northwest - the greenish building is the Crestview station. There's a good pub in there, too.

Now, notice that there was actually a "traditional" bike lane along Airport and it's still for all intents and purposes there and available for usage. But I cannot imagine myself taking that option when something so obviously superior is obviously available.

This is technically not a bike lane, it's a multi-use trail for either pedestrians or cyclists. The location is brilliant, as Airport is a road that can be notoriously hair-raising to bike along. But it also has a lot of businesses and so on down it that I simply do occasionally want to bike to. Additionally, the Highland Mall is in the process of being converted into classroom space by Austin Community College, so adding transportation corridors into it now before it becomes an issue shows excellent foresight.

As you carry on southward, the bike lane along the actual road ends, leaving just the Red Line Trail.

All too soon though, the trail ends at Airport & Denson:

The neighborhoods surrounding this area provide excellent access - I approached it from the north coming down Guadalupe. From the west it could be accessed pretty easily from Justin, from the south via Guadalupe. To continue this ride I made the right at Denson, hooked back up with Guadalupe, and took that southwards, easy striking distance to Hyde Park, the Triangle, UT-Campus, and from there into Downtown. 

Overall I love this bit of infrastructure. It provides an entirely new and viable way for me to move in the city without worrying about traffic. It's brilliant, and I can't wait to see it when it's done.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Coming and Going in the Dark

I work a pretty long day - a 4x10 schedule. Since winter is here, that means I am biking in the dark a LOT and it's starting to get to me a bit.

This is the very end of my morning commute as the sun starts to peek over the horizon. This is as light as I get.

Heading home. In the damn dark.

I miss having the sun on my face. To add to this, at some point someone or something bashed into my tail light, cracking the face of it and the light is now all flickery. I highly doubt this is a valid warranty claim since the light didn't break itself - it's quite likely someone just bashed into it while it was chained up somewhere, which is what caused the damage. 

Now, I know somewhere in Sweden there's a person giggling at me and yelling "AMATEUR!"at their monitor. I've gotta give props to people from the far ends of the world - you are way tougher than me in the face of the dark. So for the moment I'll just keep biking in the dark, figure out how to fix my tail light, and try to think of the wonderful spring sunrises to come.