Where Bikes Work
This past week I’ve been in Austin Texas for the South by Southwest Interactive conference. It’s a gathering of the online community; a busy event with venues scattered around the city.
I knew that Austin was a bike friendly city so I packed my folding bike into a suitcase and checked it out the five days I was in the city. I’m trying to look for some good ideas that we might try to adopt in Tallahassee. Here’s what I’ve found:
Bringing a Bike - The airlines make it difficult to bring a bike.Â Unless you can fit it into a suitcase and be under the maximum size and weight limits, it’s a very expensive proposition.Â A few years ago, I found this sweet little Raleigh folding bike.Â It’s got small tires but it rides like a big bike.Â More importantly, disassembled, it fit fine in a big suitcase and made it to and from Austin with no major damage.
Bike Routes – Austin has done an excellent job of finding, marking and improving bike routes. The routes run across the city, using neighborhood streets when possible and on marked lanes on the side of busier roads when necessary. Like Tallahassee, Austin has it’s share of hills. On busy roads with hills (are you listening Tallahassee?), even those roads without regular bike routes, bike lanes show up on the uphill side of the street.
The Bridge - The City of Austin is bisected by what maps refer to as Ladybird Lake, but which I think is actually part of the Colorado River.Â The few roads that cross the river and busy and a bit dangerous for bikes.Â In Austin, there is a bridge just for pedestrians and cyclists that takes them across the lake/river and across a busy road to an downtown network of trails and bike routes.
Taking the Lane – Of course, not every street or road has a bike lane. In Florida, cyclists are required to ride as close to the edge of the road as safely possible (Section 316.2065, F.S).
In Austin, according to at least one police officer who gave me directions, the law requires bikes to take the lane when riding on a road without a marked bike lane. During my all too short visit to Austin, I rode my bike daily, commuting to and from my lodging; just over a four mile trip each way.Â For most of my daily commute, I was on secondary streets without a bike route.Â I always took the lane, riding my bike right down the center.Â Motor vehicle drivers in Austin seem to be used to and accepting of bikes.Â I never noted any hostility, frustration, horn honking or finger waving when drivers had to slow down until it was safe to pass me.
Parking – With so many bikes in town, bike parking is a big issue.Â The city has done a good job of installing bike parking.Â Every intersection in the central city seems to have a few racks, but at least during SXSW, not nearly enough.Â Bikes were locked to every tree, signpost, fence and water pipe close to the civic center.
Bike Culture - Austin has a well evolved bike culture.Â There are a lot of pedicabs in the downtown entertainment district operated by mostly young riders in excellent physical condition.Â The pedicab drivers were for the most part, friendly, helpful and not too annoyed by a old guy on a funny bike trying to find his way around town.
SXSW featured some fascinating presentations, interesting convention goers and lots of social events.Â One of my favorite after hours event was a “mobile
social” sponsored by the bloggers from Bike Hugger and organized in conjunction with the local cycling community.Â The event started with hot dogs and beer at Franks, and ended with a very social ride.
Lessons Learned -Â Would I do it again?Â You bet ‘cha.Â Having a bike in a city where traffic is crazy and parking a car almost impossible, was the perfect transportation choice.Â Disassembling, packing, unpacking and reassembling (twice) was a chore.Â My old Raleigh is heavy and while a folder, is not really made for shipping in a suitcase.Â There are bikes that designed for just that purpose and getting one is on my agenda.
I didn’t bring a helmet and that was a mistake.Â Â I managed to borrow one during my trip (Thanks Tom!).
Finally, I learned that given a vibrant bike culture, an enlightened city government and some good engineering, that bikes can work and be a safe and effetive part ofÂ the transportation system.
Tallahassee isÂ wonderful town, but our bicycle transportation infrastructure is 3rd rate.Â Austin can teach us a lot about how to make a city work for bicycles and bikes work for a city.Â I encourage our planners, traffic engineers and our elected officials to make a trip to Austin to see for themselves.