As we descend into one (hopefully) last wintry blast here in Minneapolis, let us turn our minds to sunnier climes…
Last weekend my man and I were in Austin Texas. 73 degrees, clear blue skies, dry air, and LOTS of sunshine. A perfect place to go for a bicycle ride – right?!
It started out well – the first place we landed seemed to be a popular hangout with folks on bicycles. We were energized and ready to get out and experience the City.
So off to Mellow Johnny’s we went to rent ourselves some of Lance’s bikes. It seemed there was a nice path along the river to tool about on and explore, like Minneapolis – right? No. We quickly found ourselves a bit disappointed. Bikes were relegated to a path separated from pedestrian traffic, on the other side of a busy 4 lane road ~ definitely not by the river. This was the Lance Armstrong Bikeway and though the idea was good, it lacked in that nice tooling-along-the-river vibe we were hoping to catch. We found ourselves essentially dead ending and slightly disappointed, but not phased.
We turned our wheels back towards downtown to see what we could find, but the riding wasn’t much better there either. We only crossed two bicycle lanes downtown, both on the busiest multi-lane roads you could find. Neither of us felt comfortable using the bike lanes it was likely the fast moving traffic didn’t notice, so we stuck to the roads less travelled. Our enthusiasm was slowly turning to dissappointment. Though we were glad to not have 10 layers of clothes on, and be back on bicycles in glorious weather, it seemed the options for getting safely around were lacking. My man and I, comfortable cyclists on many roads, were beginning to give Austin poor marks as a bicycle friendly city. Eventually, our efforts seemed again fruitless and we regrettably turned back to MJ’s to return our bicycles.
When we arrived back at Mellow Johnny’s, I chatted with a the kind employee and asked if we had simply missed the obvious or if Austin was just not that bicycle friendly. The fine gentleman was likely one of a very few born-and-raised Austiners left in the city and he admitted that Austin was a bit behind when it came to bicycle infrastructure. Boo hoo, such opportunity lost! But so much potential to gain!
Our take on Austin is that there were mainly three types of cyclists, and sadly more white bicycles than we would care to see in any city (may those cyclists rest in peace).
1. Lucky fit road riders in their kits out to tackle the hills.
2. Brave city cyclists wise to the ways of cycling in a city and willing to take risks on the streets.
3. Regular citizen cyclists just trying to get around their city, feeling uncomfortable in the options offered, and sticking to the sidewalks.
Austin seems to be a town surely congested by its popularity, and its cars. Such a shame when so much fresh air and sunshine abounds. How could it be possible that a city with such a great climate and citizens, indeed one very famous citizen, be lacking in a better bicycling infrastructure?
Oh yes, there ARE bicycle lanes in Austin, but most of them seemed to be on extremely busy streets (like Congress or Lamar Blvd.) and would abruptly stop, leaving a cyclist scratching their head. Austin is a college town and there seemed to be many younger folk on bicycles riding around, but our observation is that they stuck to the sidewalks for safety and comfort. The area around the University seemed to have one of the best areas of bicycle lanes, along with where we were in the Eastside.
Our conclusion. Austin is a lovely City with equally lovely people. Friendliness, creativity, and a strong spirit abound. Austin is ripe for smart development and accessible bicycling for it’s citizens. Let’s hope they continue to move in a more bicycle friendly direction. Would I live there? Absolutely. Would I rather bicycle in Minneapolis? Absolutely.
Have you cycled in Austin ~ what was your experience?
Do you/have you live(d) in Austin ~ share your insight.
Disclaimer: This is the biased opinion of two cyclists from one weekend in time.
The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition was awarded a $5,000 grant from Bikes Belong to encourage bicycling, educate city leaders on local cycling needs, demonstrate the benefits of better on-street bicycle infrastructure – and have a whole lot of fun – during the June 2011 Open Streets Ciclovía Event! Planning efforts remain in full swing. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about volunteer opportunities.