Friday, August 23, 2013

I'm Being Lazy

For this the first time in forever, I'm posting. Not because I've stopped riding, but for the first time in months I am able to come home...and do nothing. I'm enjoying the new digs, although I am still embarrassed at telling people I live with my friends parents in their front room. It's kind of odd to live with older people who aren't your parents, but its in bike friendly Mueller area, I can ride to work sans bus, and I pay $400, so I figure I'll take the embarrassment and pocket the savings.

I found this list on Buzzfeed (what I've spent many a lazy evening doing instead of posting on here) and I found it hilarious. It doesn't really cover the specific joy of commuting by car everyday, so I thought I'd give my perspective on that daily slog.

I used to commute from downtown Austin to Round Rock right off of Louis Grimes. It was for a sucky summer internship that didn't pay, and I kind of regret it now. (I know your supposed to say how your internship changed you, but my biggest memory is of stuffing folders soo...) I would come home with a huge knot in my shoulder. Nothing made it better, it was pure stress that melted away once I was back at St.Ed's and able to walk to everywhere again. I don't deal well with traffic related stress because you are so powerless to do anything about it. You can sit impotently in your car and wait. And wait. And wait. Going through that kind of daily pain made me swear I would never live that far from work, and I've made to my late twenties mostly holding true to that promise. (There was that desperate few months I commuted from Slaughter to 183 but thankfully they fired me.) Car commuting is the norm in Austin, but I honestly don't know how people do it. Some coworkers were discussing the crushing traffic and how you don't get used to it but just learn how to deal. I never want to learn! I will take pedaling in 100 degree heat any day. I knew the commuting by car for an hour was ridiculous when-

1. I didn't pull over to pee because I  was afraid it would tack on another 20 minutes to my commute.

2. I went to the gas station more than the grocery store.

3. Letting someone into my lane was anathema.

4. I listened to NPR regularly (not a bad thing!...but you know, show me a biker who is listening to that on their daily ride)

5. I got home so tired I didn't want to do anything

6. By the time I got home and made was time for bed to do it all over again.

7. I was more tired and cranky at work.

8. I didn't have a good tan.

9. I started to look down at people who rode bikes and the bus.

10. When I calculated my yearly cost for commuting.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I'm Moving

Still within Austin, but I'm going the East side now, just North of Mueller. I'm excited, I've gotten real comfortable in my commute, in my regular places, and have little more to show about this part of town. Pedestrian bridge-check. South congress, done it. I'm glad to go on some new adventures and go to a part of town that is much more bike-centered. Also, it feels like the 04 has become one big condo construction site and I'll be glad to get out of the big trucks way and the traffic snarls they can cause. So, goodbye 78704 hello 78723!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mr. Money Mustache

I've become a fan of Mister Money Mustache over the past week. I'm not sure where I came across him on the internets...but I immediately took to his message. I have been frugal my whole life, but after reading his blog I've become motivated to clean up my own financial life and make smarter moves with my money.

Among his recommendations is riding a bike. He is pretty adamant about this being an integral part of being a Mustachian, and after seeing his numbers it is astonishing how much money you can throw away just getting to work! My car is paid off, my bus pass is free (student) so I theoretically could not spend a money on transportation. After my carless week, I've decided this is a place I could really trim some of my spending, and stick to my $40 dollars a month budget, and hopefully, go below.

What I like about his article is how it goes beneath some of the old tropes about biking and gets to the core of why I continue to get on my bicycle. The joy in riding, that feeling of strength as you climb a hill, the exhilaration as you fly down it, and the great feeling of getting home energized, not drained, by your evening commute. It's smelling the flowers of spring, the crispness in the fall, and hopefully a nice wind on a hot day.
Cycling has numerous benefits, and I really have to hand to Mr. Money Mustache for so succinctly describing them.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Carless, Not By Choice

Booger, my loyal steed, got a leak in his vacuum pump and unfortunately has been away waiting to get a new one. This has put me in a situation I've mimicked, but never actually been in- I am carless. Surprisingly, it hasn't been a bad experience, and got me imagining a car free lifestyle, in a future where I want to put a major dent in my student loans. For others, the prospect of having a car in the shop means getting a costly rental, at best the shop will lend you one. I went to the Pink Flamingo, and alas, they didn't offer me a car and I'm assuming that means they don't have any. Having already a groove down to get to work, that took a lot of pressure off me, and a good knowledge of Capmetro meant I could ignore their wild suggestions and plan my own simple commute from work to school. (That is a rant for a sick day- what is up with Capmetro taking you on the most convoluted way to your destination?)

I consider myself lucky to live somewhere that allows me to quickly get around in different ways. I'm sure some people look down at me as I sweat outside, but I live knowing I can meet life's challenges creatively and independently.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bicycle Paleta Peddlers

It is a familiar sound in my neighborhood, the ring of bells announcing ice cream and other goodies are just around the corner. These tan peddlers not only sell Blue Bell confections and other items found in the local grocery, but also paletas, Mexican popsicles that come in flavors like tamarind and horchata. While I have no idea how much these men make, and certainly the hot Texas sun makes this a taxing job, its one of the few businesses I know of here in Austin that regularly makes use of bicycles. You can't see, but a very excited little girl is on the other side of him.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Great Streets

Austin is putting a lot of money into beautifying some downtown streets, and inevitably, there is moaning because parking spaces are being taken away in favor of wider sidewalks and pedestrian safety measures. Ben Wear, the Statesman's transportation writer, tried to give a balanced view of the situation, but he presses the issue of lost parking spaces, drowning out the good these great street programs can have.

I have several problems with focusing on bountiful parking downtown. One, it doesn't consider the myriad of ways people get downtown, it usually demands a good be given for free or substantially marked down price, and it sacrifices the safety of pedestrians, which eventually includes even those who drive in.

Despite the city's efforts to make biking downtown safer, there are still whole blocks you would be mad to cycle down. Especially those that run into I-35, it can be difficult to feel safe, and choose a good path with cars more focused on entering traffic than anything else. I believe cycling fits better with downtown businesses that want people to wander in and out, take their time and windowshop, basically create a mall setup without the awful concrete building. With a car and the traffic it creates, people aren't going to just stop and check something out because it catches their eye, I know, i commute often enough by car that something catches my eye in the window, but there is no way im getting out of line in traffic to buy it.

Many people also ride the bus into downtown, and widening the sidewalks may give Capital Metro a chance to create special stop spots, so they don't disrupt flow of traffic. Calming the traffic downtown and prioritizing pedestrians would go a long way towards making people comfortable shopping downtown, and create the relaxed atmosphere Austin wants to be known for. People feel safe, they are more likely to come and drop cash.

Lastly, I don't begrudge the city trying to make a buck off downtown meters. Car owners in America already receive huge subsidies, and the moaning and groaning people did over extended hours is extreme considering its 6 bucks. It would be one thing if Austin didn't provide another way to get there (cough Houston cough) but there is the bus, train, bicycle that complaints against fees sound extremely childish.

Besides, Ben Wear and the types he writes for are going the way of the dinosaur. Every passing year makes their opinion less important. Downtown wants the younguns, and their money. They go for happy hour, they want to go to the clubs, and they will eat trailer park food. Many business owners expressed enthusiasm for the great streets, and studies* show their enthusiasm is not misplaced.

*I don't have such studies. You want citations go to streetsblog. You want to read articles with words like younguns you stay here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Classist Arguments Against Cycling

Perhaps classist is the wrong word, well its not even a word. I mean to say any prejudice people have against something, based on their socioeconomic status. When it comes to cycling, I think we are all familiar with the arguments against it--It costs too much money, no one will bike when its hot, people don't want to stink at work, cyclists break too many rules. What many people do not realize, and what is rarely brought up in the comments, is these arguments come from a certain worldview, specifically the middle-class, where it is hard to imagine people living any other way, and the assumption is most people want to live like them, but are too poor or unrefined to do it.

It is understandable. Many Americans come from and consider themselves middle-class, where cars are an integral part of our experience from birth. Mom's toting their kids around in spacious SUVs, a first kiss stolen in the backseat, the feeling of freedom when you finally get our own car--its hard to imagine living any other way.

But some of us do. Not all of us live in the suburbs. Some of us have made the decision, whether out of poverty or something else, to live in place where walking, biking, and transit are available and acceptable. When you are in our neighborhood, you should respect the streetscape we built. I don't go to the suburbs and make a snit about the lack of bike lanes, and complaining about the lack of parking in my neighborhood or downtown is real rich, especially if you live outside of ACL.

Many people argue spending money on bicycle infrastructure is a waste, because people won't want to show up to work stinky. Many cycle advocacy groups try to get around this with showering at work at packing clothes, as if making it more complicated will entice people. The false assumption is that everyone has a job where you must look business professional, smell like Axe, and have perfectly coiffed hair. The fact is, a lot of people go to work knowing they will leave dirtier than when the arrived. Construction workers, cooks, lifeguards and so on are just a few people who do not have to give a shit how they look at work. Not to mention, you can take your bike on the bus like I do and avoid getting overly sweaty. Work retail at Nordstroms? A pharm rep who must look like she walked out an Ann Taylor catalog? Fine, drive to work. Don't assume everyone else has to as well.

Others say it costs too much money. The amount of money spent on cycle tracks by the City of Austin is no where near the amount needed to keep a highway like I-35 operational, but sure, complain about the relative pennies given to help those who can't afford a 45 minute commute each way every day. I don't complain about the miles of road in Austin suburbs that serve a select few.

As for no one bikes when its hot, well my own experience says that is false. I see more people out and about now than in December. Being Texans, I think we are suited to the hot weather and are better at dealing with it than cold or rain. Really, it is pretty arrogant to think just because you don't like something, or can't do something, no one else can either. Not to mention there are people out there who bike in the summer not because they are some uber-environmentalist, but because they can't afford a car and it's their sole means of transportation.

As long as the majority of alternate transportation advocates are also middle-class, we probably won't see a rebuttal of these arguments from a class point of view. It is easy to dismiss the concerns of the poor, or not consider them at all. Your local bicycle peddler ice cream man isn't posting on the Statesman user forums or reading Streetsblog. (I'll take a picture of one of these guys some day-they pedal around on modified mountain bikes selling paletas or Mexican popsicles) So, when considering the merits of cycling, lets remember for some the benefits go beyond lost pounds and less gas money.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fox News Is On the Case

Austin PD conducted a "sting" of sorts in downtown hoping to nab drivers who do not abide by the 3 foot rule. Designed to put the responsibility of safety on the driver, it is probably not well known outside of those it is meant to protect.

Now they monitored Cesar Chavez, which in terms of bicycle infrastructure and safety, is probably the worst street you can think of to cycle down. Fast traffic moves to I-35 and S. Congress, with no shoulder and several intersections. I avoid that area. On the one hand, I guess it could make sense to go for the most dangerous situations first. On the other hand, wouldn't it make more sense to go to the places people bike the most and make sure those are as safe as possible?

Now to BE FAIR, APD says they will conduct bicycle rider stings in the summer. Hmm, I better watch my Idaho stops and riding on the sidewalk ooohh I could kill someone! No but really, they are going on about how likely it is you will die in a traffic accident, and I can't remember the last time a cyclist ran over and killed someone. Anyone, anyone? Waste of time.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mr. Wear Bikes to Work

Ben Wear, Statesman's transportation columnist decided to bike to work in honor of Bike Month. In the past he has been lukewarm on bicycle improvements, so I believe this was a big step for him. By his own admission he was "woefully unprepared", and indeed I think he was--just not in the same way.

Ben and his companions started from his home in Rollingwood, an affluent part of Austin with little bicycle infrastructure. They then crossed Mopac (a highway) right behind a shopping mall, which should tell you they were in a very car-centric part of town. Then they proceeded to Congress Ave. and Statesman headquarters, making for about a 5-mile trip. Wear noted the danger in crossing the highway and other parts of his journey, which brings me to a very important and little talked about point in all of this Bike to Work nonsense---PLAN YOUR ROUTE FOR A BIKE, NOT A CAR.

Ben had a hard time, but not because he didn't have a backpack, or a proper helmet, or even his own bike, it was because he didn't plan his route. He took his default car route, and paid for it in dangerous crossings and an uphill ride. If you decide to bike anywhere, make sure you are familiar with the area, and realize the safest way may not be the most obvious way. If I was trying to get out of Rollingwood, I would probably try and see if there was a bus or neighborhood route to get me through this infrastructure-poor part of town. In my own commute, I ride through the Bike/Ped bridge and down S. 5th to get home, although I could also take Lamar. I choose the other route because there is less traffic and lights. The tradeoff is that it is an uphill ride. Planning your route can save you a lot of headache, possibly your life, and make your daily commute enjoyable.

Monday, April 29, 2013

I'm Baaacckk!!

So I had to take a little hiatus as I started school again, started my first real job, and moved. I'm back in the 78704 and loving it, biking to work and school (most days, what is with all this rain, Austin?) and planning a new future in healthcare. I think its a fitting time to start again, with Bike Month here in Austin. With Austin gearing up for a series of bike related events, I'm hoping to hit a few, especially the bike to work happy hour and free breakfast, and the Cyclovia. I'm also hoping to analyze  the efforts the City of Austin is putting into encouraging more cyclists, especially from a class point of view. Being outside of the norm for cyclists in America (I am not white, male, or middle class) I guess I am more sensitive to certain assumptions people make, and obvious lack of resources in certain areas (I have yet to see anything COA bike related in Spanish). Hopefully I'll be able to expand the discourse here in Austin and cover some fun events. I also joined the 21st century and got an Iphone, and as soon as I figure out how to take pictures and put them on here, they'll be waaay more posts.