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April 13, 2010

Kill The Boulevard-less Bike Boulevard

Just fired this off to the UTC. All I can do given my commitments. Minor edits for grammar only.

Commissioners,

My name's Mike Dahmus, and I served on your commission from 2000-2005 (my only contemporary still with you would be Mr. Lockler). I'm writing today to urge you to reject the city staff proposal for the project formerly known as the Nueces Bike Boulevard.

While on the commission, I often served the role of an intermediary between bicyclists and motorists (and urban and suburban); since I was a frequent bicycle commuter but not car-free like some of my colleagues (I'd drive to work about half the time). Since then, a chronic illness has forced me to drive exclusively, but I still maintain an interest in bicycle facilities for the good of the city.

Along those lines, I hate to say it, but the city staff proposal for this 'downtown bike boulevard' is a complete waste of time. Worse, it will actively degrade conditions for cyclists on both these streets.

In a common error, the city has failed to consider the effect of their actions on the individuals using this corridor, and more importantly, on changes to their incentives and disincentives. Today, it's relatively painful for drivers to use Nueces (in particular) as a 'cut-through' or relief valve from congestion downtown, because of 4-way (and even some 2-way) stops. I know this because I drive through this part of downtown most days on my trip home from work.

While there's some wavering on this, it's pretty obvious that many stop signs will be removed (converted into traffic circles or traffic lights) in the city plan, as was the case in the LOBV plan - in order to attract bicyclists. So far, so good. But what happens to the incentives of motorists, if this change is made and nothing else is done?

Well, you replace those 4-way stops with lights and circles, and I (and thousands of others) will be thrilled to be able to drive on that street - to avoid backups on Lavaca from MLK and 15th, for instance. Without the originally proposed (at least by the LOBV) diverters and other disincentives, you're going to see an increase in motor vehicle use of these streets for cut-through (through, not local) traffic. Exactly the opposite of what you want in a 'bicycle boulevard'.

Please vote this thing dead. It's not only not ideal; it's worse than nothing - it promises to make things actually worse, not better, for cyclists in this corridor. (And on the subject of "any movement is progress", a recent post by yours truly: http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/000642.html )

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

November 13, 2009

PS: Still a bike crackpot

Recording this email for posterity, since I firmly believe this kind of discussion should be in the public eye - so it's possible for others to see whether the input was acted on or just ignored (as is commonly the case).

Nadia,

This is expanded feedback from the forum - as you may know I was on the UTC for 5 years and used to be a serious bicycle commuter and still maintain a healthy interest, and I live about 500 feet from the intersection in question.

First issue is the fact that the bike lanes 'downstream' of the intersection were recently restriped all the way back to the intersection. This removes much of the supposed reason for bike boxes (in the old design where the bike lanes didn't start for 100 feet or so past the intersection, the bike boxes would have allowed cyclists to be at the front of through traffic so they could get 'up and over' rather than having to wait behind motorists - now there is literally no reason to even get in the bike box.

The second problem is one of signage and paint - without a "Stop HERE on Red" sign, motorists don't typically stop that far back from the intersection - even when white lines exist on the pavement. Coloring the bike box would help but would, I think, not be sufficient.

Please forward my email to the CTR people and invite them to contact me if they would like. I'd be very happy to share continued observations as I go through this intersection an average of 2 times per day, usually in the rush hours.

Regards, Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

June 03, 2009

The Lance Armstrong Stopway Strikes Again

Was going to start a new series today ("Myths of the Red Line"), but this was too perfect.

This morning, I dropped off my stepson at Austin HIgh for his last day of school this year. Pulled in at the PAC, which is the entrance closest to that underpass of Cesar Chavez. As I was leaving, I saw a cyclist on the Stopway; waiting for a spot to clear (lots of people turning into the same entrance I used). I stopped short of the crosswalk and motioned him on, trying to be nice, but after several moments of people coming around the corner and turning, he gave up and motioned me to go instead.

Yay, Stopway!

March 04, 2009

Why I'm Hard on Mueller

and note, I'm far from the only one.

Also please excuse the brevity - I'm doing this from a Wendy's in Huntsville during a short lunch break.

Breathless media coverage from the Statesman makes you think that Mueller is the wildest dreams of urbanites and environmentalists and sustainable-liviing fans all come to life. Meanwhile, every time I raise some (informed, compared to most) criticism of Mueller, I get personal attacks in return. At times like this, I like to remind myself (and hopefully others) of the substantive, objective, reasons why Mueller presents us with problems.

Continue reading "Why I'm Hard on Mueller" »

January 14, 2009

Red lights. They aren't that hard.

I am not surprised, although still disappointed, to see this kind of logic defending not only the decision to run a red light but fight it in court.

Was riding from the gym to work one fine November morning down Congress Ave. Got pulled over by a motorcycle cop and another cop in a patrol car. They gave me a ticket for running a red light. I tried explaining how it wasn't dangerous since I stopped at the light, looked for oncoming traffic and pedestrians, then proceeded. Nevertheless, I got a moving violation and a $275 ticket, just like if I was driving a Chevy Silverado at speed.

I sent in my ticket pleading not guilty and waving pre-trial hearing.

I got a court date.

I went to court.

The case was dismissed. Not sure if it was because the officer didn't show up or what. My online case summary says "Dismissed Insufficient Evidence"

Overall, I'd say my in-court experience was very good. The whole procedure took less than 30 minutes. I would recommend anyone who received similar tickets to do the same. I was tempted to just pay the fine and move on with life, but glad that I didn't. Traffic laws shouldn't be black and white/ bikes are cars.

Grow up, kids. There is no moral justification for you running that red light that doesn't apply to any of us when we drive, yet I'm sure that most of you, save one idiosyncratic former colleague of mine, don't want cars doing it. And every time you shoot back with some moronic drivel about how "bikes aren't cars", you make it harder to protect the rights of bikes to be on the roadway. "They aren't cars; you admitted it," they'll say, "so get the hell on the sidewalk".

(by PabloBM on flickr)

I spent years fighting for bicycle facilities and accomodations and basic rights on the Urban Transportation Commission. Many times, we lost a battle we should have won, because idiots like you made it easy for neighborhoods to argue their reactionary case (i.e. Shoal Creek). Whether you're a racer in bright plumage who doesn't want to get out of your clipless pedals or a budding young anarchist who thinks the law doesn't apply to you, it was often your fault when stuff like the Shoal Creek debacle happened. Neighborhood nitwits would make the case that we shouldn't prioritize bicycle treatments over on-street parking, for instance, because 'those cyclists don't care about other road users' anyways. And it worked, because they were right: you idiots don't care about other road users.

Don't feed me the crap about how you can't hurt anybody with your bike. It's not true; I almost wrecked a car ten years ago trying to avoid killing an idiot just like you who ran a light across 24th.

(Yes, in case you're wondering, it was being ganged up on by the Juvenile Anarchist Brigade in a discussion just like this one that finally chased me off the austin-bikes list after years and years of contributing there - after not being allowed to fight fire with fire. Thanks, Mike Librik).

So you, unnamed wanker on the austin-bikes list, are the second recipient of my Worst Person in Austin award. Congratulations. And ATXBS.com comes in a close second for backing him up on this one.

September 19, 2008

TWITC: Here we go again

Thanks to the precedent set by the Shoal Creek debacle, yet another neighborhood has agitated for, and won, parking in bike lanes. From the Chronicle's piece:

The stated policy of the city's bicycle program is to implement no-parking zones for bike lanes when streets are scheduled for maintenance and restriping – which is now the case between Westover and Windsor roads on Exposition. City staff's recommendation, however, includes allowing parking in bike lanes overnight beginning at 7pm on certain segments, at all times except two three-hour commuting windows on others, and on Sundays on one stretch to accommodate church parking.

At least they expressed the view of the Leage of Bicycling Voters pretty well:

On Tuesday, LOBV President Rob D'Amico said, "The idea of a bike lane is to promote safe bicycle travel at all times ... especially at night when riding is most dangerous."

That is the only sensible view, people. We don't park cars in (normal) traffic lanes (streets with on-street parking have either marked parking or unmarked lanes - the latter being the case on residential streets where most parking occurs). We shouldn't park cars in bike lanes either. And as Rob D'Amico points out, nighttime is the time you need the bike lanes the most.

Exposition isn't a residential street. It's an arterial roadway - the road all those people go to from the residential streets (and collectors). Even though it has some residences on it, "residential street" has a very distinct meaning here, and Exposition is not one but TWO classifications higher on the food chain. If visitors to these churches or to the residences on Exposition are having trouble finding enough parking, there are options available a short walk away which don't require that we risk cyclists' lives.

I don't envy city staff - who knows what the right thing is to do and yet has to defend this ridiculous policy decision anyways. Place your blame squarely at the foot of city council members who would rather pander to the selfish interests of neighborhood reactionaries than take a stand for public safety (or, even, a stand for parking - marked on-street parking spaces on Exposition without bike lanes would at least be a consistent and reasonable traffic marking).

August 27, 2008

A tale of the edges of two campuses

Sorry for the long break. I've been on business trips to Jebusland for 3 of the last 7 weeks, and had a vacation in the middle, and very busy even when here. Although I'm still busy, I at least have a minute (not enough time to grab any good pictures; since my google-fu was too weak to get something quickly).

I took the family on a short vacation to visit family in State College, home of Penn State (where I went to school and spent the first 9 years of my life - my grandmother still lives in the same neighborhood as the Paternos). On this trip, since my wife is still recovering from Achilles surgery, we didn't spend much time walking through campus as we normally would - we instead spent our time driving around the edges of campus. This was an interesting contrast for me, since I spend quite a bit of time driving around the edge of another major university's campus right here in Austin. Let's compare.

Penn State:

There's a signed and marked bike route which starts on the north end of campus (which is bounded by the old residential neighborhood in which my grandmother lives). This bike route says "Campus and Downtown". It was added shortly before my college years but has been improved since then on each end and consists mainly of off-street paths (sharrows on the street in the neighborhood north of campus, although done poorly). Automobile traffic can still enter the campus from the north in several places, but is then shunted off to the corners - you can no longer go completely through campus from north to south by automobile. Pedestrian accomodations on this side of campus haven't changed for decades - a pleasant cool walk under tons and tons of trees.

On the south side of campus is the downtown area - the area most analogous to The Drag; fronting College Avenue, part of a one-way couplet which carries State Route 26 through the area (other half is two blocks away, called Beaver Avenue). College Avenue has two through lanes of traffic. Shops line the road at a pleasingly short pedestrian-oriented setback, except for a few places (one a church, one a surface parking lot). Pedestrians, counting both sides of the street, get a bit more space than do cars - and cars have to stop almost every block at a traffic light. The speed limit here is 25; you can rarely go that fast. There is plenty of on-street parking. Again, there's places where cars can penetrate campus a bit, but they can't go through campus this direction. Bicycle access from the south comes from a major bike route (with bike lanes that end short of campus) on Garner St. - which then allows bicyclists to continue while motorists have to exit by turning a corner towards the stadium. Two images of the corner of Allen and College from different angles:

College and Allen; shot by ehpien on flickr

From WikiMedia commons

East and west at Penn State aren't as important - the west side fronts US 322 Business (and a major automobile access point was closed; a classroom building now spans the whole old highway!). The east side is primarily for access to sports facilities and the agricultural areas. Ped access from the west is mediocre unless you feel like going through that classroom building, but not very important if you don't since there's not much other reason to be over there. Access from the east is the main future area for improvement - although it's still of a caliber that we would kill for here in Austin; with 2-lane roadways and 30-35 mph speed limits; traffic signals everywhere pedestrians go in reasonable numbers; etc.

Penn State and the town of State College have made it inviting to walk to and through campus, and have made it at pleasant as possible to bike there. Some students still drive, of course, but most cars are warehoused most of the time.

UTier2-West

On UT's west side, Guadalupe is a wide choking monstrosity (4 car lanes with 2 bike lanes - one of which functions pretty well and the other of which was a good attempt that fails in practice due to bad driver behavior). On-street parking exists but is rather difficult to use for its intended purpose; but the merchants will still defend it tooth and nail. Despite having even more students living across this road that need to walk to UT than the analogous group at Penn State, there are fewer pedestrian crossings and they are far less attractive; and there is no bicycle access from the west that indicates any desire at all to promoting this mode of transportation. Although you can't completely get through campus from west to east, you can get a lot farther in than you can at Penn State, and the pedestrian environment suffers for it. The city won't put any more traffic signals on Guadalupe even though there's thousands of pedestrians; and the built environment on Guadalupe is ghastly, with far too much surface parking and far too little in the way of street trees. This shot is about as good as it gets on Guadalupe:

taken by kerri on picasa

On the east side of campus, there's I-35. You'd think this would be much worse than the Guadalupe side for everybody, but at least bicyclists can use Manor Road, which is pretty civilized (better than anything on the west side). Pedestrians are pretty much screwed - noisy, stinky, and hot is no way to walk through life, son.

UT's north side is similarly ghastly. A road clearly designed for high-speed motor vehicle traffic and then gruesomely underposted at 30 mph; way too wide and lots of surface parking. For pedestrians, this edge of campus sucks - for cyclists, it's OK to penetrate, but then UT destroyed through access for cyclists by turning Speedway into UT's underwhelming idea of a pedestrian mall (hint: this is what one really looks like). I could write a whole post on that (and may someday), but the short version is that years ago, UT came to our commission (UTC) with a master plan that crowed about how much they were promoting cycling, yet the only actual change from current conditions was destroying the only good cycling route to and through campus. Yeah, they put up showers and lockers - but that's not going to help if the route TO the showers and lockers is awful enough, and it is. You'll get a lot of cyclists at almost any university just because a lot of students won't have cars and because parking isn't free and plentiful, but if you really want to take it to the next level, I'm pretty confident that eliminating your one good bike route isn't the way to go about it.

Since I went to Penn State (1989-1992), access for pedestrians and bicyclists has actually gradually improved, even though it already was much better than UT, and the campus has become more and more livable. More people walk and bike; fewer people drive; and it's a more enjoyable place than it was before. Since I moved to Austin (1996), the environment for pedestrians and bicyclists travelling to and through UT has actually gotten worse - they're still coasting on the fact that a lot of the area was developed before everybody had a car. Almost every decision they have made since then has been hostile to bicyclists and at least indifferent to pedestrians. As a result, a much larger proportion of students in the area have cars that they use much more often. (Just comparing near-campus-but-off-campus residents here). The recent long-overdue developments in West Campus are a start, but the built environment on the edge of campus has to dramatically change for UT to be anything more than laughable compared to other major college campuses' interfaces with business districts.

Bonus coverage: The area I was staying in in Huntsville, AL is right next to the 'campus' for Alabama-Huntsville. The least said about that, the better - the area in general is like US 183 before the freeway upgrades, except even uglier (if that's possible); and their campus has literally nowhere to walk to - my guess is that every student there has a car, even though the place is clearly not a commuter school.

August 06, 2008

In print again

Good Life magazine interviewed me (one of several) for a big piece on development and transportation, and we got a nice picture on Loop 360 last month. Now, it's finally out, and they mispelled my last name. Every single time. Argh. The content was well-done, though; one of the better representations of an interview I've had (except for the part about the new office being too far to bike; I'm not biking any more due to health reasons; this is actually a wonderful bike commute).

July 22, 2008

BCIHKAL #2: Central Austin to NW Austin (183 corridor)

The acronym is for "Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved".

I was impelled to get going again by witnessing a lady trying to keep her bike on about one inch of pavement on the uphill shoulderless windy part of Bee Caves this morning on my drive to work. Stay tuned for #3, brave soul; there's really no need for you to ride on that ungodly stretch.

Same format as before.

Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved #2: Central Austin (Clarksville) to Northwest Austin (183 corridor) - four different offices in four years for S3.

Timeframe: June 1998- December 2001

Rough sketch of first half of route (the common part)

Common second part of routes to first, third, fourth offices (Bull Creek/Hancock to Mesa/Hyridge)

Second part of route to second, temporary, office (Spicewood Springs)

Final part of route to first office (Jollyville/Oak Knoll)

Final part of route to third office (Riata)

Final part of route to fourth office (Centaur)

Background: This is kind of a long one - S3 had one office when I started; were in negotiations to move to a nicer newer one but got stalled out by an acquisition which ended up pushing us into a temporary sublease for six months or so; and then when Via acquired S3, many of my coworkers left and I worked from home for a year, only to return to a temporary office in a building leased by Centaur (another of their companies) until S3 closed that office in December 2001, and I had to go find work in the middle of the dot-com bust (hooray!). All three share a common first third or so, and two are virtually identical, so they're all grouped together here. The Riata commute was the one I actually made into the slideshow you see pictures from throughout this and the previous article.

Bike used: Mostly my old touring bike (since stolen) that I acquired for $200 used from austin.forsale.

Distance/Time: 10-15 miles each way; much longer in the morning due to hills - on days I biked all the way in on the longer versions, about 90-100 minutes. Trip home was 45 minutes or so.

Showers: Only the Riata office. For the mornings, I did the bus boost sometimes, and other times relied on cooler weather and the bathroom washcloth trick.

Route and comments:

By this point, I was becoming more comfortable asserting my position on the road, which is good since Jollyville didn't yet have bike lanes.

First segments: To Bull Creek/Hancock: See first commute.

Second segment: Either up Shoal Creek or cross Mopac: The trick on all these commutes is where you shift from one good corridor (Bull Creek / Shoal Creek) to another (Mesa). There's four crossings of Mopac which are accessible from here; I'll briefly touch on them and talk about where I used them.

  1. Hancock: No on-ramps, which is nice, but a lot of debris, and requires a lot more hills if you are going particularly far north on the Mesa corridor. I used this crossing for the 2nd commute, at our temporary sublease on Spicewood Springs west of Mesa.

  2. Far West: A lot of novice cyclists take this one because the crossing TO Mopac is on a bike/ped bridge over the railroad, but then you're dumped right into on-ramp traffic. I didn't like this one as either a novice or an experienced cyclist.

  3. Spicewood Springs: Great downhill, but awful uphill - big hill, lots of traffic, ramps. Not recommended outbound. I used this one on the way home almost all the time.

  4. Steck: Best choice for uphill - least hill; most shade; least traffic (still have onramps to deal with, but they're less busy than the other two choices). Downhill not so great - lose momentum at a 4-way stop.

  • Segment #3: (commute #2 only): I rode up Balcones (ignore the map where it says it's part of Mopac; I picked the wrong segment on the map) - you can actually ride up high on a nice shoulder looking down at the traffic below; nice in the mornings. Then you get to go up a pretty bad but short hill on North Hills (where northbound traffic on Balcones ends), then follow North Hills parallel to Far West all the way up to Mesa. Commute #2 is basically done here - just head up Mesa in the hilly bumpy bike lanes, hop on Spicewood and head west.

    Segment #3: Shoal Creek to Steck (other 3 commutes): see last chapter.

    Segment #4: Shoal Creek to Mesa via Steck: Steck looks scary the first time but is actually very civilized - you can keep up with traffic on the downhill heading west, and by the time you slow down on the uphill, the light's almost always red anyways. Crossing the bridge is the most stressful part - pump hard until you get to the other side to let the cars by, and then enjoy the shade on the short sharp uphill as the right lane turns into a bike lane. Then relax and go slow for a while and catch your breath. It's a niice ride all the way up to Mesa - shade opportunities, little traffic, bike lane.

    Segment #5: Up Mesa. Mesa has bike lanes up here, still. Fought various battles with high school over cars parked in the bike lane for years - probably still happening now. Look for Hyridge (my last commute just went straight to the end of Mesa). Left on Hyridge.

    Segment #6: Across Loop 360. Two choices here; be a pedestrian and avoid a big hill, or be a cyclist and be tough. The pedestrian route takes you all the way to Old Jollyville, then left, then walk your bike across Loop 360 into the Arboretum. The less said the better (although if I got to this point and had no energy left, I did it once in a while). The bike route goes like this: Down Hyridge, split off at Mountain Ridge, BIG downhill, short uphill, and out to 360. Ride on shoulder for about 100 feet, then cut across traffic into the left turn lane for Arboretum Blvd (the cutout with no traffic light). Take your time here - no rush! Huge hill coming up. Turn across the southbound lanes onto Arboretum Blvd and then get ready for my least favorite hill - all the way up to the thing that looks like a roundabout but really isn't at the Jollyville entrance to the Arboretum. I occasionally had to walk up this hill in the early days. The trip home is a bit different: Go through the uphill (183 side) of the Arboretum, hop on the 183 frontage for about 100 feet to get through the 360 light, then off on Old Jollyville. This is stressful at first but once you get used to it is no big deal, and you avoid some big hills.

    Segment #7: Up Jollyville: When I did these commutes, there were no bike lanes on Jollyville - but I was experienced enough not to need them (although I liked them when they showed up later). Nice flat (in comparison) ride - pick up some speed here and get a breeze going. Brutal the other way in the afternoon against the inevitable summer headwind out of the south. Very little traffic in the mornings by the late end of rush hour. On the Riata commute, I'd turn at Duval and head over to the 183 frontage; for the first office I'd head straight on to almost Oak Knoll and be done. (note my comment about high gas prices - zoom into the picture).

    Segment #8: Riata - luckily by this point I was pretty fearless as most people shy away from the frontage road. Not much traffic on this part - just quick hop from Duval to Riata Trace Parkway.

    Modifications for trip home: On all of these commutes, I'd cross Mopac on Spicewood Springs - a nice downhill from Mesa to Mopac with no stops; could easily keep up with the cars going 35. The light at Mopac was the only stressful bit; just pump hard to get over the railroad tracks and down the hill to Shoal Creek and then rejoin the outbound route.

    Bus boost possibility: Very high. The 183-corridor express buses drop off at Jollyville across from Riata (Riata actually got credit for being close to this park-and-ride, even though the road connecting Riata to it was cut in half by the freeway, requiring far too long a walk for anybody to really use the bus from there except as a cyclist). These buses are fast enough that you lose very little time compared to the drive, if you time your arrival correctly. (This applied to the two commutes out here; the other two had bus boost possibilities on the #19 in both cases and the #3 in the Centaur case - but those are slow in comparison). I used this express bus boost quite often - especially on days where I wanted to bike some but couldn't afford to spend an extra 2 hours on it.

    Ratings:

     RatingNotes
    Physical difficulty5Big hills in spots in the morning. Afternoon is mostly easy except for the headwind stretch on Jollyville heading south
    Scary factor7Steck and 360 crossings scary - but there are less scary (although more hilly) alternatives.
    Exercise efficiency9 out of 10Large time investment required in morning but very strenuous exercise; afternoon commute took about 45 minutes compared to 35-40 in car.
    Enjoyment5 out of 10Nice and shady in spots; lots of waiting at lights.
    Services/Safety9 out of 10Plenty of opportunities to hop on a bus with a flat tire, which I had to do many times on these commutes. Plenty of convenience stores. A bike shop or two up north.

    Overall conclusion: A good medium commute - a novice would be advised to consider the pedestrian approach at 360 for a bit at the start or use the bus boost to avoid that altogether.

  • July 08, 2008

    BCIHKAL #1: Central Austin (Clarksville) to North Austin (IBM)

    The acronym is for "Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved".

    I've been meaning to write a series of these for a long time for posterity's sake, but the combination of a recent bout of stupidity in the comments at austinist and recent economic conditions have reminded me to get going.

    Here we go with #1.

    Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved #1: Central Austin (Clarksville) to North Austin (IBM)

    Timeframe: 1997-1998

    Rough sketch of route

    Background: After spending my first year in Austin living in an apartment behind IBM on Gracy Farms and riding with a friend down to Town Lake and back many weekends, I bought a condo in Clarksville and decided I'd bike to work more seriously (I had done it occasionally from the apartment - although it was so short it was kind of a waste of time). At the start of this period, I was still a borderline novice - I would shy away from busy streets and cling to hike/bike trails whenever possible.

    Bike used: the old no-shock mountain bike (only one I still have in 2008). I bought the used touring bike right before I quit IBM in the spring of '98.

    Distance/Time: About 11 miles each way. In my typical physical condition at the time, the morning commute would take about 1:15 (75 minutes); the afternoon commute about 45 minutes.

    Showers: Yes. IBM has a locker room in one of the "pink buildings" (east side of Burnet).

    Route and comments:

    When I first started this commute, I used the Shoal Creek Hike & Bike Trail up to 34th/38th. That proved to be dumb after a few trips; I found a much shorter and actually safer on-road route, detailed below.

    First segment: To 35th: Get on West Lynn in Clarksville heading north. (Pictures are from 1999ish commute to S3, which comes later in the series). Cross Enfield at nice signalized crossing. Enjoy shade and picturesque mansions to end of West Lynn at Niles; turn left and head down to Hartford (one 4-way stop at Pease); then go up Hartford across Windsor (light). Hartford eventually bends and turns into Jefferson. Head up Jefferson and pass two busy 4-way stops for Westover & 29th; speed humps after that; but still a very civilized and shady and flat route up to light at 35th, where it opens way up.

    At this point, my original idea was to get on Shoal Creek as quickly as possible - because I was still uncomfortable with bigger roads. I'd actually take a turn before arriving at 35th; heading down 34th and then through Seiders Springs Park to where Shoal Creek Boulevard starts at 38th; but this adds a big hill or two to the trip and a lot of time. Based on a recommendation from the austin-bikes list, I ended up with the approach below instead, which was far superior.

    Segment #2: 35th to Shoal Creek: The trick here is that Jefferson crosses 35th and then hits an intersection at 38th where you can hop on Bull Creek Road, which appears to take you out of your way to the northwest, but is actually a faster and easier route overall. After crossing 35th, turn left at the next light to start up Bull Creek. Pass through light at 45th to end of road at Hancock. Turn right on Hancock, go down hill across the creek, back uphill; turn left at light on Shoal Creek. This particular spot was scary to me at first, as it requires one of the basic intermediate cycling tasks - taking the lane and then moving left to turn, although traffic was pretty light, but also required doing so on an uphill (unless I had maintained enough speed from previous downhill, I was usually going pretty slow by the time I got to the light).

    Segment #3: Shoal Creek to almost 183: During the timeframe for this particular commute, Shoal Creek still had its original, pre-debacle, configuration: 7-ish foot wide bike lanes that occasionally had parked cars. (Note that in the slideshow, the striping is actually gone). At the time, I didn't really know any better and would stay in the bike lanes - failing to assert proper positioning to safely pass parked cars - but there weren't quite as many back in the late 1990s. Shoal Creek was a pretty good long route at this time - you always had or could obtain right-of-way at intersections (either 4-way stops or lights) all the way up to 183. When I first did this commute, I'd ride straight up to 183 and then sidewalk all the way past Burnet; but I later learned a route through the neighborhood which took me to the 183 frontage road much closer to Burnet, which is too convoluted to recall here, but this map of the area would probably suffice. Even as an experienced cyclist, I'd walk my bike across 183/Burnet; there were places I'd ride on the frontage roads, but this was not one of them.

    Now, we leave the nice pictures behind.

    Segment #4: Cross Burnet/183 and get on Metric. Easier said than done. There's a fairly convoluted on-road route which could accomplish this which involved Steck, Ohlen and some backtracking, but at the time I did this commute, I'd rather be an occasional pedestrian than ride on some of those roads (Steck may soon become 3 lanes with bike lanes rather than its existing 4 narrow lane configuration, which would make that route much nicer). From last segment, walk bike along 183 frontage past strip mall to 183/Burnet light; cross Burnet and 183 eastbound frontage; cross under 183 to south side of northbound frontage; walk bike down that side to end of Metric; walk bike across to Metric Blvd. (Actually, Metric didn't go all the way through when I started this commute - but it did by the end). On some of this route, you could actually ride (interior paved areas under the overpass), but it's kind of dodgy on a road bike due to debris.

    Segment #5: Up Metric to IBM. The southernmost stretch of Metric Blvd, from 183 to Rutland, was built during a brief time where the city actually put bike lanes on all new arterials - and is pretty darn nice. Crossing Rundberg, you get on a much older section of road, but there's still plenty of space - super wide right lanes thanks to excessive freight truck use of this roadway. Some hills which are moderately difficult for the novice. There's lights at Rutland, Braker, and Kramer, before you get up to Gracy Farms, where you want to turn left. Gracy Farms is 4 lanes and undivided but fairly low traffic, so even the novice me was comfortable taking the lane (especially downhill in the morning) and heading in the northwest corner of IBM off Gracy Farms.

    Bus boost possibility: You can pick up the #3 shortly after segment #1 by heading over to 38th/Medical Parkway; but it only takes you to Braker, and is a pretty slow trip. Google Transit has this trip at 26 minutes which seems a bit low compared to my experience. This bus runs every 20 minutes and is heavily used - likelihood of the bike rack being full is pretty high. See other bike commutes for much better bus options.

    Ratings:

     RatingNotes
    Physical difficulty3Northbound: Some minor uphills south of 183; a moderate uphill north of 183. Southbound: Moderate hill up Gracy Farms; easy after that.
    Scary factor5Burnet/183 crossing will scare away uncommitted novices.
    Exercise efficiency7 out of 10Car trip in morning was very fast but exercise fairly high - inested about 55 minutes of time to get 75 minutes of exercise. Car trip in afternoon was only about 5 minutes faster than bike trip - invested 5 minutes to get 45 minutes of exercise
    Enjoyment5 out of 10Nice and shady in spots; lots of waiting at lights.
    Services/Safety9 out of 10Plenty of opportunities to hop on a bus with a flat tire, which I had to do many times on parts of this route on other commutes. Plenty of convenience stores. A bike shop or two up north.

    Overall conclusion: A good starter commute for the most part, although a better bus boost would have been more helpful. Some mornings I didn't have the time to spend to go all the way up there and take a long (low water-pressure) shower, so a bus-in-the-morning; bike-in-the-afternoon plan like I did at various other offices would have resulted in more days on the bike. As it was, I averaged 2 days a week in spring/summer/fall; only about once every other week in the winter.

    August 20, 2007

    Ben Wear article on bike bridge misleads

    Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear's article this morning

    There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:

    1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, it was frequently used.

    2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading - when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.

    3. Urban residents, even those who don't drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road 'donations' he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I'd be happy to help.

    Regards,
    Mike Dahmus
    Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

    I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ's morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we're in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

    November 20, 2006

    When will I learn?

    Despite past experience, I've once again gotten suckered into arguing with a sub-group of zealot mostly counter-culture exclusive-cyclists at Michael Bluejay's list that cyclists do, in fact, disobey traffic signals much more often than do motorists, a position which is commonly understood by the 99.5% of the population that is not clinically insane.

    I was somewhat enheartened (?) to see that there are guys like me all over the country as well as in other countries making this same case: running red lights and stop signs hurts the cause of transportation bicyclists.

    Want to maintain the reasonable right to ride without a bicycle helmet? Want to get bicycle facilities? Want to be taken seriously when you try to get the cops to enforce the laws against bad motorists? BEHAVE LIKE A GROWN-UP FIRST.

    PS: Every time this comes up on Michael's e-mail list, I'm alone out there fighting the good fight. This has allowed the conventional wisdom among these folks to be: "car drivers run red lights more than bicyclists do; and you're making up all this stuff about how drivers see so many cyclists breaking the law that it causes them to lose respect for cycling as transportation". If you're reading this, and you're on that list, and you don't chime in, you're part of the problem.

    October 19, 2006

    The new "helmet study" is a joke

    Another quick hit:

    So Elizabeth Christian has gone berserk defending her husband's new proposal for a study of cyclists who end up at the hospital with injuries (correlating to helmet use). This is exactly how the original Thompson/Rivera study went wrong. Short summary:

    1. Voluntary helmet-wearers and non-wearers are quite different groups, as it turns out. The helmeted cyclists were more likely to be yuppie recreational riders (like Ms. Christian's husband) while the un-helmeted cyclists were more likely to be poor and/or just trying to get around (in which case a helmet is enough of a pain in the ass that most rational people leave it at home).
    2. Later analyses of the Seattle study showed that in addition to behavioral and locational differences, helmet-wearers were also far more likely to go to the hospital for a given injury than non-wearers (probably due to the above socioeconomic differences).
    3. This means that the doctor in the emergency room is only going to see a non-helmeted cyclist when the injury was very serious; but he in fact sees the helmeted cyclist for minor injuries.
    4. Surprise! Helmet use seems to correlate with less severe injuries!
    5. As it turned out, though, you were also able to use the same data from this study to 'prove' that wearing a bicycle helmet reduced your likelihood of getting a leg injury by a similarly high percentage. Again, the guys with broken legs went to the hospital no matter what; but the non-helmeted guys with cuts and bruises just went home and sprayed Bactine while the helmet-wearers were more likely to go to the hospital; and the helmet-wearers were more likely to be leisurely riding through a park and suffer their falls in the grass rather than be hit by a motor vehicle on the roadway.

    This is a clear study error. The "control" group in this case-control study is not similar enough to the "case" group to make these conclusions. Statistics 101; and don't believe the typical bullshit response about lies, liars, and statistics - this example is pretty damn clear-cut. The study was flawed; and this new study will be equally flawed.

    Of course, the Chronicle didn't bother going into this level of detail, despite the fact that I'm sitting right here, and am no stranger to those guys. It's as if they're not even interested in trying anything more strenuous than reporting on press releases these days...

    More on the Thompson/Rivera study from a slightly different angle.

    August 17, 2006

    Letter to City Council

    Just sent a moment ago. Links added for reference.

    Dear mayor and council members:

    My name is Mike Dahmus; I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000 to 2005, and still write on the subject of transportation from time to time. Until a medical condition forced me to stop, I was a frequent bicycle commuter (but, unlike some others you probably hear from, also continued to own and drive a car as well).

    I can't emphasize enough the points previously made by Jen Duthie from UT that this ordinance may seem like much ado about nothing if you're used to thinking about bicycling as simply a sporting activity - like the ride Bruce Todd was on when he hurt himself. If you're going out to ride for fun, a helmet doesn't make a lot of difference - you'll probably still ride, and even if forcing a helmet makes you delay your ride until a cooler day, for instance, the overall public health is not significantly harmed.

    But for transportation bicyclists, mandating a helmet be used for what is essentially a safer activity overall than driving is a critical error - many marginal cyclists will simply stop riding their bikes and return to their cars. You certainly see this effect at play among children - hardly any of whom ride their bikes to school any more, partly because of the inconvenience and discomfort of the helmet, but also due to their parents belief that cycling must be a very dangerous activity if it requires a helmet.

    Every adult cyclist you convince not to ride is one more driver. Every driver is that much more traffic and pollution; making Austin less healthy not only for themselves but for the rest of us as well.

    Since the evidence in the real world has shown that there has been no actual benefit from dramatic increases in helmet usage in this and other countries, there ought to be no justification whatsoever for a mandatory helmet law (or even, I'd argue, excessive promotion of helmets compared to more effective measures such as traffic enforcement and education).

    Please take this in mind when voting. No serious transportation cyclist (i.e. one who actually uses their bike to get around) has signed on to this effort as far as I'm aware.

    Regards,
    Michael E. Dahmus
    mdahmus@io.com

    June 19, 2006

    Bicycle Helmets Don't Work

    Update: Austin group fighting the mandatory helmet law is at http://www.nohelmetlaw.org/

    Since the mandatory bicycle helmet law is rearing its ugly head here in Austin again thanks to the efforts of former mayor Bruce Todd, the following analysis of actual real-world results of increased bicycle helmet use in other countries is particularly relevant now.

    The New York Times covered this for the USA in 2001. In short: Bicycle helmet usage went way up, but head injuries and fatalities didn't go down. This matches the observations in Australia, the UK, and many other countries.

    Ride with a helmet if you want. But don't get smug about those who don't - they're NOT "organ donors", they're NOT stupid, and they're NOT irresponsible. THEY'RE actually the smart ones, given the apparent lack of benefit to wearing bicycle helmets.

    And, please, stop the bullshit analogies with regards to seat belts. Nobody ever stopped driving because of seat belts, and even if they did, why would we care? Bicycle helmets are hot, uncomfortable, and inconvenient - and results in country after country show that many people simply stop cycling when their use is mandated. You don't have to carry your seat-belt around with you when you park your car; your car likely has air-conditioning; you're not actually exercising when you drive; seat belts are built in to the car; etc. Oh, and don't forget: seat belts, unlike bike helmets, actually WORK. The analogy couldn't be any worse if they tried.

    If it's so damn obvious that people with "something up there to protect" would naturally choose to wear bike helmets, then why is it also not obvious that the same people would do so when driving their car? You get the same impact protection; but you're not sweating and you have an easy place to stow the helmet when you're done (inside the car itself).

    Wikipedia has outstanding, heavily footnoted, coverage of bicycle helmets, if you don't like the "cyclehelmets.org" people.

    June 16, 2006

    Bruce Todd: Worst Person In Austin

    I'm kicking off a new category which this entry: a la Keith Olberman's "Worst Person In The World".

    The inaugural worst person in Austin is:


    Bruce Todd

    Back when he was mayor, the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars originally dedicated for bike lanes to build a park for residents of Circle C who not only were not residents of Austin, but actively fought attempts to annex them later on. Todd was also the primary force behind the stupid and eventually overturned all-ages bicycle helmet law here in Austin. Todd ran on a sort of half-hearted desultory environmentalist platform but proceeded to roll over every time Gary Bradley cleared his throat. Think about him the next time you swim through some algae in Barton Creek or Barton Springs Pool.

    Now, he's at it again. Todd had a serious accident when he loaded his bike up in his car/truck and drove out in the country to do a gonzo ACA ride, was convinced it saved his life, and now he wants to force everybody else to wear a helmet. Despite the fact that they don't appear to work in general practice, and that the primary impact of helmet laws is to reduce cycling, this is how ex-Mayor Todd is spending his political capital: continuing to willfully make things worse for people who just want to ride their bike to work or to the store.

    Despite Bruce Todd's apparent interest in cycling since leaving office, he has not made any kind of statement I can find about: driver education, cyclist education, facilities improvements, enforcing traffic laws, promotion of cycling as a healthy transportation alternative, etc. No, he hasn't made one peep except for this push on helmets. Once again: he's decided that his best contribution is to push a law which will discourage people from bicycling for transportation.

    M1EK's advice is: Wear a helmet when you're paying more attention to your speed than the road, as Todd apparently was. Wear a helmet when you go mountain biking, sure. But don't bother when you're just riding in traffic - it's not going to help you in any serious collision, and it's likely to just discourage you from bicycling, at which point your health is going to suffer from the lack of exercise. Likewise, NASCAR drivers wear helmets and have other safety gear which we don't force on normal motorists driving to the grocery store.

    Congratulations, Mayor Todd. You really set a high bar for future contestants for Worst Person In Austin

    Update: This entry was dropped from the austin bloggers portal for being "a personal attack" (I then had to decategorize this so it didn't show up again there on future edits). I don't know any way I could write this story with the essential bits in it and make it not an attack on Bruce Todd. My cow orker blames Keith Olbermann. I blame the helmet nazis. Nevertheless, this category may have a brief lifespan if it turns out that the rejection sticks - there's no point writing these for the half-dozen people who actually subscribe.

    Update: Austin group fighting the mandatory helmet law is at http://www.nohelmetlaw.org/

    May 25, 2006

    Bicycle Helmets Don't Work, Part MCMXVII

    Just sent the following crackpot letter in response to the featured letter in today's Statesman. (I'd like to link to it, but the Letters page for today somehow left out its actual text).

    (This is in response to the letter published today, May 25, by the person who was upset about the picture of the cyclist not wearing a helmet).

    Those who are aghast at the sight of cyclists who dare to venture out on the roads without wearing a helmet should be aware that the dramatic safety benefits promised by early case-control studies have failed to be borne out in actual use. As helmet usage has gone up in this country, actual head injury rates have remained on the same trajectory - indicating that the benefits of current bicycle helmets may have been vastly oversold. (New York Times, July 29, 2001; by Julian Barnes). Analyses of those case control studies have uncovered serious statistical errors which render them unsuitable as support for the mandatory helmet position.

    In addition, experience in other countries has shown the same lack of benefit from increasing helmet use, as well as a dramatic decrease in cycling whenever mandatory helmet laws have been imposed. In short: a mandatory helmet law's primary effect is to reduce the number of cyclists (shifting them back to riding in cars) without providing a real benefit to those who remain.

    Wear a helmet, if you want, to provide you with some protection against minor injuries; but please don't be under the misapprehension that it helps you in a major collision, and please lay off those of us who would rather not waste our time with them.

    [ed: don't know how you like to cite earlier articles; and if I remember, I think your own paper may have also carried the referenced story].

    Update: Austin group fighting the mandatory helmet law is at http://www.nohelmetlaw.org/

    March 30, 2006

    Real source of smug found

    Contrary to this week's South Park episode, I believe I've found the real source of "smug": bicycle helmets.

    I happened to be browsing the archives of the Austin Cycling Association list (looking for comments about Shoal Creek) and came upon a thread about (mostly) bicycle facilities versus Foresterism. Good stuff; I usually like reading those. Then I came across a contribution which included the following:

    Unhelmeted cyclists involved in falls, even at moderate speeds have sustained irreversible head injuries and death and even helmeted cyclists have sustained things like broken necks in non-collision falls. An example of the latter happened in Austin not too long ago when a doctor commuting home down Guadalupe hit one of those steel plates covering street excavations. He fell and he died. He was a regular bike commuter and wore a helmet, but it did not save him. On the other hand, past mayor Bruce Todd apparently took a fall with no indication that a collision with another vehicle was involved. He wore a helmet and in the opinion of doctors and others, it saved his life by mitigating injury to his head. While not statistically significant in and of themselves, these incidents are not that uncommon overall.

    Does anybody else see the problem here? Two examples used of "why you have to wear a helmet or you're stupid", and in one of them, the guy died anyway; while in the other one, the guy got so badly hurt he nearly died and is still suffering brain damage even today.

    And yet, people follow up with the likes of this:

    "I've seen no motor vehicle/bicycle accidents, but I've seen a lot of cyclists without helmets and quite a few at night without lights."

    As have I--always want to stop them and give them a gentle
    lecture--what I call my "as a mom" speech.

    Equating riding at night without lights (which has been clearly shown to be dangerous, in the real world data) to riding without helmets (which hasn't). Argh.

    Folks, these things don't work. Whatever they're doing for your minor scrapes and scratches, there's just no evidence in the real world that they're doing jack squat for major injuries or deaths.

    March 17, 2006

    Shoal Creek Summed Up

    Michael Bluejay made an outstanding presentation (Quicktime slides with audio) which everybody needs to read. (He presented this before the City Council right before they approved the cyclist-endangering Option III).

    Again, I can't recommend this video enough. It's the best quick summary of this issue, with pictures, that I've ever seen. Watch it now.

    February 17, 2006

    Fifty-Fifty Journalistic Balance Sucks

    Whether it's in science (usually global warming or evolution) or local politics, journalists addicted to "he-said she-said" should turn in their press pass. If that's all we needed, simple links to a couple of ideological websites would suffice.

    With global warming, you effectively have an overwhelming scientific consensus and a couple of skeptics - bought and paid for by oil companies (and, of course, a college dropout Bush appointee trying to censor one of this country's most experienced climatologists). The media usually covers this as "he-said, she-said", which is OK when there truly IS no consensus, but we passed that point ten years ago.

    In the Shoal Creek debacle instance, the Chronicle didn't bother to tell you that the TTI, hired by the City Council in an obvious attempt to provide at least some political cover for choosing "Option 3", reported back to them that the peer cities fairly unanimously recommended "Option 2", and that all of them recommended very strongly against "Option 3". Paraphrased, the response was, essentially, "why don't you idiots just restrict parking on one side of the street?".

    Did the Chronicle mention this, either at the time or now that the council subcommittee ignored everybody who knows diddly-squat about traffic safety and ordered Option 3? Of course not. It's "car-free bike lane guys say X. On the other hand, neighborhood people say Y". No mention of which position might be more credible. No mention of the fact that the experts the city hired to consult were firmly on one of the two sides.

    Fifty-fifty balance sucks. A chimp could collate two press releases together and turn them into an article. Chronicle, have another banana.

    February 03, 2006

    On bicycle lanes, and dense areas

    I just made this comment to this post on Jamie's site which made my morning bright. I rhyme! Thought it deserved its own entry, to at least put some transportation back at the top.

    Wow, thanks for the endorsement! That made my morning!

    Kyle,

    I've spent a lot of time in Seattle for work and for a wedding, and my wife lived there for about 7 years. One thing's for certain: Austin has much higher speed roadways in general than Seattle does - or, put it another way, the part of Austin where the roads are like "all of Seattle" only extends out from 6th/Congress about a mile and a half. And in that part of town, I usually advocate against bike lanes (one of my fellow commissioners at the time pushed for bike lanes on Guadalupe and Lavaca downtown, for instance; I pushed against).

    There are other reasons to support bike lanes even on roads with slower traffic. For instance, the primary bicycle arteries heading to UT are a block and three blocks away from my house (Speedway and Duval). Each has so many cyclists that without the bike lanes, the road would probably not be able to function for motorists - in that sense, the bike lanes help manage high levels of bicycle traffic. Likewise, the whole Shoal Creek debacle is a mess because the bike lanes are needed due to both high volumes of cyclists and high volumes of child cyclists (for whom the speed differential rises to the normal 'justifies bike lanes' levels, I think).

    and my second comment once I realized I hadn't read his closely enough:

    Kyle,

    Upon reading my comment it seems to be responding to an implication which wasn't there in your comment. I'm way too tired this morning, so please treat mine as an expansion of yours rather than as an attempt to refute, since it's obvious upon further reading that you weren't saying Austin's level of bike lanes were too high, but rather that our area of town where bike lanes aren't needed is too small. Couldn't agree more.

    Things are glacially improving on that pace, set back by bad neighborhoods who prefer suburban parking codes. And there are a lot of cyclists heading down Speedway and Duval each day, at least.

    December 06, 2005

    More on Yesterday's Whiff

    Councilmember McCracken wrote me back, defending his successful attempt to draw this out further, by claiming that there was "no data about any of the options". This is true, if you restrict the question to "what are the motor vehicle speeds on a roadway with bike lanes and on-street parking on one or both sides with various treatments". However, as I noted above, the TTI was quite clear about the safety recommendation from peer cities - that being, do option 2 and do it now.

    The other things McCracken wanted to put on the road in test sections, if I'm remembering correctly, were:

    • Current design (with curb extensions) - there's really no point in doing this, unless your ONLY goal is to measure motor vehicle speeds - it's a well-known safety hazard for all road users.
    • Painted bike lane (presumably this is in the original Gandy 10-4-6 configuration which doesn't provide enough space for a driver to pass a cyclist who is passing a parked car)
    • Bike lane with raised markings next to either parking lane, driving lane, or both (I'm unclear whether this treatment would include parking on both sides or on one side only - the raised markings would take up enough space that it would seem to rule out the Gandy configuration, but at this point who knows).

    As you can see from the linked items above, to imply that these facilities haven't been studied isn't particularly accurate - they have, and substantial safety problems have been noted. It's true that nobody bothered to measure motor vehicle speed next to these various bicycle facilities - frankly because nobody cared - the speed of a car when it hits you on one of these roads isn't particularly important - whether that car is going 25 or 35 when it runs over you because you slipped on a raised curb marking, for instance, isn't very relevant.

    December 05, 2005

    Council Whiffs Again On Shoal Creek

    About 3/4 of the way through the subcommittee meeting and it looks like the 3 council members are falling back into a "let's get a consensus plan together which meets all stakeholder interests" mode which, in case anybody's forgetting, is what ended up giving us this abomination and all of the nightmare since then.

    This is not a situation where compromise works. This is a situation where the Council has to CHOOSE between:

    1. Parking on both sides of the street, and the elimination of Shoal Creek Boulevard as a safe and useful link in the bicycle route system for Austin (no alternates exist which come close to the length and right-of-way advantages of SCB).

    2. Bicycle lanes on both sides with no parking (in the bike lanes); and on-street parking restricted to one side of the street (also known as "Option 2").

    But instead, it sure as heck looks like they're ignoring the advice of the TTI (which was absolutely clear about what other cities do in cases like this - they do #2) in favor of kow-towing to the neighborhood yet again; inevitably ending up with some stupid combination of Option 3 and the Gandy debacle.

    The worst part is Brewster's gang of "stakeholders" which includes nobody credible from the transportation bicycling community (no, the ACA doesn't represent these folks) and has come up with a plan to try a BUNCH of different things on the road, all but one of which (option 2) are heartily discouraged by modern roadway designers.

    This is so depressing...

    November 10, 2005

    tagged

    This is the first time I've done one of these.

    Gregg passed along this game...

    1. Delve into your blog archive.

    B. Search the archives for the 23rd post.

    2. Find the 5th sentence, or closest to.

    III. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions. Ponder it for meaning, subtext or hidden agendas.

    C. Tag 5 more people

    My 23rd entry was The Shoal Creek Debacle, Part III which had NOTHING TO DO WITH MASS-TRANSIT, SO THERE!

    The 5th sentence was:

    To be fair, the bike lane stretch between Steck and Anderson has one large gravel patch in it as well.

    Analysis: Well, I was trying to give the wide curb lane guys a fair shake, but honestly I don't buy the claim that a wide curb lane has less debris than a bike lane - and it shows. This entry remains relevant today - see this blog category and this fun yahoo group for more.

    This entry particularly sucks since I can't ride my bike now (maybe not much, ever) due to my body trying to kill me (had another subflare in the intervening time and was on crutches for another week; have not ridden bike since that posting). The good news(?) is that screwing up Shoal Creek won't matter much for me from here on out.

    Guess it should have been a mass transit entry after all, dammit!

    I don't know if anybody beyond a few kooks reads this thing, but what the hell: Steve Casburn can probably regale us with tales of Houston yore; Mark Hasty probably exorcised somebody on about that day; Chris was probably predicting a Democratic landslide; Jim was surely claiming to be non-partisan; and Thomas Gray was, I'm sure, still insisting it wasn't a blog.

    October 05, 2005

    More idiot cyclists

    From a surprising source. (I post as "doinky" there).

    September 13, 2005

    SCB: Speed Is Not The Problem

    A lot of folks (especially Stuart Werbner and Preston Tyree, who normally do a lot of good work for the cycling community) fell hard for the position that "the problem on Shoal Creek Boulevard isn't the bike lanes, it's the traffic speed". Since this position continues to rear its ugly head in discussions before and after yesterday's meeting, I thought I'd address it here.

    The key is that all other things being equal, higher car speeds do indeed result in less safety for nearby cyclists and pedestrians. This is unquestionably true.

    The problem is that all things aren't equal. This picture shows a cyclist trying to pass a parked vehicle at the same time he is being passed by a moving vehicle. It doesn't matter if the passing vehicle is going 45 or 25; if the cyclist veers out unexpectedly into the through lane and is hit, they're in bad, bad, BAD shape. (Note: you have to imagine that the stripe between the 4-foot 'bike lane' and 6-foot 'parking lane' isn't there to match the current conditions on SCB).

    Likewise, this infamous accident happened despite the fact that the conflicting vehicle's speed was 0 MPH and the vehicle which ended up killing her wasn't going very fast either.

    On the other hand, hundreds of cyclists use Loop 360 every day with no conflicts with motorists. Automobile speed in the through lanes of that roadway is typically around 60 MPH.

    What can we conclude? Traffic engineering seeks to avoid presenting users with unexpected conflicts; and having a cyclist veer out into the travel lane when the motorist in that lane thinks they're not going to have to is the very definition of unexpected. A safe pass by a car going 40 is far preferrable to a collision with a car going 30.

    How does this apply to Shoal Creek Boulevard? It's clear to me at least that the original city plan probably wouldn't have reduced automobile speeds much, but definitely would have resulted in fewer conflicts with cyclists who need to leave the bike lane to get around obstructions. As on Loop 360, if you rarely need to leave the bicycle facility, you don't need to worry as much about the speed of the cars in the lane next to you.

    Another thing Preston in particular got wrong was the theory that riding on Shoal Creek is 'easy' once you 'learn' how to pass. Even for an experienced cyclist like myself, the conflict with motorists during a pass is irritating (the motorists don't understand why I go into the travel lane and are sometimes aggressive in expressing their displeasure). For a novice cyclist, it's likely to be so intimidating that they will (unwisely) stay in the far-too-narrow space between the white stripe and the parked car, and someday soon somebody's going to get killed that way.

    Finally, of critical importance to the City of Austin is the following paragraph, excerpted from a detailed analysis of the Laird case in Boston:

    The City might be held negligent for creating what is called in legal language an "attractive nuisance" -- that is, a baited trap. Ample evidence exists that the City of Cambridge had been notified of the hazards of bike lanes in the "door zone" before the Massachusetts Avenue lane was striped, yet the City continued to stripe them.

    This is basically why Shoal Creek Boulevard doesn't have bike lanes today, it has a "multipurpose shoulder". Unknown whether this will do enough to shield Austin from liability in the event of an accident, but cyclists ought to think about this when you decide to ride on this facility.

    September 12, 2005

    Shoal Creek Meeting Is Done

    Largely as expected - council members want to remove the islands, and then were going to talk some more about what to do. Some indications that they're either not willing to admit or not capable of understanding that a compromise solution is impossible for this roadway. Neighborhood people largely against the curb extensions but still adamant that parking on both sides must be preserved -- which means that we're back to bike lanes with parking in them, which pretty much the entire rest of the world views as an oxymoron.

    Here's the letter I just sent to the three council members on the subcommittee:

    Councilmembers:

    I watched most of the meeting today while working at my desk, and had a couple of comments:

    1. 2-way on-street bike lanes are not accepted in traffic engineering circles and have not for quite some time. They will not be an option for Shoal Creek Boulevard unless you want to override your staff.
    2. Bike lanes down the median - same story.
    3. A reminder: We already know there is no way to reconcile "parking on both sides" with "car-free bike lanes" on this street. There is insufficient width. Either one or more bike lanes must be abandoned, or one or more sides of parking must be abandoned.

    Comments that you made in regards to #3 were especially disappointing - the failure of the previous council was in attempting to avoid this painful choice, which MUST be made. EITHER car-free bike lanes OR parking on both sides - you cannot have both. I would argue that the correct choice is to preserve on-street parking on ONE side of Shoal Creek Boulevard - this is not an unreasonable imposition on residents (my own neighborhood has highly restricted on-street parking; many streets allow it on one side and a few not at all).

    Regards,

    Mike Dahmus
    mdahmus@io.com

    Letter to Council on Shoal Creek Debacle

    A subcommittee of the City Council is getting some kind of an update on the Shoal Creek Debacle. I just sent this email to them.


    Dear Mayor and councilmembers:

    My name is Mike Dahmus, and I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000 through 2005. I cast the lone vote in opposition to the plan which (with modifications) ended up being constructed on Shoal Creek Boulevard. During my terms on the UTC, I served as the lone member who utilized both an automobile and a bicycle to commute to work -- i.e., I'm not a pure cyclist, and I'm not a pure driver. I used Shoal Creek Boulevard as part of my bicycle commute for years and occasionally drove it as well.

    I understand you're going to address this issue in a subcommittee meeting this week, and I thought I should comment.

    For those of you who don't bicycle; Shoal Creek Boulevard is, without hyperbole, the most important route in the city for bicycle commuters. (It has a lot of recreational traffic as well, of course). It forms the spine of the route between northwest Austin and central Austin - alternate routes either are far too hilly for normal use (to the west) or do not connect with routes which can get cyclists across the Mopac/183/360 barrier.

    Years back, Shoal Creek's turn came up in the "let's do what every other city does and put up no-parking signs in our bike lanes" process. Since the bike program staff at the time knew that Shoal Creek had long blocks and (some) short driveways, they offered a compromise plan which would have allowed parking on one side of the road, with smaller-than-typical bike lanes on both sides. This plan was opposed by the neighborhoods, for whom on-street parking was the priority over through cyclist travel.

    Years ago, thanks to neighborhood pressure, Shoal Creek Boulevard was reclassified from a minor arterial to a residential collector (an inappropriately low classification by engineering standards). This allowed the neighborhood to then push back against that eminently reasonable plan to allow parking only on one side of the street (neighborhood partisans could declare that SCB was a 'residential street' and that therefore parking was more important than through traffic). The bike program plan was rejected thanks to a few neighbors who valued both-sides on-street parking more than cyclist safety.

    At this point, as I'm sure many of you remember, the neighborhoods got Councilmember Goodman's approval to start a planning process which ended with the absurd plan by Charles Gandy which none of your engineers would sign their name to, and which made Austin a laughingstock in other cities around the country. The modified version of that plan (removing the stripe between the 'bike lane' and the parking area) is nearly as ludicrous, but since it's not marked as a 'bike lane' is nominally acceptable to engineers, I suppose.

    The Shoal Creek Boulevard plan as implemented is a liability problem for the city of Austin (although not as bad as the original Gandy "10-4-6" plan would have been, since city engineers were smart enough to remove the "bike lane" designation). Sufficient space does not exist for a cyclist to safely pass parked cars and remain in the bike lane, yet drivers in the through traffic lane expect them to do so. This is a textbook example of bad traffic engineering (when one street user performs a safe and legal manuever, another street user should not be caught by surprise).

    This isn't about the curb islands, by the way. The safety obstacle for cyclists is parked cars. The curb islands must be passed in a fairly narrow space, but there's zero chance that one of them is going to open their door while you're passing it.

    But what the curb islands and striping HAVE done is encourage more people to park on the street; increasing the frequency of the street user conflict which will eventually result in a serious injury - a car passing a cyclist while the cyclist is passing a parked car.

    This entire process was nothing more than an abrogation of responsibility by the City Council. Your job is to make decisions, not to encourage a make-believe consensus when none can be found. There simply is no way to reconcile both-sides on-street parking with car-free bike lanes (and, by the way, the rest of the world views parking in bike lanes as an oxymoron). A decision either way would have been better than the mess you left us with -- and cyclists are getting hurt already as a result.

    I urge you to learn from this horrible mistake, and remember that your job is to make the tough decisions. Shoal Creek Boulevard has already been ruined for bicycling commuters - please don't take this precedent anywhere else.

    Regards,
    Michael E. Dahmus



    August 13, 2005

    Commuting To Riata

    I had a nice conversation with Jonathan from Another Pointless Dotcom while doing some work last night, and it came to light that he works in the same complex I did for about a year and a half. This reminded me to share with him my old slideshow of that commute, which I've probably never mentioned on the blog. I also then chatted about it this morning with my current cow orker who has a lot of experience in the area. Since this might be of general interest to people who work in the area, I'll initiate this new Bicycle Commuting category with this oldie-but-goodie.

    Riata is a cautionary tale of any number of my hot buttons, including the problems that frontage roads cause transit and pedestrians, neighborhoods being irresponsible, developers getting to claim credit for being 'near' transit when it's not feasible to actually use, high tech offices and apartment complexes metastasizing along sprawl corridors rather than being downtown where they ought to be, etc. There's at least a few thousand employees of various companies in there now - probably still down from the pre-bust peak.

    The key things to remember about commuting to Riata, which is halfway between Duval and Oak Knoll on the north/east side of US 183 are:

    1. Use Jollyville. Now with bike lanes!
    2. When transitioning to Riata Trace Parkway, your choices are to go all the way up to Oak Knoll and come in the back way, or go over on Duval to the 183 frontage, and go in that way. In the morning, the northbound 183 frontage is very civilized and not a problem.
    3. When going home in the afternoon, you'll want to use the TI/Oak Knoll back way. Don't mess with 183 then.
    4. Think about using the bus for a boost uphill in some mornings, if you're like the (old) me and commuting from central Austin.
    5. Decide whether you want to cross Mopac on Spicewood or Steck. My current cow orker prefers Steck all the time; I prefer Steck uphill and Spicewood downhill. Depends on your tolerance for the stress of the crossing at Mopac/Spicewood versus the speed you'll give up at the 4-way stop on Steck.

    (Technical details: I wrote the crappy slideshow script which reads pseudo-XML a long time ago and have never touched it since; it BARELY works; don't look at it cross-eyed or you might break the internet).