Rails with Trails

National Bike Month 2009 has officially ended, but for some Austinites it’s a way of life year-round. For others like myself, National Bike Month was a good incentive to try commuting by bicycle for the first time. On National Bike to Work Day, I ventured beyond my own neighborhood and rode my bike to work. It was a good experience, made more so by the fact that I learned I can use the hike and bike trail for about 90 percent of the commute. It’s ridiculous I haven’t been biking to work more often.

One under-publicized aspect of the All Systems Go! long-range transit plan is Rails with Trails, which is a plan to incorporate pedestrian and bicycle paths wherever feasible along the MetroRail right-of-way from Leander to Austin. The pathways would increase accessibility and connectivity to the MetroRail stations and provide cyclists and walkers an expanded network of safe trails. In essence, it provides another viable transportation choice for the community.

Capital Metro completed a feasibility study in 2007 with help from a broad group of stakeholders: members of the cycling community, the city, county, and others. The 32-mile Red Line was divided into 11 segments for the purposes of completing Rails with Trails. The study outlined a plan to create 31 miles of paved trails, 1.7 miles of improved sidewalks, and eight miles of additional on-street bike routes. The feasibility study is available on the Rails with Trails Web page.

Capital Metro is receiving $1.9 million in federal stimulus funding to continue development of segment #3, which extends from Highland Station north along Airport Boulevard to Morrow Street. The proposed trail will provide connectivity to both Highland Station and Crestview Station and will likely include 1.3 miles of trail and 1.6 miles of on-street bikeway. Design work on this segment will begin very soon and we hope to begin construction shortly thereafter.

Segment #1, from the Downtown Station north to Wilshire Blvd. (approx. five miles), is mostly completed, and includes the new Lance Armstrong Bikeway and Boggy Creek Trail. Some work has also been done in segment #11, which extends from Crystal Falls Road north to the Leander Station.

The City of Austin has included Rails with Trails in the revised draft city bicycle plan that will be considered by City Council soon. The bicycle plan includes other objectives to improve the link between cycling and transit–check it out here.

Our friends at the City of Austin are also working on a similar trail project along Cap Metro’s rail right-of-way from downtown Austin to downtown Manor.

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike…

It always seems to start out the same way. I wake up, remember that this is a day that I’m supposed to ride my bike to work, and soon my half-awake brain begins to work to find an excuse for why I can’t. Then, after some coffee gets me thinking a bit more lucidly, I recall all the reasons why I do bicycle:

  • good for me physically (love that fact that I can kill two birds with one stone by getting in my exercise while also doing the mandatory commute to work);
  • good for the environment (less than six miles each way isn’t much driving but it adds up); and
  • good for me mentally (as the other bloggers have noted the level of interaction with the environment around you is MUCH more engaging on a bike).

So I usually manage to overcome my own mental inertia to do the easy thing (drive) and away I go on the bike. Of course nowadays it’s especially good to ride because my kids get to ride too, and we get to enjoy a few minutes of quality time together in the open air rather than in the car before they stop off at school…and they sure seem to fight less when biking than when stuck in the back seat together!

Back to the opening point- every time I ride, without exception, I’m glad I did. So why the heck is it that my brain tries to come up with excuses not to do it? Sure, maybe it takes a little extra prep time to pack my courier bag with my work clothes. I have to be careful to fold my shirt so it doesn’t come out all wrinkled and to not forget things like a belt or socks (which I’ve done and felt goofy all day long without). And yes, it’s true that biking burns calories which generate heat which makes me sweat, but I have a place to change clothes and towel off and cool down before putting on my work clothes, so it’s not really a big deal. As I like to joke, the side benefit of riding is that my meetings tend to be really short on those days (all the while hoping that I’m not really stinky)! Yes, riding the bike can complicate the situation when I have meetings out of the office, but that can be overcome by riding the bus or catching a ride. And finally, riding does take more time than driving, but in reality the difference is piddling, less than 15 minutes extra time in the worst case and sometimes fewer than ten.

Clearly the benefits far outweigh the costs. So again, why the internal resistance? Perhaps it’s a metaphor for a broader phenomenon of the human condition (or at least mine)- the innate desire to go with the known, the easy, the safe, the comfortable, the routine. As I’ve learned through biking to work and in countless other ways, though, that is not the recipe for a fulfilled life. No, instead it’s to push, to challenge, to try new things, and to explore. So, as they say, get on your bike and ride!

I Ride

It was a beautiful morning to be out on a bicycle.

Last year I rode my bike to work a handful of times. This year for whatever reason I haven’t gotten into the habit. I don’t have a good excuse if the weather’s nice — Capital Metro at 5th and Pleasant Valley is only 6.3 miles from my house in South Austin and I can ride most of it along the Town Lake Trail on Lady Bird Lake. The gravel trail means I have to work a little harder than if I stayed on pavement but the tradeoff of not having to dodge traffic is worth it. Continue reading “I Ride”

Bike to Work Day: Tomorrow

Tomorrow is Bike to Work Day. Wouldn’t it be great if tomorrow during morning rush hour, there were more bikes out on our streets than cars?!

I’ve got my route planned out and hope to bike the whole way, but just in case I get tired, I’ve also noted where along my route I could catch a bus if needed. All of our buses (except the ‘Dillo trolleys) have bike racks, and it’s easy to load/unload your bike. If you’ve never “biked by bus” before, you can check out the easy how-to on our Web site.

I had heard there was a bike shop in town that had a standard bus bike rack in the store so people could practice (without the pressure of traffic zooming by). I thought it was Mellow Johnny’s but turns out it’s not. Does anyone know which shop, if any, provides that?

But. I did learn that Mellow Johnny’s provides bike commuters hot showers, and while you’re getting cleaned up, they’ll tuneup your bike, provide you a storage locker, and give you a free cup of coffee (on Fridays). All for $1. Pretty cool.

They’re also on the list of organizations providing FREE breakfast to cyclists tomorrow. Check out the full list of breakfast locations.

Hope to see you on two wheels tomorrow!

Prepping for Bike to Work Day

This week is Bike to Work Week, and I’ll be a poseur riding along with Austin’s community of bicycle commuters this coming Friday, Bike to Work Day.

I’ve got an old beater Diamondback hand-me-down whose only frequent tasks have been getting me safely to my favorite neighborhood haunt Polvos and Zilker park, neither of which is more than a mile from home. Still, after reaching my destination, particularly the park, where I tend to travel down Barton Springs Road and have to cross Lamar, my nerves are in hyper-mode. I’m–at best–a bike novice, and frankly cars freak me out. I’ve never attempted to ride my bike during rush hours before.

So, I have some challenges to overcome to effectively commute to work. Fortunately, there are some great resources I (and anyone else who may be a little tentative) can take advantage of this week.

The downtown REI is hosting a free class tomorrow night, Bike Commuting 101, beginning at 7 p.m.

My main concern is finding the safest route to take (but one that doesn’t add a ton of extra miles to the trip), and that is one of the topics covered in the REI class. I’ve also discovered the city’s Bike Route Map which should be helpful.

Staff from the city’s Bicycle Program will teach a bicycle handling drills class this Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Butler Park (by Palmer Events Center). I don’t think I can make that one, but it looks good–basic starting/stopping techniques. See more of the city’s Bike Month events from their Web site.

Finally, for a little incentive to get moving, a bunch of organizations will be providing free breakfast for cyclists on Friday morning (7 – 9 a.m.). Check out a mapped list of locations courtesy of the Austin Cycling Association. Incidentally, the ACA teaches a Traffic Skills 101 class that includes a half-day of classroom instruction and then a half-day of on-bike training.

A Transit Planner’s commute via bike

iRide the bus because it benefits Central Texas, costs me nothing (as a Capital Metro employee), and (hopefully) makes me a better transit planner. I ride my bike because it benefits Central Texas, costs me nothing, and provides a fun challenge. Though I have to admit, it is definitely more enjoyable riding downhill to our East Austin office in the morning than battling the afternoon heat, hills, and traffic.

On days when I’m not up for the full 8-mile trek homeward, I end up biking through the shaded Govalle neighborhood to pick up the #350 Airport Blvd., which works out well unless the bike rack is full. Another preferred multi-modal option consists of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway (East 4th and 5th Streets) to Downtown and boarding whichever northbound bus arrives first. When MetroRail opens this summer, I will be one of many taking advantage of the 15-18 minute travel time from Crestview to Saltillo/Downtown.

Both the City of Austin Bike Program and Capital Metro boast extensive and for the most part, complementary, route networks but as the area continues to expand and densify, it is essential to adjust accordingly. City of Austin is in the process of adopting Austin 2020 Bicycle Plan, and Capital Metro is currently in the early stages of developing ServicePlan2020. Both efforts will identify and recommend which changes need to occur to improve each system and increase ridership.

Enough planning talk. Riding a bike is fun. Pick a day to give up your car this month. Air up the old 18-speed and make your way to that bus stop you claim is beyond walking distance. The environmental and personal benefits easily outweigh the sore legs.

National Bike Month

May is National Bike Month. Next week is Bike to Work Week, and next Friday is Bike to Work Day. At Capital Metro we love cyclists and we support Austin’s commitment to a bike-friendly city. Look for posts all month long about bicycling and Capital Metro.

This month we’ll revisit the basics of “biking by bus” on Capital Metro, meet some Capital Metro staff who cycle to work, and hear a smattering of other interesting bike tales. Stay tuned!