Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

ACL Trash

I’m sure the ACL organizers are doing their best this year on trash, if not, shame on them. However, it didn’t get off to a good start for me today. I got a txt message around 10.00am telling me “don’t forget: small camera, 2 sealed water bottles, sunscreen, and no aerosol, cans. See you at Zilker Park!”

2-sealed water bottles, WTF! I for one had planned to use one of those 1-quart refillable bottles with a clip and attach to my belt loop and refill as needed. I’d even frozen two in advance. When I leave, the empty bottle leaves with me. Hopefully the above won’t be enforced. What was your experience?

The Infamous Dog Story

So this is what it takes to bring me out of my blogging doldrums?

For those that aren’t familiar, Michael Gonzales had a choking poodle and decided to drive 100 mph to get the poodle help. He could’ve picked a closer vet? He could’ve learned the poodle Heimlich? In the video, he’s clearly panicking and emotional. He shouldn’t have been speeding. He shouldn’t even have been driving. I saw the interview with him after the fact. He’s annoying and self-righteous. I’m a dog owner. I’m sorry for his loss, but let’s get some fscking perspective here, please.

Newsflash, there are cops who don’t have the best people skills. Unfortunately, the job attracts a few like that. It also turns some people into that. The chief admitted it wasn’t handled well. The guy’s been reprimanded. Let it go. Please.

I’m tired of the news media rehashing it. I’m tired of hearing about it. Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Like, oh, I don’t know a war? The economy? Health care and education in the shitter? A worthless governor? I feel bad even giving it more attention. And now the dipshit cop is getting death threats? Death threats? That sort of thing makes me want to feed the animal activists to a pack of cranky pit bulls.

Street Event Closure Task Force

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction

//www.flickr.com/photos/austintolin/On Monday I attended the Austin City Councils’ Street Event Closure Task Force meeting. I wrote much of this post during the meeting, but decided that reflection was called for. It seems others would have done well to do the same.

I learned about the taskforce from a widely circulated email, that must have gone to almost every runner, cyclist and triathlete in Austin, and probably a lot wider afield. You can see a copy of the email here on Brandon Marshs’ Get out and do something blog. The problem is something near 100 people turned up to speak, and as per city rules, only the first 10 to register got to speak. The rest left frustrated, not understanding the process, and not understanding what to do next.

What’s clear is that the city is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to events. They need events, we need them. Events(not just races, triathlons and crits’) form a core than binds and attracts many people to downtown Austin. The current rules, and city staffs ability to implement them, is a wash. 60-days, 30-ways, waivers, Police costs, road closures, City council overrides – these are all a fact of life for the events than run downtown.

The city has a process for coming up with new rules and processes; the task force is part of that. However, mob rule doesn’t work, unless applied at the time a decision needs to be made. Monday’s performance wasted an opportunity to get some valuable input from the stakeholders, not just a reason for people to speak passionately about their introduction to running.

Lobbying works. You might not like it, but it does. Witness members of the task force, many are effectively lobbyists for special interests groups. Lobbying has only become a dirty word since the bribery and payola cases from the 80’s and 90’s. My fellow Austinites had better get used to this. If we waste the next 4-5 meetings of the task force, each arriving increasingly earlier to sign-up and speak for their allotted 3-minutes. We need to elect a spokesperson, we need to have solutions to offer, not just complaints, and opposition.

I attended with a tongue in both cheeks, a foot in each running shoe, and splitting my time between T1 in Bouldin Creeek, and T2, a downtown race course for an event I want to take part in. Having been an organizer of some 10-domestic events in the UK, and part of the team for two major international triathlons, I can assure the neighborhoods that a race organizer that doesn’t care about them won’t be a race organizer next year. I can tell the runners and triathletes the same.

All parties need to recognize that the only solution IS compromise. We have to work together. On Monday, there was much discussion about events clashing on the same w/e and the problem this causes, for example closing all possible roads leading to a Church or business. Nothing was said about the week-in, week-out closure of the same roads for different events.

One solution postured is having a set of graduation courses away from downtown. Imagine, for four of eight weekends in April/May next year, the city will grant permission to close the access road you need to drive down to Ladybird Lake for your run, or to go meet with your cycling group to ride. It’s disruptive, it effects your planning, it breaks your routine. That’s how the Churches, businesses and public feel about your events. No matter how much that downtown 5k changed your life, you had no more right to run in it downtown, than a business does to have it customers come and buy that life changing couch(ask me about mine from Your Living Room!)

Sports participants need to also accept that the neighborhoods and business suffer in non-obvious ways. You’d never consider urinating on someones lawn first thing on Sunday, yet it regularly happens; you’d never throw your used gel packets on the ground when you get back to the car, but it regularly happens; no one minds as you discard your old top on S1st during the marathon, but we do; you always go to downtown restaurants after the race to refuel, but in reality, it doesn’t happen much, everyone else gets in their car and goes home.

This years Bat Fest will go ahead, despite the protestation of my neighborhood. We got no notice that the Bat Fest would be moved from South Congress to South 1st for this year only. Nor did any of the businesses or others affected. How can you plan around that? It’s not unreasonable to ask what is going on down at City Hall and demand change.

A few of the speakers on Monday were excellent. But while others might have made you feel good, they didn’t contribute much to the hard job the task force has to do. The time for mob rule, if needed, is at the end of the process. Let’s let the Task Force make their recommendations to city council. Then, Task Force chair Paul Carrozza can get the public meeting that he desperately wanted to placate race organizer and fellow task force member John Connley, whose email drew in the mob.

At that time we will know what is proposed. Under city rules, everyone that signs-up, should get to speak. The best part, is that you can sign-up to speak and donate your minutes to a spokesperson. So, get your thinking caps on.

What good ideas could help the city run events, find ways to enable our fellow citizens go about their lives and routines without undue disruption from us. These are the ideas the task force needs. Next meeting should be August 25, location and time TBC. I’ll be the guy in the sleeping bag outside the day before. If you really have something to add, come along.

If mob rule is needed, then it will be when the time comes to vote. Your council member needs to know how you feel about the final recommendations, given the low voter turn out at city council elections, a decent size group against any specific city resolution or process change ought to be able to gain the support of the council member. This will be especially true when it comes to the council vote of the outcome of the task force.

Recycle, reduce – Rethink!

So, down at the coal face it seems there is an ever increasing drum beat to do more, turn off lights, switch to energy efficient bulbs, recycle more etc. I’ve always done my part, the cardboard boxes are piled high in my garage waiting for that w/e when I have time to flat pack them and tie them up for the City to take.

However, everday, between 4.30-7 am an industrial garbage removal truck comes to the local bakers, tips up their huge industrial size bin and out flows more garbage per day than I generate per year(probably). If I watch during the day, they throw in a stream of cardboard boxes, along with all the regular trash. I dunno, just sayin…

Last night as I flew back into Austin on the late flight from Chicago(Yeah I know, the very act of flying isn’t so great), it was with sheer amazement that I watched as the City burned so bright. It wasn’t so much the downtown area, but the huge lots either side of I35, the parking spaces way out of town, not a single car in sight, the car dealershsips, some strange homage to the $1 Gallon of gas, now laden with steel monsters from what is possibly a bygone era. Never mind, even at 10,000ft you can still pick-out the individual shapes thanks to the fantastic floodlighting.

Wait a minute, Austin Energy is asking me, all of us, to let them fit a control to our AC system so they can cycle off on AC during the middle of the day at peak times, fair enough maybe. But, is all that energy used to illuminate nothing, empty parking lots, trucks that won’t sell, really free? Somehow I think not. Isn’t it about time to start tackling local waste before proposing more offshore drilling?

Start by requiring businesses that are closed during the hours of darkness and for whom there is no use of their parking lot to shut off their lights and then how about a commercial recycling scheme? Oh yeah, I’m prepared to do my bit, no more closed bottles with just water in at sports and music events. Lets ditch the plastic…

More Bike action, Barton Springs Road and Zilker Park

I guess “asleep at the wheel” isn’t funny when discussing cycling and the roads. I seem to have been so busy lately a number of events have passed me by though.

Barton Springs Rd Bike Lanes
One major one is the start of the construction of the new bike lanes on Barton Springs Road, that will run up and under Loop-1 aka Mopac(by the way, why are they called loops when they clearly don’t?) and through Zilker Park.

Work started on June 30th and will progress east to west with rolling road closures, the project is supposed to complete in time for folks to cycle safely to the trail of lights. There will also be walkways set back from the road for pedestrians.

Lance Armstrong bikeway
Also, its worth noting the first part of the Lance Armstrong bikeway between Lamar Blvd and Veterans Blvd is now open. Theres still a gap at the bridge before Mopac and Shoal Creek isnt connected up yet, but this is all goodness and the various folks involved should be congratulated. More details on each of these can be found on the city’s website bicycle section. http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/bicycle/

Michael Argall
Finally I’d like to take a moment to remember Travis County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Argall. Michael was killed Sunday while out cycling. I never met Micahel, but he sounds like a great guy. The policelink website has an in-depth retrospective and I know he was a coach here in town for Rogue running, and lots of people will be deeply saddened both by his passing and the nature of it, not least his family.

Paula Craig was a promising age group triathlete in my club, training for the triathlon world championships in 2001, that I’d also qualified for. Just like Michael, Paula was a Police officer with a promising future. Paula was also struck from behind by a car driver who was “blinded by the sun”. Unlike Michael, Paula survived and although paralyzed from the waist down, went on to become a national role model for wheel chair athletes.

Next time the sun is directly in your eyes while driving, or worse still, you are overcome by sudden tiredness please take care, its not just you out there. Slow down, take the appropriate action, carefully watching out for ALL other road users.

I’d like to extend the sympathy’s of myself and the other Austin metroblog writers to the family of Michael Argall. He is mourned and will be missed by people who never met him, a great tribute for a great guy.

Drought + Development = No More Tecolote Organic Farm?

Austin Farmers Market muralOne of the mainstays of the Austin Farmers Market and, until recently, one of the more successful organic farms in the area, Tecolote Farm is in danger.  Just east of town, near Manor and Webberville, its wells are apparently going dry – not only because of terrible heat and drought, but because the local community is sucking lots more water from the ground, for athletic fields and new houses.  First reported by the Statesman in May, with an  update done on KXAN-TV, courtesy of the Home Sweet Farm blog, this is another example of our priorities gone awry.  According to the Sustainable Food Center, Texas is loosing prime farmland at a rate higher than any other state. Do you want your food to have to be shipped from California, or even China? The owners of Tecolote Farm are asking people to contact their Travis County Commissioner to express concern about water use in eastern Travis County and support for sustainable agriculture.

Live and Let Live

Really, seriously.

I’ve been following the increasingly rancorous debate in the Austin Chronicle between the cyclists and the car drivers aka the motorists. It has from the start been very polarizing and has become increasingly aggressive as one side take offense at the other.

One thing’s sure, Austin is changing and there are loads of people that don’t like it. Buildings are getting bigger and taller, traffic is getting busier, the steets more cramped. Anywhere where people get “in your face” it causes friction. People in New York City are not a different species, yet they seem to have a hardened, more aggressive voice, nature and look, inside they are just people but they’ve had to adopt a certain attitude in order to survive the pressures of daily life.

And so it is here in Austin with the cyclists and motorists. I’ve been lucky enough to have cycled in many of the worlds biggest cities, London, New York, Paris, Sydney, Manchester, San Francisco, Melbourne as well as in Spain, Italy, Germany and more.

I bike to work from South Austin to up past Braker Lane a couple of times most weeks mostly on the most direct route up Lamar and Burnet. From time to time when I don’t have early meetings and have left my laptop at work, I do the whole length of 360 and some.

What I can tell you is that I’ve been really impressed with most motorists here in Austin. Mostly they do leave space, in town it is not uncommon to be cycling in the right lane and to have 25 out of 30 cars actually pass in the left lane. Would almost never happen anywhere else.

Yeah, you get the occasional driver who really doesn’t think through making their next right turn, overtakes and completely underestimates the 22-24MPH I’m going and cuts right in front of me, causing me to brake. Then there are the motorists not paying complete attention as they make a turn out of a parking lot and I am coming down the street, its hard to “stop on a dime on a bike”, the easiest way is to put a 2000lb steel object with 4-wheels in the way!

And yes, motorists and cyclists don’t adhere to the letter of the law. However, generally Austin is better than many. Rather than escalating letters blaming each other for our problems, lets try to understand that we both have “issues”, both are not perfect but things can get better.

I for one have realized that storming down the right gutter at a long line of cars waiting at a light, probably isn’t the smartest thing I could do. In other cities that might be acceptable, here in Austin though where most drivers will move into the left lane to overtake, it just frustrates the motorists as not only did I possibly pass dangerously, but now I’m making the line even longer forcing them to have to wait more. Mea Culpa, I’ll wait in the traffic from now on.

On the other hand, next time you are coming up on a right turn in your car, and there’s a cyclist between you and the turn, think about it. If you slow, wait for the cyclist to pass the entrance to the turn, at most it won’t even cost you a minute.

A pack of cyclists cycling together is often referred to as a “train”. When a train makes a crossing, you wouldn’t expect every carriage to stop in turn, the same for cyclists. Cycling in close proximity requires attention and a pack like behavior, while the law might require each cyclist to stop individually, in reality, it’s impractical and probably more dangerous, so cut us some slack when it’s our turn to go, please wait if there are more than one or two.

Equally, cyclists need to realize they are often the master of their own destiny, cycling in a cavalier or irresponsible manor will ultimately get payback. We need to take a sensible, consolatory perspective. Many drivers are increasingly finding Austin a difficult place to drive in, and increasingly expensive. Many can’t afford to make the changes that they want. Apart from a minority, nobody enjoys sitting in traffic on I35, Mopac or downtown to go a few miles, and watching the dollar bills get blown out of the tail pipe. Like it or not, cycling to work isn’t an option for most people, most days even me.

I for one applaud the cities efforts in raising awareness of a healthy lifestyle, including cycling. I appreciate their effort to provide an increasingly cycling focussed means of getting around. But equally motorists and cyclist need to focus on safe driving. As the city gets bigger and busier, we all need to do better and focus more, blaming each other for the problem gets us nowhere.

Collide by Howie Day is playing in the background, nothing more than a coincidence I hope.

Even the best fall down sometimes
Even the wrong words seem to rhyme
Out of the doubt that fills my mind
I somehow find
You and I collide

Oak Hill whiners FLUMmoxed

So if you bother to move to the outskirts of Austin, you must be doing so to get a big house on a big lot on a quiet street, close to “good” schools, for much cheaper than Central Austin. If you do so, you have no right to complain that you can’t walk to the store.

Well, people in Oak Hill and Southwest Austin apparently want their cake and to eat it too. As much as I am an avid proponent of denser development and public transit, I find it disingenuous of the community leaders in that area to now start blaming the Save Our Springs ordinance for the fact that their neighborhoods aren’t (and may never be) more pedestrian friendly and dense.

Tomorrow night, the city’s planning staff will present the tentative Future Land Use Map (FLUM) and plan documents to stakeholders for one last discussion before the planning commission and city council vote on it. David Richardson, who lead the effort at the neighborhood level, complains to Community Impact that the SOS ordinance blocks any and every kind of good development because

landowners cannot develop or put impervious cover, which is anything from rooftops to parking lots, over more than 25 percent of an individual landowner’s property, in the area called the contributing zone.

Mr. Richardson complains that you can’t put in denser muliple-use development that would make walking and biking more appealing because of the “roadblocks” like this.

The SOS ordinance *should* be a roadblock. Its intent is to discourage development, which causes water pollution in the sensitive contributing zone and the more sensitive recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. If you want to live in a densely developed area, move to Central Austin!

Scattershots

The rains are over and the disturbers of the peace have emerged, but life was wonderful under the clouds: no helicopters, no power mowers, no leaf-blowers, and peace everywhere. There’s no place like home when it’s tranquil, but that doesn’t make for an event-filled existence, so there hasn’t been much fodder for entries here. >>> The never-ending tour of library branches did continue. The biggest pleasant discovery is that the Howson branch, on Exposition, now has a prominent display of Bollywood entertainment, including the first Munna Bhai movie (recommended fun, and the subtitles are against a black background, which makes them easily read). The unpleasant discovery is that some branches continue to try to confiscate old library cards and issue new ones, attempting to impose the same procedure on an existing card-holder as applies to a new applicant. If there’s something about this on the APL site, I haven’t been able to find it. I’ve taken my old card back every time so far because every time the library clerk has said something along the lines of “you need to show me your driver’s license.” “What about people who don’t have one?” “They need to show a DPS identification card.” “And if someone hasn’t paid for one of those?” “Then there’s no card for that person.” The library site lists at least eight additional forms of photo i.d. that are acceptable for new applicants to present and appears to say nothing about existing card-holders. Imposing onerous requirements that differ from stated policy does nothing to increase circulation. A letter about this has yet to be written, but I promise there will be one. >>> TCAD doesn’t care about my backyard wildlife preserve, but the tax breaks reported to be enjoyed by others are truly astounding (“Why Texas Firms Are Keeping Cattle on the Back Forty,” WSJ 7/28-29, byline Jennifer Levitz). Among the examples cited, several are from Travis County. “According to the 2006 wildlife plan filed with the county for the Dell Ranch, Mr. [Michael] Dell cut property taxes to $1,355 from $580,780 by taking actions such as spraying 185 acres for ants, filling six water stations, stocking 11 turkey feeders, and keeping 100 birdhouses for bluebirds.” I want a break for every hummingbird and every butterfly in my little pesticide- and herbicide-free wildlife preserve, but I don’t expect one anytime soon. >>> The Chron has been running an ad for a new art director. Although I haven’t run across any announcement in the current issue and Taylor Holland is still on the masthead, I don’t find the ad, either. Let’s send good wishes to the doughty person who takes on this job, which is the kind that can whisk away the last vestiges of a person’s youthful optimism. My personal request is for a serif typeface for the body of stories that is not so light on the page. >>> The emergence of the sun does not promote a sunny disposition. I like those cloudy days.

No Spoilers Here

Which was not the case when I was shopping at Second Time Around this afternoon–doing my part to support local business and recycle. A customer (with a loud, annoying cell phone ring) received a phone call and as soon as I hear the words “Harry Potter” I plug my ears. The woman continued talking loudly for several minutes. When, figuring the conversation had moved on, I finally took my hands off my ears, the clerk loudly repeated, “Oh, so the ending is….blah! blah! blah!”

I gave her an incredulous look and a third woman said, “Hey, don’t talk about the ending.”

“Yeah, thanks a lot!” I yelled and I threw the items I was about to purchase down and stomped out.

A boss of mine used to caution me not to confuse ignorance with malice. I would like to give the people involved the benefit of the doubt–maybe they are just stupid morons. However, the fact they could see that I had covered my ears and was purposely trying not to hear what they were saying, and that as soon as I uncovered my ears that made a point to repeat themselves leads me to conclude that they are just plain nasty.

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