Archive for the ‘Traffic’ Category

Stimulate North Lamar!

So yesterday in the web 2.0 social media circles there was much derision over the City of Austin’s inclusion of a disc golf course in the stimulous package going through the political process up in Circle K Ranch, aka Washington D.C. The Statesman ran articles here and here and an editorial here all of which attracted some helpful and some not so useful comments, but such is the online world. Safe to say though that the Statesman was just reflecting the opinion of the Wall Street Journal who outed the story in the first place.

This morning, News 8 ran a piece by Reagan Hackleman, where city official John Hrncir said the disc golf course was “Very much taken out of context,” – in a very cover our ass – sort of way. The piece ended with Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez saying he wants to make sure the public is involved in choosing which projects get funding.

Well Mike, having biked from South Austin to Round Rock twice this week for work, I got to tell you if the city doesn’t have funds allocated to re-pave Gaudalupe from 38th St and then North Lamar from around the point where it merges with Gaudalupe to all the way up to just before 183, then you need to get that on the list quickly. It is one of the worst streches of road I’ve cycled on in many countries.

That stretch of the road, especially where it goes up and past, ironically, the Texas Dept. of Public Safety is just way too broken up to cycle on safely on anything except a mountain bike. There are also a number of covers missing from access holes. There is no bike lane up there, and no room for one, so the road surface on the edge of the road is really important for cyclists.

There are many cracks and holes that you have to swerve around, bump over, or try to jump. Of course, in peak commute time that increases the danger as that means the car drivers behind have to expect the sudden weave in and out around these obstacles. Leaving the road as it is won’t save money, New York, London and other big metropolitan cities discovered that, they don’t repair themselves, and just get worse as the cars, trucks and buses regularly hit the defects!

Of course, thats not really my idea of a stimulus item to get the economy going and create jobs, but hey-ho think of it as an earmark, some ones got to do it.

Downtown Street Event Closure Taskforce report

Missed in the run-up to the holidays 2: Thursday 18th December saw the Austin Downtown Street Event Closure Taskforce[1][2] report back to the full City Council.

Area considered by the Task Force

Area considered by the Task Force

I had attended the four of the first five or so meetings, including the infamous “Conely mob” meeting on August 11th. At that meeting, an innocent request to get a few sports events participants to some of the meetings, got out of hand in an “Internet connected world” sort-of way, and a hundred or so showed up at one meeting, leaving no standing or sitting room and a lot of disgruntled attendees.[More on this later].

After about a 6-meeting gestation, bi-weekly meetings, went weekly. The task force was co-led by RunTex owner Paul Carrozza, and local political grandee and former Democratic U.S. representative, Jack Hightower, with assistant City Manager Rudy Garza accompanied by a city staff from Parks and Recreation and other effected depts. as well as Lt. Boydston, APD Special Events Unit and other safety related groups to advise. Also heavily involved in the process(from my observation) was Larry Shooler, Policy Director for City Council Member Lee Leffingwell.

However, staff were there primarily as advisors, the bulk of the work was done by the task force members. For those of us from the public that did show up, there was a limited opportunity for people to speak for 3-minutes before the start of the meetings. After that it was down to the old game of passing short notes to task force members on specific points during meetings, a frustrating experience at best. Mid-way through the process the task force seemed to be getting bogged down, lack of clear definition and the [obvious?] groupings for and against events, seemed to be stopping reasonable progress. I also missed about 5-meetings.

It was then with some surprise when I attended the last two meetings. The task force had come up with a good set of recommendations. Seemed to have pulled together some key threads. Presentation of these on the 18th was pretty straight forward with a number of the Task Force members, Shooler and Garza present along with the full council.

The key points and focus areas were:

  • Issues/Challenges
    • Events in “downtown” up from 110 in 2005 to 145 in 2007
    • Number of downtown residents estimated to almost triple between 2000-2010
  • Event Frequency, Number, Variety, Scheduling, Capping etc.
  • Application Approval Process and Timeline etc.
  • Set Race Routes, Street and Building Access etc.
  • Financial Cost/Impact and Event Fee Structure
  • Political Events and Parades were not in-play for the Task Force

And a large number of issues and concerns related to these. From which the Task Force made the following recommendations, presented by Carrozza to the City Council.

  • Create Office of Special Events (OSE) to report to the City Manager’s Office
  • Create Special Events Advisory Commission
  • Create a “no event” zone around 5th/6th Streets to provide open access
  • There should be a no-entrapment rule, all events should provide alternate access
  • Walks should be held in a “moving bubble” rather than blocking streets
  • There should be a cap on events at current levels
  • Timeline for Event submission and review changed from 60 to 210 days prior to the event
  • Events getting 20% or higher objections are referred to Special Events Advisory Commision
  • Organizers must have approved application before marketing events
  • Traffic plan inc. alternate access must be finalized earlier

Of these, when you look at it, the Cap was perhaps most feared by the event community. The problem is that each event community has their own, blinkered view on the disruption caused by their events. Limited by their events own geographic boundaries. What they don’t see is the big picture. The problem is that under the current scheme, nor does anyone person or department in the City, since different types of events are currently permitted and approved through different depts. So while you could take 145 events, and say thats almost 3-every weekend. It isn’t, sometimes it is more, sometimes less, and there are the inevitable clashes which don’t become apparent until Road Closures are processed, sometimes long after the events are approved.

For such a relatively small downtown area, often using public roads, 145 events as a cap seems more than enough. One of the key recommendations of the task force was to tier races and to find and encourage other great parts of the City. This both spreads the benefit and the burden. The continued, unbridled growth of events in the downtown district was perhaps the greatest concern of the non-events stakeholders, including residents, businesses, Churches etc. all of whom suffer regular disruption, which is currently left to the best will of the event organizer to minimize.

The “no event” zone was referred to as both the “Equator” and the “Red Sea”. Using the former designation, it was envisaged that the “Red Sea: would part on Congress for no more than six “grandfathered” events. Other events could start north or south of 5th/6th St but not cross or close them. So You could have a 5k race that went south from 4th, down Chavez, and loop back around, but it couldn’t cross or close 5th/6th, likewise a Walk could start on or north of 7th but not cross or close 5th/6th.

Final recommendations were around the City’s ability to understand, plan, budget and grant waivers for events. Currently there is no clear process, or understanding of the cost or benefit for events, and no tracking or post event evaluation is done to see if event organizers meet their commitments, and if waivers for closures and fees etc. are justified. There is also some work to be done on various ordinances if these recommendations are to become the norm.

The council meeting wrapped up with questions from council members. There were few. Members Leffingwell and Martinez both raised the point of citizen input. This was accepted, and the job is now on staff to turn the recommendations into proposed policy.

As part of that process, and in review with council, it’s clear that a broad coalition of event organizers and participants, and NOT just those from the sports community, need to review and provide feedback, as well as the neighborhoods, including mine Bouldin Creek, and the businesses and other effected parties. It’s our city and its also the events, from art, to music, and sport, are what make downtown Austin the small village it is, in a Capital city.

[1] “Downtown is defined by MLK to the north; Oltorf to the south; I35 to the east; and Lamar to the west.
[2] Minutes, Mission Statement, and full member list(although not including their alliances) can be found on the city website, here.

187th and Belmont

You didn’t have to grow-up in the Bronx or even have visited to get in the mood for Chazz Palminteris A Bronx Tale, on for two more nights at the Long Center.

I saw the show last night, having not seen the 1993 Film, I really had no idea what to expect. When I told one of my colleagues I was going he mentioned something about a mouse and kids, so I suspect he was even further off base than I was. Palminteri wrote the show back in the late 1980’s while unemployed, it’s supposedly a semi-autobiographical tale of his youth in an early 1960’s Bronx neighborhood but I suspect it could equally have been Chicago, DC, Boston, et al.

I really hadn’t been prepared for it to be a one-man show. Palminteri pulled it off magnificently, he moved from character to character with ease and pretty much seamlessly. After all, he’s been doing it for 20-years so he should. It was a engaging dialog about the stresses and strains of living in a working class neighborhood, that was probably more diverse then than now, and the on-off relationship between a son, his father and the neighborhood “boss”.

There is an interesting racial twist to the plot and Palminteri shouts out the N-word partially during a heightened exchange, which I have to say caused some rumblings down in the stalls at the Long Center, but I thought both the scene and the story line were in context with the times, as was the use of the N-word.

Palminteri managed to keep my attention for the full length of the show. Despite the fact that being up in the Mezzanine was more like watching an outdoor theatre in Siberia. It was freezing, I guess less than 64f. Since there are only two more shows, it would be well worth attending, but take a warm top!

It was my first trip to the Long Center since the opening w/e. It was a perfect evening to walk. They’ve got valet parking, there’s parking in the adjacent garage and traffic is carefully managed afterwards to keep the streets clear. Please don’t park in the residential neighborhoods, it may be only one night for you, it’s every night of every day for them.

My Links: NPR Interview with Palminteri back in 2007 on the Broadway opening of a Bronx Tale
Somehat whacky, but recent drive through of the show and 187th St. on YouTube

Rediscovering Austin: Tour de Condo?

Maybe the reason I have moved away from Austin in the past is because rediscovering Austin is so wonderful.  Today I set out on my bike for Mellow Johnny’s bike shop, owned by none other than Lance Armstrong (and a few others), to watch the end of today’s stage of the Tour de France.  They’re showing it on a giant screen every morning. The plan was to head for the gym after, as I hadn’t put sunscreen on or brought more than one water bottle.  But watching the Tour and the relatively nice day encouraged me to hop back on the bike and just start riding… around.

Meandering up through West Campus, I marveled at all of the apartment buildings and condos going up – seems like more activity there than downtown?  I wonder who will be able to afford to live in those places. I guess if you’re in your 20s and have a job in Central Austin that would be a good location. Will students be able to live there? I’m not sure what the maximum amount people can now get in student loans, but I have a feeling that many people will be tempted to spend their loan money on those cush digs. And they’ll pay for it later.

It’s great to just bike around on neighborhood streets and then hop on the path near Shoal Creek, then under Mopac on Bike Route 40 (I think) over to Exposition and down to Lake Austin Boulevard. There, again, you encounter the other end of student apartments, which is owned by the University and is reserved for married students.  Speaking of, the University of Texas has been advised that the land they own over there, known as the Brackenridge tract, should be developed. Now it’s the city’s turn to try to figure out what the citizens think about that… and this Saturday there will be a public meeting on the issue.   Will it be upscale condos and chic boutiques? Or can we figure out something better for the people who already live here, instead of just the refugees from California, New York, and other high-end places? Getting something innovative for working people in West Austin may not be an easy feat, but I have to ask.

From Lake Austin, I cruised under the Mopac bridge on the Roberta Crenshaw pedestrian/bike bridge, and down Barton Springs Road, stopping for a smoothie at long-time favorite Bicycle Sport Shop.  Again, passing more condo developments.

I know many people question the wisdom of building so many condos, but $4 plus gas is going to encourage more and more people to find refuge in the central city.  And that could mean, I hope, more people on bikes and less air pollution for us all. Which makes affordable housing in the central area all the more important. Michael King of the Austin Chronicle discusses some current efforts by Foundation Communities and others to provide affordable housing and address the NIMBY attitude in most neighborhoods.

Whew! What you can see on a simple bike ride in this town!

Keeping Austin Weird one car at a time

I was driving home down Mopac the other day and a regular car covered in branches, leaves etc. joined from one of the on-ramps. To start with I couldn’t work it out, but I soon realized it had been decorated that way. As far as I could tell it was it’s normal “dress” not special for a parade or anything.

I mentioned it to one of my friends who pointed out there was a long standing tradition for Austin “art” cars. I must admit, I’d seen a few around, but never put two and two together. Here is one in my neighborhood and there are a load more pictures on flickr of Austin art cars.


Why not upload your pictures too, tag them with keep austin cars weird

S 1st Bridge crossing, Town Lake trail access – Redux

Since metroblogs isn’t a magazine or newspaper, we are not limited to publishing something and then forgetting about it ;-)

and so it was I got back from my trip, and the first thing I noticed was access to S 1st Street Bridge crossing on the west side was still closed. Also access to the trail from the north of the bridge was still suspended. I called City project Manager Rick Colbrunn, who promptly called me back and explained they are having problems “sourcing material” for the retaining walls, and the project probably won’t be complete until the end of July 2008.

So, unlike people wanting to access the trail, this one continues to, err, run! I’ve updated my original “But my training plan says to do loops!” post, and this one is for those who use the RSS feed.

Don’t alter your plumbing, do alter your parking

At this weeks BCNA meeting the Austin Clean Water Program (ACWP) team briefed us on the work about to start between South Congress and South 1st.

ACWP has a great program to clean up the creeks and refurb/move lots of the ugly pipes in and around the creeks. This includes 80-miles of sanitary sewer system, nearly $400 million of funding. The big time work on this project starts Saturday with the closure of W Monroe between S Congress and S 1st, and will carry on until the roads are finally resurfaced in December 2008.

The good news is that it will see an end to the ugly above ground pipes, including one known to leak into the creek. The bad news is that it will put even more pressure of the already strained neighborhood roads, especially at w/e and First Thursdays.

It isn’t just the loss of roadside parking caused by the construction. There will also be heavy construction vehicles parked in the ‘hood as well as at various points, large parts of major roads blocked.

Net, net, if you visit South Congress between Johanna and Elizabeth Streets, please be patient, park carefully and be mindful of residents, especially on W. Monroe and W. Mary St which will be subject to closure.

Details on the plan, status, maps etc. can be found here, the project is called Govalle 1 Newton Street.

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

Shoes and Cars

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wears shoes 2-sizes too big, they flop around, you can’t control them, they trip you up, and overall are not a comfortable experience.

So, why is it people drive cars that are 2-sizes too big?

One of the joys of living in Bouldin Creek or on a road adjacent to South Congress, or to one of the popular restaurants off South 1st, is having people around all the time. Mostly people = cars.

There is nothing funnier than watching someone who really can’t park take two or three goes at parallel parking, get out their car, look at the gap behind them, get back in the car either delighted with their effort or thoroughly angry and they screech off, only to come walking by 10-minutes later having found a better “space”.

Of course that’s really not the issue. The issue is why people drive vehicles they clearly can’t control adequately. Both the cars at my next door neighbors have been damaged when parked on the street, at least 30-cars a day drive fully up onto most of the driveways, as drivers can’t turn them around in the street.

Maybe once gas hits $8 a gallon cars will change, until then here’s hoping people will change. Next time you can’t park in that space, instead of blaming the space, the neighborhood, why not think, with the hassle of parking, the time it takes to walk from the “free” space you found – I’ll take a cab!

Yes, Bike to work on Friday!

“I owe the city birthday cake, and thank you cards are due”(1)

It’s been nearly 18-months since I moved to Austin, and many things are making it seem like home, places, faces, events and more. Some events are more memorable than others, good and bad.

One of the surprise things I did last year, and will be repeating this year, is bike to work day. Last year I headed from South Austin up north to work. I do this often, but only in the quickest, shortest, most direct route, it’s an 25-mile round-trip and not particularly memorable if you discount racing the buses, and sometime breakdowns, getting caught in a true Texas downpour,and the occasional car drivers’ abusive hand signals. Mostly though, I’d say the car drivers here are better than most other cities I’ve cycled in!

Bike to work day last year was much more fun than the normal ride to work! I rode the shoulder on 360, up Great Hills Trail to Jollyville Rd and finally coming to rest at Bucks Bikes. Donuts and a quick chat with some other bike to workers including one of Austins tireless(no pun intended) Volunteers @anetmarie, and I was off to work.

This year there is an even longer list of places providing a “free” breakfast for cyclists and the weather is looking good. I’m going to venture a bit further, in fact all the way up to Music City Cycles on W Parmer, where this year @anetmarie is a co-host.

In fact, checking the current list of breakfast stops, if I plan my route carefully, I could end up in a calorie surplus, there goes the waist line!

Bike to work day is part of Bike Month, the Austin Cycling Association usually have a calendar online, but as of writing it’s gone AWOL. Hopefully it will be back in shape soon. In the meantime, the current list of breakfast stations includes the following and official hours are 7-9am:

•Whole Foods, Sixth & Lamar
•City Hall Plaza, 301 W. Second (sponsored by city of Austin employees)
•Texas One Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd. (also sponsored by city of Austin employees)
•Texas Bicycle Coalition, 1902 E. Sixth
•Mellow Johnny’s, Fourth & Nueces
•Wheatsville Co-op, 3101 Guadalupe
•Bicycle Sport Shop, 517 S. Lamar
•Shoal Creek Boulevard at the Far West Bridge
•Music City Cycles, 6301 W. Parmer #504
•Jo’s Coffee, 1300 S. Congress
•Freewheeling Bicycles, 24th & San Gabriel

If you see a big guy cycling on 360 on Friday with a bag over-flowing with donuts, that will be me, make a wide pass please!

(1) Lyrics (c) Steven O’Reilly, Tammany Hall NYC, Ceilings in the sky.

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