Council, board: Reject the LPA so we don’t have to vote it down.

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, buy hemorrhoids 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, information pills 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:

  Rating Notes
Physical difficulty 3 Northbound: Some minor uphills south of 183; a moderate uphill north of 183. Southbound: Moderate hill up Gracy Farms; easy after that.
Scary factor 5 Burnet/183 crossing will scare away uncommitted novices.
Exercise efficiency 7 out of 10 Car 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
Enjoyment 5 out of 10 Nice and shady in spots; lots of waiting at lights.
Services/Safety 9 out of 10 Plenty 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.

A letter I just sent to the City Council and Capital Metro board.

Mayor, doctor council members, and board members:

Please oppose the Project Connect Locally Preferred Alternative presented to you tomorrow. This project, far from being the start of a worthy system, will ensure we are never able to develop a strong rail backbone for our area.

Many of you have heard complaints about the Project Connect process. Suffice to say that it’s a nationwide laughingstock at this point. Far from lauding them for their transparency, you should be asking yourselves why the most knowledgeable transit advocates here (and some from outside Austin as well) are opposing this proposal when in most cities, your best transit advocates are the most enthusiastic supporters of a rail proposal.

Courtesy Marcus Denton
Courtesy Marcus Denton

Despite what you hear from Project Connect, this is not simply a matter of wanting rail on Guadalupe and Lamar first. Those of us involved in transit advocacy for the longest time here in Austin and that have the most experience observing other cities have come to the conclusion that for a couple of reasons, building rail on the Highland route means we will never get rail on our best corridor.

The choice of a low ridership route to serve development interests means we will have large operating subsidies for riders compared to existing bus service on that corridor, which will lead to service cuts – a death spiral for transit rather than the virtuous circle we hope rail transit will be when applied to our best corridors. We will have used up our scarce remaining financial and political capital on a line that never pays us back. Rail should be built where it provides operating cost advantages over existing bus services – not where it will cost even more to run.

In addition, there exists substantial doubt among transit advocates that the FTA would ever fund rail on Guadalupe/Lamar if they already funded Highland, due to the proximity of the corridors. Of course, we’d also face political headwinds in building what voters would perceive as a 3rd rail line serving north central Austin.

Please do the right thing and reject this LPA before we organize the voters to do it. I stand with many strong local transit advocates in promising that we will oppose this line if it is placed on the ballot in November, and we will do our best to make sure it does not pass. I hope you do not allow it to come to this.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
(Urban Transportation Commission 2000-2005).