Category Archives: Bicycle Commuting

Protected bike lane on Guadalupe: Threat and menace

I rarely write about cycling any more and don’t have time to do so right now, but thankfully I came across a recent post by another blogger which captures, very insightfully, all of the problems with this facility except for the “hundreds of pedestrians crossing the bike lane to get to their bus stop” issue.

It’s from a blogger I never read before: Off The Beaten Path, excerpt:

Any barrier that separates the cyclist visually from other traffic effectively hides the cyclist. This is counterproductive to safety. Moving cyclists out of the roadway altogether, on separate bike paths, is even more dangerous, because drivers don’t look for (or cannot see) cyclists off to the side.

There’s much more, including great images which really make the point well.

Article link here: Bike To Work 3: Separate Or Equal?

Statesman At It Again

In today’s Letters, allowed to be published uncritically and without challenge:

Bicycle lanes are dangerous on Austin roads for both drivers and bikers. Burleson Road is a classic example of where the car lanes were narrowed to accommodate bikers. Bikers should have to purchase an annual permit that has toll tag technology.

Since they pay no gas tax, this fee should pay for their road use. These tags should be able to be read by police to identify if their tag is current, and they could also identify the bikers, should they be involved in an accident.

Anne Clark

Lockhart

My response on the way to them via various intertubes:

Anne Clark, in her letter on 10/27/2011, is woefully misinformed. Most roads in our area, even most major arterials, receive no funding from the gasoline tax, as the state prohibits its portion of the gas tax from being used outside the state highway system, and most federal gas taxes are similarly directed only to roads with a route shield on them. In fact, since some local (general) funds are also used for state and federal highways, it is likely cyclists who are subsidizing motorists in Austin, not the other way around.

Regards,

Mike Dahmus

City of Austin Urban Transportation Commission 2000-2005

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

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

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!

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

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.

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).

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.

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).