In print again

The acronym is for “Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved”.
I was impelled to get going again by witnessing a lady trying to keep her bike on about one inch of pavement on the uphill shoulderless windy part of Bee Caves this morning on my drive to work. Stay tuned for #3, advice help brave soul; there’s really no need for you to ride on that ungodly stretch.
Same format as before.
Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved #2: Central Austin (Clarksville) to Northwest Austin (183 corridor) – four different offices in four years for S3.
Timeframe: June 1998- December 2001
Rough sketch of first half of route (the common part)
Common second part of routes to first, third, fourth offices (Bull Creek/Hancock to Mesa/Hyridge)
Second part of route to second, temporary, office (Spicewood Springs)
Final part of route to first office (Jollyville/Oak Knoll)
Final part of route to third office (Riata)
Final part of route to fourth office (Centaur)
Background: This is kind of a long one – S3 had one office when I started; were in negotiations to move to a nicer newer one but got stalled out by an acquisition which ended up pushing us into a temporary sublease for six months or so; and then when Via acquired S3, many of my coworkers left and I worked from home for a year, only to return to a temporary office in a building leased by Centaur (another of their companies) until S3 closed that office in December 2001, and I had to go find work in the middle of the dot-com bust (hooray!). All three share a common first third or so, and two are virtually identical, so they’re all grouped together here. The Riata commute was the one I actually made into the slideshow you see pictures from throughout this and the previous article.
Bike used: Mostly my old touring bike (since stolen) that I acquired for $200 used from austin.forsale.
Distance/Time: 10-15 miles each way; much longer in the morning due to hills – on days I biked all the way in on the longer versions, about 90-100 minutes. Trip home was 45 minutes or so.
Showers: Only the Riata office. For the mornings, I did the bus boost sometimes, and other times relied on cooler weather and the bathroom washcloth trick.
Route and comments:
By this point, I was becoming more comfortable asserting my position on the road, which is good since Jollyville didn’t yet have bike lanes.
First segments: To Bull Creek/Hancock: See first commute.
Second segment: Either up Shoal Creek or cross Mopac: The trick on all these commutes is where you shift from one good corridor (Bull Creek / Shoal Creek) to another (Mesa). There’s four crossings of Mopac which are accessible from here; I’ll briefly touch on them and talk about where I used them.

  1. Hancock: No on-ramps, which is nice, but a lot of debris, and requires a lot more hills if you are going particularly far north on the Mesa corridor. I used this crossing for the 2nd commute, at our temporary sublease on Spicewood Springs west of Mesa.
  2. Far West: A lot of novice cyclists take this one because the crossing TO Mopac is on a bike/ped bridge over the railroad, but then you’re dumped right into on-ramp traffic. I didn’t like this one as either a novice or an experienced cyclist.
  3. Spicewood Springs: Great downhill, but awful uphill – big hill, lots of traffic, ramps. Not recommended outbound. I used this one on the way home almost all the time.
  4. Steck: Best choice for uphill – least hill; most shade; least traffic (still have onramps to deal with, but they’re less busy than the other two choices). Downhill not so great – lose momentum at a 4-way stop.
  • Segment #3: (commute #2 only): I rode up Balcones (ignore the map where it says it’s part of Mopac; I picked the wrong segment on the map) – you can actually ride up high on a nice shoulder looking down at the traffic below; nice in the mornings. Then you get to go up a pretty bad but short hill on North Hills (where northbound traffic on Balcones ends), then follow North Hills parallel to Far West all the way up to Mesa. Commute #2 is basically done here – just head up Mesa in the hilly bumpy bike lanes, hop on Spicewood and head west.
    Segment #3: Shoal Creek to Steck (other 3 commutes): see last chapter.
    Segment #4: Shoal Creek to Mesa via Steck: Steck looks scary the first time but is actually very civilized – you can keep up with traffic on the downhill heading west, and by the time you slow down on the uphill, the light’s almost always red anyways. Crossing the bridge is the most stressful part – pump hard until you get to the other side to let the cars by, and then enjoy the shade on the short sharp uphill as the right lane turns into a bike lane. Then relax and go slow for a while and catch your breath. It’s a niice ride all the way up to Mesa – shade opportunities, little traffic, bike lane.
    Segment #5: Up Mesa. Mesa has bike lanes up here, still. Fought various battles with high school over cars parked in the bike lane for years – probably still happening now. Look for Hyridge (my last commute just went straight to the end of Mesa). Left on Hyridge.
    Segment #6: Across Loop 360. Two choices here; be a pedestrian and avoid a big hill, or be a cyclist and be tough. The pedestrian route takes you all the way to Old Jollyville, then left, then walk your bike across Loop 360 into the Arboretum. The less said the better (although if I got to this point and had no energy left, I did it once in a while). The bike route goes like this: Down Hyridge, split off at Mountain Ridge, BIG downhill, short uphill, and out to 360. Ride on shoulder for about 100 feet, then cut across traffic into the left turn lane for Arboretum Blvd (the cutout with no traffic light). Take your time here – no rush! Huge hill coming up. Turn across the southbound lanes onto Arboretum Blvd and then get ready for my least favorite hill – all the way up to the thing that looks like a roundabout but really isn’t at the Jollyville entrance to the Arboretum. I occasionally had to walk up this hill in the early days. The trip home is a bit different: Go through the uphill (183 side) of the Arboretum, hop on the 183 frontage for about 100 feet to get through the 360 light, then off on Old Jollyville. This is stressful at first but once you get used to it is no big deal, and you avoid some big hills.
    Segment #7: Up Jollyville: When I did these commutes, there were no bike lanes on Jollyville – but I was experienced enough not to need them (although I liked them when they showed up later). Nice flat (in comparison) ride – pick up some speed here and get a breeze going. Brutal the other way in the afternoon against the inevitable summer headwind out of the south. Very little traffic in the mornings by the late end of rush hour. On the Riata commute, I’d turn at Duval and head over to the 183 frontage; for the first office I’d head straight on to almost Oak Knoll and be done. (note my comment about high gas prices – zoom into the picture).
    Segment #8: Riata – luckily by this point I was pretty fearless as most people shy away from the frontage road. Not much traffic on this part – just quick hop from Duval to Riata Trace Parkway.
    Modifications for trip home: On all of these commutes, I’d cross Mopac on Spicewood Springs – a nice downhill from Mesa to Mopac with no stops; could easily keep up with the cars going 35. The light at Mopac was the only stressful bit; just pump hard to get over the railroad tracks and down the hill to Shoal Creek and then rejoin the outbound route.
    Bus boost possibility: Very high. The 183-corridor express buses drop off at Jollyville across from Riata (Riata actually got credit for being close to this park-and-ride, even though the road connecting Riata to it was cut in half by the freeway, requiring far too long a walk for anybody to really use the bus from there except as a cyclist). These buses are fast enough that you lose very little time compared to the drive, if you time your arrival correctly. (This applied to the two commutes out here; the other two had bus boost possibilities on the #19 in both cases and the #3 in the Centaur case – but those are slow in comparison). I used this express bus boost quite often – especially on days where I wanted to bike some but couldn’t afford to spend an extra 2 hours on it.
    Ratings:

      Rating Notes
    Physical difficulty 5 Big hills in spots in the morning. Afternoon is mostly easy except for the headwind stretch on Jollyville heading south
    Scary factor 7 Steck and 360 crossings scary – but there are less scary (although more hilly) alternatives.
    Exercise efficiency 9 out of 10 Large time investment required in morning but very strenuous exercise; afternoon commute took about 45 minutes compared to 35-40 in car.
    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 these commutes. Plenty of convenience stores. A bike shop or two up north.

    Overall conclusion: A good medium commute – a novice would be advised to consider the pedestrian approach at 360 for a bit at the start or use the bus boost to avoid that altogether.

    I often make fun of commuter rail for not going where it needs to go – but in this case I’m kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum. Here’s a comment/letter I just sent the Chronicle in response to coverage of a recent UT meeting about streetcar:

    It would be really swell if every time this issue came up, visit people writing articles would be really clear about what’s being proposed by various folks, esophagitis especially on the issue of dedicated runningway (shared lane vs. reserved lane).
    For instance, viagra a streetcar on Speedway sounds a lot better to me too; and Guadalupe sounds better still, since Guadalupe is where all the current and most of the future residential density and other activity is. But are Black and Gadbois and whomever else suggesting reserved lanes on their routes (as in 2000’s light rail plan on Guadalupe), or that it would be sharing a lane with buses/cars (as in Cap Metro’s original, execrable, Future Connections proposal on San Jacinto)? This makes a HUGE difference – a streetcar without its own lane is actually even WORSE than a bus in speed and reliability – and is thus a complete waste of time and money.
    While we probably can’t now justify taking a lane on Guadalupe without the suburban ridership the 2000 route would have brought in, at least the McCracken/Wynn TWG proposal (streetcar running in dedicated lanes, albeit on San Jacinto) is capable of being expanded that direction later on; while commuter rail is a complete dead-end.

    The problem here is that a streetcar on the “right route” (Guadalupe) that doesn’t have its own lane will be even worse than the existing bus service there. Commuter rail has its own lane, in a sense, but doesn’t go anywhere you actually want to go – and your transfer is going to be to a crappy shuttle-bus stuck in traffic (without its own lane). I guess I slot San Jacinto somewhere in the middle between the poles of “where most people want to go” (Guadalupe) and “nobody wants to go” (Airport Blvd). But the biggest difference is that streetcar that runs on San Jacinto in its own lane might someday be able to be branched over to Guadalupe while commuter rail can never be brought anywhere you actually want to go.

    on 590 KLBJ. A fortuitous series of coincidences – I was unable to sleep this morning so was heading in very early; in the car; listening to the morning show and I called in, neurologist and actually got the screener right away – and they held me for a full segment at about 7:20. The format is difficult – I think I hit all the major points but of course didn’t make too much headway with those guys, read more but would be interested to hear from anybody who was listening.
    Points I hit:

    • More commuter (heavy) rail service isn’t helpful (response to Ed); can’t get close enough to walk to where you want to go, and no, people won’t transfer to buses from trains if they won’t take much better express buses straight to their destination today.
    • This system will likely have its own lane on much of its route – meaning it won’t be ‘competing’ with cars in the sense most people understand it.
    • Taxes: Yes, there will likely be some tax-increment-financing (one of the more likely financing buckets floated by Councilmember McCracken). No, it’s not reasonable to complain that this only benefits central Austin – first, it benefits commuter rail passengers, and second, central Austin generates most of Capital Metro’s tax revenues.
    • A couple trains can carry as many people as a traffic lane on one of these streets can carry in a whole hour. So if you run more than a couple per hour, you’re increasing commuting capacity into downtown.
    • I’d prefer the 2000 light rail plan, which is basically what everybody else did that has succeeded.

    Chime in if you were up early enough to hear, please. I’m always nervous that I talk too fast / stutter in events like this.

    This is going to be a bit disjoint – I’m typing this at 6:25 at a Pizza Hut in Huntsville, malady AL (no buffet; waiting for my personal pan pizza; do they still do this?) after having gotten up at 4AM to fly to Nashville and then drive 2 hours down here, then working all day with the other companies on a project for my day job.
    After the original unveiling of the streetcar plan promised complete dedicated guideway, ROMA has begun the inevitable backing away process – now saying that dedicated guideway is unlikely on Manor and Congress. Neither one makes sense, but ROMA is likely a believer in the “magic streetcar fairy dust” (note to readers: remind me to write an article on this phenomenon; in short: the theory that streetcars are so great that people won’t mind being stuck in traffic). Let’s look at Manor in particular.
    At the original public unveiling of the plan, yours truly stood up and asked why Manor couldn’t be singletracked instead of condemning right-of-way to build dedicated doubletrack. An anonymous jackass on the skyscraperpage forum (who I believe to be either Lyndon Henry or Dave Dobbs) scoffed at the idea, but it’s time to consider it again, since ROMA has apparently decided that expanding the right-of-way of Manor is now off the table.
    The problem: Manor doesn’t have enough width for a car lane each way and one “train lane” each way. (Current configuration is 2 bike lanes, 2 through lanes, and a center-turn lane). There’s ALMOST enough width to run reserved-guideway rail and keep one through lane each way if you lose the bike lanes, but not quite. The old configuration of Manor prior to the installation of bike lanes was 4 through lanes, but they were probably too narrow to support car next to train operation (at least, that’s what I’m assuming).
    ROMA’s solution: Run the streetcar in with regular traffic. Sounds fine, right? There’s not much traffic on Manor today by any reasonable standard.
    Why ROMA’s solution stinks: If there’s going to be enough traffic headed downtown to fill streetcars in 5 years when a lot more people live at Mueller, there’s also going to be a lot more people driving on Manor (which is the smartest driving route to UT, and probably right up there for the Capitol and downtown). So the conditions today that make it look like cars would never slow down the train (much) are misleading – most of the cars that will be there in 5 years aren’t there now.
    M1EK’s solution: Single-track reserved guideway. This stretch is very short (took about two minutes to drive down in the cab on the way to the airport at 4:45 this morning). Initial frequency is set for “every 10 minutes”. You ought to be able to keep this as single-track and maintain that schedule with no problems – but if that’s too close for comfort, bulb out at a station right in the middle – voila, two shorter single-track segments, and you only need to condemn a sliver of land around that station rather than along the whole stretch.
    Why M1EK’s solution stinks: Trains will still compete with each other; schedules will suffer.
    Why ROMA’s solution stinks more: Trains will lose a lot more schedule time stuck behind cars than they will waiting for an oncoming train to clear the single-track section, on average.
    Why magical streetcar fairy dust partisans will still dislike M1EK’s solution: “You can’t expand your solution into dedicated double-track”. One track right in the middle of what used to be the center turn lane is right in the middle of where two tracks would need to be – you can’t reuse that track.
    Why it’s not any worse than ROMA’s solution on that metric: The rails on which the shared-lane streetcar will run are also going to be in the wrong place – you can’t magically change those into reserved guideway either (unless you completely close Manor off to cars). In fact, M1EK’s solution allows for a more incremental approach – where you can gradually acquire more right-of-way and shift the double-to-single-track transitions further out away from the station(s).
    Does anybody else ever do this? Yes, Baltimore had single-track on their light rail line for quite a while (maybe still do; I haven’t kept up to speed on their system).
    Congress Avenue is a much easier case, by the way; it’s largely an aesthetic objection (reserved guideway should run in the middle of the street, but some people with absolutely no grounding in history are upset about the caternary wires in front of the view of the Capitol – forgetting that for 50 years or more, that’s exactly what we had).

    A quick hit from Orphan Road in Seattle; excerpts:

    BRT is neither cheaper nor faster to build. No matter what you might say about a mixed system or buses needed as feeders or matching the traffic requirements with the market, order at the end of the day, healing BRT is most likely to be a fraud.
    I’ll let other people be “reasonable” and concede that, if you grant a lot of things that never will happen, BRT “might” work. When I look around at all these existing BRT implementations and find delay, financial ruin, and angry riders, I’ve had enough. BRT is a fraud.

    Also of note from the BRT example city of Curitiba are these scalability problems courtesy of The Overhead Wire:

    During peak hours, buses on the main routes are already arriving at almost 30-second intervals; any more buses, and they would back up. While acknowledging his iconoclasm in questioning the sufficiency of Curitiba’s trademark bus network, Schmidt nevertheless says a light-rail system is needed to complement it.

    All of this (and more) applies to Rapid Bus. The investment is high – and the payoff is nearly zero; you’re still stuck with an awful vehicle that can’t get through traffic congestion like light rail does all over the country. No wonder the highway guys push for BRT (and its dumber sibling, Rapid Bus) so much – it’s not a threat to them. The Feds are pushing it now because the Bush guys have finally wrecked the FTA – but that doesn’t make it a good idea; it makes it something to pretend to consider until saner hands take the till.
    Capital Metro needs to cut this out right now and put this money into something that works – like the light rail proposal which, unlike Rapid Bus, is at least something that has worked in other cities and can insulate us from diesel costs in the future.

    So follow me on this one:

    1. Self-identified Republicans like to claim to have a far superior understanding of economics than those they call Democrats.
    2. Same batch of folks are now calling for off-shore drilling on the theory that it would have a non-trivial impact on US oil prices.
    3. We know, medicine of course, this that oil is fungible, cardiology so the impact of any production here is spread across the entire world market for oil, not just the US market.
    4. Those self-identified Republicans must know that too, because of the superior understanding of economics mentioned in #1.
    5. Shirley those Republicans aren’t putting forward all this fuss over a pennies-sized drop in the world price of oil which is what would happen if we drilled the hell out of ourselves (including not only offshore but ANWR as well).
    6. Therefore, those Republicans must have some other means in mind by which US prices will fall more than the prices paid by the rest of the world’s oil consumers.
    7. There’s only one way I can think of, though: forcing oil companies to sell us “our oil” at a discount (compared to the world price, which would only drop a little bit with the amount of production we can bring to bear). In other words, separating the US price from the world price – like our friends in Saudi Arabia do.
    8. What’s another word for that? Nationalization. Or socialization, if you prefer. Either one will do.

    I wonder if we know anybody who’s an expert at that kind of thing. Perhaps even in our own hemisphere?
    hey, how you doin'?
    I think we found McCain’s running-mate. If you’re tired of paying too much to fill up your SUV, it’s time to push your party leaders towards the McCain/Chavez ticket in ’08. THIS IDEA NOT FOR STEALING.

    Good Life magazine interviewed me (one of several) for a big piece on development and transportation, misbirth and we got a nice picture on Loop 360 last month. Now, diagnosis 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).

    • http://austinzoning.typepad.com/austincontrarian/ AC

      Well, you’re becoming the urbanist go-to guy. Were you able to get the podcast of your radio segment? (You know, I can’t listen to those guys for more than 5 minutes.)

    • http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/ mdahmus

      I subscribed to the KLBJ morning show podcast – and guess which is the only day they missed in the last 2 weeks?

    • http://www.sgml2.net DSK

      Finally, photodocumentary proof that you are not a Tahoe-haver!

    • breathesgelatin

      Great article! I’m going to bookmark it and spread it around as needed. 🙂