Hello Bikeness My Old Friend: Part III, Or Getting Your Money’s Worth From Google Maps

(Overview Post Here)

In the last installment we ended up on Polyanna Avenue, where certain urbanists always live despite constantly being wrong.

The pictures in this post come from the commute home on Wednesday October 8th (and I went back and filled some images in the first section as well, taken on this same day).

Now for the next bit. Heading from north to south; you basically need to get from Walnut Creek across Braker Lane and your endpoint should be Georgian at Rundberg (Georgian, give or take, is the start of the long bike route that turns into the two lane part of Guadalupe).

Here’s what Google recommends as the route for the whole section.

Route map from Walnut Creek to Georgian/Rundberg, original Google version
Looks chill. Wonder if it works.

The northern part of this route matches Google’s recommendations. Whitewing is a nice slow uphill with plenty of shade and interesting houses to look at. Must have been a nice place at some point before the I-35 noise got to where it is now. Then, you end up having to take a sharp left, pedal a short deathly uphill (I’m a wimp for hills), to get to the final bit of Polyanna that takes you to Braker. Here’s some shots along the way…

View of conditions on Whitewing Ave
Typical view on Whitewing
Looking back north on Whitewing
Looking back north on Whitewing
View of hill up Thrush
Short sharp hill up Thrush. M1EK hate hills.

Crossing Braker is not a joyful experience. You need to get to the other side and start on Middle Fiskville Road, which is 100 feet or so west of the I-35 frontage road. You have two options here; either go to the frontage road and cross there (if you decide to cross there, do it as a pedestrian and then you have to do some sidewalk riding to get back west), or wait for a break in traffic and cut across to the median opening, then wait until the rush hour traffic completely stops and wind through the cars to the bike lane and use it for about 50 feet east. This actually worked out better than the frontage road option as it didn’t require any sidewalk riding but YMMV. Without the rush hour stoppage of the cars I think the pedestrian option is better.

Southbound Pollyana looking at Braker
Lovely view approaching Braker on Pollyana

Then you get a brief fast run down Middle Fiskville Road, parallel and close to I-35. Wave at me as you drive. This is OK except on most days you’re gonna lose most of your velocity to a headwind and have to go to granny gear to finish the uphill (again I’m a baby on hills). Right turn on Grady Dr, left turn on Brownie Dr, usually cars in the way that prevent an easy transition here.

View of Middle Fiskville Road southbound approaching Grady
Middle Fiskville near end of uphill (facing southbound, nearing Grady)
Middle Fiskville looking back (northbound) towards Braker
Middle Fiskville looking back (northbound) towards Braker

Brownie is a downhill through areas that are the ANC’s stereotypical density nightmare (car-dependent fourplexes that have gone to pot). Still better than riding up north though. Frustratingly, you lose the ability to coast on a downhill due to a dumbass 4-way stop (this happens a lot more later). No pictures here.

Then, Google fails you. The recommended route has you going through “Brownie Neighborhood Park” which doesn’t really exist. Instead there’s a road which heads to a closed and locked gate for the charter school that took over the old Showplace Lanes bowling alley. No way through here; backtrack and ask how much you paid for these directions.

annotated google map showing closed section of road
thanks, obama
View down the actually closed road that Google recommended
Don’t believe the directions here. This is a dead-end unless you are going to pick up a kid at the charter school! And the gate was closed/locked both times so I have no idea what times it’s actually open.

Instead, you have to continue and turn on Oriole, and I was prepared to run THIS route based on pre-exploring the route in my company car previously:

Second google desktop recs
Second google rec has you going down N Creek Dr and then Rundberg. But the mobile directions on the bike take you on route 370. Weird.

Oddly enough, when on the bike, you instead get recommended Route 370 in the city bike network, which requires a short stub of sidewalk + grass into Walnut Creek Elementary. (I have no idea why the desktop directions don’t let you do this; I’ve helpfully drawn the difference; but I will eventually try the Google route as honestly the Rundberg traffic heading west in the afternoon isn’t too bad to scare me away from a right turn and a quick move to the left turn lane, just haven’t tried it yet).

Annotated map of actual final route I took through Walnut Creek Elementary
Why, google desktop, won’t you let me do what I want here?

The elementary school is likely locked up most of the school day, so this is not an option unless you are going home about when I did both times so far (about 4:45 by this point). Short section where you are like “thanks for routing me in the mud and grass and hope I didn’t take a road bike, google and the City of Austin bike route map”, and then you end up on the road that turns into Georgian. Aaaah.

view down dead-end street leading to elementary school
Bike route 370 takes you through what sure looks like a dead-end…
sidewalk for route 370
Nothing says “bike route” like being forced onto a narrow sidewalk…
looking back at sharp sidewalk turn on 370
Nice sharp turn you have to navigate to get on this, errr, bike route
dirt path at Walnut Creek elementary
Hope you weren’t riding a road bike today!
Gates at Georgian entrance to Walnut Creek Elementary
Probably not a great general-purpose bike route if they lock these gates during the day…

Last sections later this week.

Hello Bikeness My Old Friend: Part 1 of the commute home: Our Fifth Second Downtown Really Sucks!

(Overview Post here).

Note: There really is a group pushing “Parmer!” as our seventh third downtown or some shit.

Anyways, here’s the first part of the trip1

image of first third of map

First few parts of this route are standard Suburban Hellscape. Exit huge parking lot, turn onto road with 60 mph design speed (but at least a relatively OK right lane). Wait on left edge of right lane at very long light at Parmer while beckoning scared suburbanites to turn right on red past you. Continue across on briefly civilized BUT STILL HOT AND WINDY 4-then-2 lane road past a long-abandoned subsidized housing project (not seen in StreetView but trust me it looks like The Walking Dead), then turn on the two oddly disconnected bike lanes2, and then OOPS I-35 WHAT THE HELL DO WE DO NOW?

yager looking westbound across II-35
atsa lot of concrete

Short explainer: Yes, you have to go on I-35 here. The other ‘options’ are: Go north to Parmer and then navigate the I-35 and Lamar intersections and then ride all the way to like Metric, and then go down Metric a long ways. This portion of Parmer is ugly and hugely congested and will kill you (and the portion of Parmer east of I-35 is even worse than those pictures above).

Or, you can take Yager to the dead-end at Lamar, then ride in the (not wide) right lane south past Walnut Creek, and then up a hill where you’ll be going 2 mph while cars pass you at 60. Again, no shoulder. No sidewalk. No nothing. Just likely death, even by my standards.

North map with skull indicators on Parmer and Lamar
avoid the skulls if you want to live

(Alternative exists which sort of combines those two – go on Lamar for a shorter time, then cut through Walnut Creek Park to eventually get to Metric. I’ll do this some day just to see what it’s like but I suspect it adds about 30 minutes to the trip).

Now I have a history of being up for almost anything to avoid riding on a sidewalk. Hell, I rode a portion of the 183 frontage road to work and another portion home from work on various commutes for years. But this portion of I-35 is what finally broke me. The recommendation above from El Googs aside, I rode the sidewalk from the corner of Tech Ridge/Yager to a parking lot I could bail through, and then again for a short stretch, only to go out of my way on Park-35 Circle, then again on the sidewalk to cross Walnut Creek, and then, THEN, FINALLY, off the frontage and into an oddly disconnected but sort of nice neighborhood. So basically those stretches above that show the route on the I-35 frontage are about 1/2 parking lot (most of the first bit) and 1/2 sidewalk (all of the part after Park-35 circle and a little bit before it).

All of that done against a sticky sweaty headwind (at least the 2nd day).

If this was the beginning of YOUR bike commute and you didn’t have a history of being aggressively stubborn, you’d probably have quit. But then you hit the corner of Wren and the next street and you get the feeling that things can only go up from here…

Polyanna Avenue
gonna use this image fourteen more times this month I bet

This part of the trip is about 1/4 of the miles and about 90% of the stress of the entire commute. Next up: Getting from the bad stuff to the good stuff, with a couple of hiccups.

Here’s some images, taken later on October 10th (on the 3rd trip home in which I took pictures for both the 1st and 2nd portions of this route):

bike rack
bike rack sitch h/t to caleb
phone on bike
son’s bike has a rig for a phone which is good because this route was friggin’ complicated
ugly abandoned buildings
scenic abandoned (purportedly subsidized/income restricted) housing complex along McCallen Pass
TCEQ entrance
know how you can tell the TCEQ is a joke? I dunno, maybe the fact that it’s located on I-35 in a part you have to access via SIDEWALK…
mangled guardrail at sidewalk over Walnut Creek
wondering how bad things have to be for M1EK to take the sidewalk? wonder no more

  1. I’ve dragged the route to modify to closer to what I actually did; the recommended route from Google is slightly worse than this, even, if you can imagine, but is slightly less wiggly 

  2. useless because they don’t go to anything but the I-35 frontage road; remember that Yager dead-ends at Lamar which doesn’t even have a shoulder OR a sidewalk 

Hello Bikeness My Old Friend Part II: Overview

Day 2 is in the bag. I’ll still have to explain later why I’m doing this and why now and whatnot. But the 2nd day of riding is in the books. This will serve as an overview and intro, and yes, I’m aware how self-indulgent this sounds even for me. But then I remember that I still get an email once a year or so about directions I wrote for a bike commute to IBM twenty years ago and I resolve to power through. Some images added on a later commute (October 8th).

Plus, we’re doomed on transit, because AURA are evil lying asshole idiots. So biking is now our only hope.

I work at a horrible suburban cube factory on McCallen Pass north of Parmer and east of I-35. Basically, a mile east of I-35 and a mile north of Parmer, give or take. This is, spoiler alert, not a great place to start.

The trip up to the office is pretty easy though. Go out to Guadalupe and pick up the frequent 1 which comes every 10 minutes go a few blocks further south to the frequent 801 and ride it all the way to directly in front of my office a horrible suburban park-and-ride one mile from my office. Since my horrible suburban cube factory doesn’t have showers, in the morning I must do this so as to not destroy my image of being a respectable manager with my cow orkers. Pause for laughter.

The morning trip is easy. Takes a lot longer than driving the company car, but I can fart around on the phone. No big whoop.

Here’s what the trip all the way home in the afternoon looks like (this is, give or take, the route). I actually had to have the map up both times1 so far because there’s a hell of a lot of non-obvious squiggling back and forth north of Rundberg… Also note that alternates include going WAY THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY to my old friend Shoal Creek Boulevard, amazingly.

overview from Google Maps

Spoiler alert: On my first day riding this trip it took me 75 minutes, and that was with a tailwind. Today it took about 68 minutes with a gross headwind, so I guess I’m quickly improving or possibly failing to count correctly. This is the longest ride I have done since 2006 or so.

This commute has one huge problem and then some unattractive parts after that. The huge problem is getting across I-35 and Walnut Creek. The hike and bike trail promised in about 1749 for Walnut Creek is still just a dotted line in this part of town, so no help there. The parallel routes to I-35 are, uh, problematic. North Lamar is a horrible stroad with no shoulders or sidewalks. The closest long-running parallel on the east side is Dessau, which is even worse, and too far out of the way. So the first third of this commute is where the exciting parts are, and in my next post I’ll zoom into that section identified in the inset below as “the part where you wish you had given up”. Notice the alternates above basically require one to go up to Parmer, which is not a fun prospect in this part of town (I did ride Parmer from Mopac out past 620 in a prior life but never from Mopac to I-35 for damn good reason).

Here’s the overview again, this time annotated in a way that today’s youth will understand and doubtlessly flock to blogging in response to how tuned in your author is to their ways.

Drake memes for idiot teens
Drake says no to Parmer

Anyways, tomorrow we zoom in on the horribad first third. But then, THEN:

Then you hit this intersection and you get an overwhelming sense that everything is going to be OK. (picture from first day).

Polyanna Avenue
AURA membership meeting location

Also, this is what I looked like while typing this post on my porch at 3:30 Friday afternoon. Try to restrain yourselves, it’s important.

sweaty old man on porch


  1. on my son’s bike, which I am still using, he has a little phone holder doodad which I paid for and now feel like a genius for suggesting 

TFT: Hello Bikeness My Old Friend

Due to needing to work up my stamina for a secret work-related project, and I’ll explain the reason I feel free to resume biking in a later post perhaps, today I used my son’s bike and the 801 to get to my job in the horrible suburban cube factory.1 Attached are minimally edited notes I took along the way, with a couple of photographic bits of evidence.

7:00 get on son’s bike, ride about 5 blocks to the Hyde Park Station. Easy and comfortable despite massive humidity.

7:03 arrive at stop. An 801 is pulled over at the gas station 100 feet north of me while the driver gets coffee. Next arrival is in 7 mins according to sign.

7:06 changes from 3 mins to DUE immediately.

7:08 bus here. 1 got off. 1 other bike on front. When I got on total of 8 pax left on bus. Paid with 5 quarters like a BOSS. Stopped here to debunch apparently. (waits 2 minutes).

7:10 pulls away. Wonder if debunching is required only because of previous drivers coffee break

Triangle at 7:13 1 on 0 off.

7:15 stopped at light at Houston. No station yet!

7:16 Brentwood 1 off 1 on

7:18 oh god it’s so bumpy approaching Justin Ln

7:20 Justin 1 on 0 off

7:22 unfortunate diversion up above mainlanes to hit transfer stop. Looking longingly at freeway below.

Very awkward diversion into NLTC. Bus loops through and goes back southbound on frontage to make stop. Wonder how people many times people waiting here have boarded the bus going the wrong way. (just says Tech Ridge or Southpark).

7:25: 4 or 5 got off here and nobody boarded. Now bus struggling to change lanes to turn back around for NB. Weird route through NLTC and indirect cost of turns probably adds up to almost 5 minutes.

7:28 at new stop without branding (Fairfield?). 1 got on.

7:30 rundberg. 2 got off 2 got on.

I think I’m the only one to have paid cash so far.

7:32 light stops us briefly short of Masterson station. 733 we stop. 1 off.

7:35 Chinatown. Annoying lady passenger yelling into phone. She gets off and 1 other. 0 board. Short wait for red light.

Now in very long stretch with no stops.

7:38 slow and stop for queue behind light at Yager. Lots of cars turning right here. Transit priority note. Probably much worse 15 mins ago.

7:40-7:43 Wait to turn right on Parmer and slog through I35 ramp traffic. Bus turning left on i35 (I swear they used to go to McCallen).

7:43 crossing bridge. Must be a fun turn for driver. Mention this is the way I go too.

Driving fast on frontage and shaking. 7:44 turn on Center Ridge. Didn’t take special bus entrance (exit?) instead went up Center Line. Did go in special bus entrance off Center Line. Sooo bumpy.

7:46 pull up and deboard. I think there’s 3 passengers left including me.

Bike in front of 801 at Tech Ridge

7:54 bike up to my horrible office building (much more difficult and sweaty than the first ride on the other end), sweaty and triumphant.

Friend of the crackplog Caleb asked about time and here’s the scoop. Wait time is the average based on headway (I waited a little less this morning). I used actuals for the other components.

Good news, though! According to this minimalist but correct commute calculator, the trip in the morning saved a whopping 36 cents!2


  1. since there is no shower in our new facility I’m taking the 801 up most of the way and riding all the way home this evening; hopefully not through pouring rain 

  2. bad news: I have a company car so I wouldn’t be paying the gas or the tire cost, so actually this trip cost me $1.25 more but an average person driving my current car would have saved the entire 36 cents 

PROS AND CONS OF BIKE LANES – 15 years ago

Just found this encapsulated in one of Michael Bluejay’s constellation of web pages and thought I should copy it back here since I wrote it… and it holds true today just as much as in the early aughts. I sure did like numbered lists back then, huh?

Source: https://bicycleuniverse.info/bicycle-lanes-no-brainer/

PROS AND CONS OF BIKE LANES

There are no good studies proving that bike lanes or wide curb lanes are better than the other. ALL theories you hear on which one is better are resting on somebody’s opinion. [Updated, Feb. 2007: A few months ago, a study did come out which claimed to show a non-trivial safety enhancement for marked bike lanes vs. wide curb lanes.]

then some more text by me:

I’m one of the people who thinks we overprescribe bike lanes, but it bugs me that so many Forsterites are so hostile to them in general. Both bike lanes and wide curb lanes have their place.

I’m operating under the assumption that we’re comparing bike lanes to wide curb lanes; not narrow curb lanes. The theory that we can reengineer the 98% of Austin that needs it to a grid pattern like Hyde Park where we don’t need EITHER facility is just ludicrous.

My general feeling on when bike lanes are appropriate:

  1. Where there are lots of inexperienced bicyclists
  2. Where speed differential is fairly high
  3. Where volume of bicyclists is very high

My general feeling on when wide curb lanes are appropriate:

  1. Where speed differential is lower
  2. Where bicycle volume (all types) is moderate to low

Where not to put bike lanes:

  1. Low-speed or congested roadways where turning volume is very high
  2. Residential streets (NOTE: DESPITE NEIGHBORHOOD MISREPRESENTATIONS, “RESIDENTIAL STREET” IS A CATEGORY OF ROADWAY SEVERAL LEVELS BELOW SHOAL CREEK BOULEVARD).
  3. Where they can’t be swept or otherwise maintained
  4. Where you can’t commit to “no parking”.

Things I believe that are PROs for bike lanes:

  1. Bike lanes attract new cyclists; wide curb lanes do not. I think this is self-evident. Patrick agreed, and so do most people who actually work in the field (not the people who commute and criticize; but the people who are paid to try to increase cycling in their particular city).
  2. No amount of education so far has been able to match up against the bike lane stripe as a way to get people out on their bikes. Of course, this may be a good thing if you think we don’t need more uneducated cyclists out there.
  3. You can’t attract new cyclists to a road like Jollyville without a bike lane stripe. Period. The automobile traffic moves too fast. A wide curb lane simply doesn’t provide the space that new cyclists think they need in a way which makes sense to them, coming from the world of the automobile. (We don’t make the right-hand lane up a hill twice as wide so trucks can pull to the side; we stripe another lane).
  4. If you accept riding on shoulders on 360, you should accept riding in bike lanes on Jollyville. The argumentative convulsions some Forsterites go through to defend shoulders from the same logic they use against bike lanes are breathtaking. (They do this, I think, because they know that even most Forsterites don’t want to share a lane at 65; the same anti-bike-lane reasoning with a few exceptions would logically apply to shoulder-riding).
  5. Most cyclists for whom bike facilities are built are not the expert cyclists that you and I might be. They are instead the novice cyclist that I used to be (and presumably you used to be).
  6. Even on low-speed roadways, utility for the population AS A WHOLE sometimes demands the channelization of low-speed traffic. For instance, Speedway and Duval north of UT – car speeds are 25-30; bike speeds are 10; this isn’t normally enough speed differential to justify separation, but the volumes of cars and bikes are both high, and the corridor’s thoroughput for both cars AND bikes is thus improved by partial separation of the modes.
  7. (this is from the link I gave a few days ago) – it is possible to have a better average passing distance on a roadway with a wide curb lane, but still have a better overall level of safety in passing distance with a bike lane. Whether this happens in practice is debatable – but it is a fact that you shouldn’t use “average passing distance” to compare the facilities.
  8. The idea (stolen from a semi-Forsterite) that we can easily get roads restriped with wide curb lanes is in reality not true. If you want space for bikes to be taken from car lanes, it generally has to be a bike lane. (I don’t know why this is, but it seems to be true, although Austin has an exception or two here).

CONS for bike lanes

  1. Car drivers do tend to think you need to stay in the bike lane (even when obstructed, unsafe, whatever – they usually can’t see the obstruction). Also, car drivers often think you should only ride on roads that have bike lanes. This problem exists with wide curb lanes too, by the way.
  2. Bike lanes are theoretically more obstructed than wide curb lanes. I don’t believe this to be true, but most people do, so I’m listing it here. For instance, Bull Creek doesn’t seem any less obstructed north of 45th where there are wide curb lanes. In Austin, at least, BOTH facilities need vast amounts of sweeping which they’re just not getting.
  3. Sometimes cyclists will stay in a bike lane when they need to leave it due to an obstruction or intersection approach. This is a sign of bad bike lane design in most cases and can be overcome, but is hard to get right, judging from how often it’s done wrong.
  4. Sometimes cyclists will stay in a bike lane when they should be leaving it to turn (the “turn left out of the far right lane” phenomenon). The problem here is that I see this happen on wide curb lanes fairly often as well. The only solution here is heavy enforcement.
  5. Bike lanes supposedly encourage wrong-way cycling. (Whatever happened to painting arrows, by the way? Jollyville didn’t get them…) – again, I see this often with wide curb lanes too. Heavy enforcement and more arrows.

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?

More depreciation nonsense for cars

I’ve covered this before, but it’s popped up again, thanks to The Overhead Wire and others. A short summary:

You will not save much money by leaving your car parked in the driveway and taking the bus. Yes, the IRS allows you to deduct based on a formula that includes depreciation – because it’s the only way to give you any credit for having your personal vehicle tied up for business use. It does not under any circumstance mean that depreciation is mostly a function of miles driven – because it is definitely NOT; depreciation has more to do with age than use.

The last time I did this, I ran the numbers and estimated that depreciation due to age is roughly ten times the depreciation due to miles in a high-mileage scenario.

The summary is: in most cities, you will not save much money, if any, by leaving your car at home and taking the bus or train to work – unless you’re unlucky enough to have to pay a lot of money to park. And, of course, you have to have unbundled parking costs (pay per day rather than per month).

The converse of this, though, is: You will save a surprisingly large amount of money by going from two cars to one car. Insurance. Registration. Car payments. Most of the depreciation bill. Maintenance (like depreciation, most maintenance is a function of time rather than miles).
Alternatively, if your company opens up an office in one of the few parts of the suburbs to which even I can’t tolerate the bus commute, you face spending a LOT more money going back up to two cars. That’s where to focus the energy – not on the “leave your car at home today and save N bucks” argument – because N is likely too small to be worth the trouble.
For my trip, for instance, google doesn’t have cost figures (must not be hooked up to Capital Metro’s farebox) – but I can give an estimate from my own commute calculator which shows that the bus trip cost $1.00 round-trip (allocate 50 cents each way) compared to $1.32 for the car (66 cents each way). That means that I can save 16 cents by spending an hour and forty-five minutes on the bus instead of the 15-30 minute drive, which is only a good deal if the value of my time is at or below 15 cents / hour.

SCB: Speed Is Not The Problem

A lot of folks (especially Stuart Werbner and Preston Tyree, who normally do a lot of good work for the cycling community) fell hard for the position that “the problem on Shoal Creek Boulevard isn’t the bike lanes, it’s the traffic speed”. Since this position continues to rear its ugly head in discussions before and after yesterday’s meeting, I thought I’d address it here.

The key is that all other things being equal, higher car speeds do indeed result in less safety for nearby cyclists and pedestrians. This is unquestionably true.

The problem is that all things aren’t equal. This picture shows a cyclist trying to pass a parked vehicle at the same time he is being passed by a moving vehicle. It doesn’t matter if the passing vehicle is going 45 or 25; if the cyclist veers out unexpectedly into the through lane and is hit, they’re in bad, bad, BAD shape. (Note: you have to imagine that the stripe between the 4-foot ‘bike lane’ and 6-foot ‘parking lane’ isn’t there to match the current conditions on SCB).

Likewise, this infamous accident happened despite the fact that the conflicting vehicle’s speed was 0 MPH and the vehicle which ended up killing her wasn’t going very fast either.

On the other hand, hundreds of cyclists use Loop 360 every day with no conflicts with motorists. Automobile speed in the through lanes of that roadway is typically around 60 MPH.

What can we conclude? Traffic engineering seeks to avoid presenting users with unexpected conflicts; and having a cyclist veer out into the travel lane when the motorist in that lane thinks they’re not going to have to is the very definition of unexpected. A safe pass by a car going 40 is far preferrable to a collision with a car going 30.

How does this apply to Shoal Creek Boulevard? It’s clear to me at least that the original city plan probably wouldn’t have reduced automobile speeds much, but definitely would have resulted in fewer conflicts with cyclists who need to leave the bike lane to get around obstructions. As on Loop 360, if you rarely need to leave the bicycle facility, you don’t need to worry as much about the speed of the cars in the lane next to you.

Another thing Preston in particular got wrong was the theory that riding on Shoal Creek is ‘easy’ once you ‘learn’ how to pass. Even for an experienced cyclist like myself, the conflict with motorists during a pass is irritating (the motorists don’t understand why I go into the travel lane and are sometimes aggressive in expressing their displeasure). For a novice cyclist, it’s likely to be so intimidating that they will (unwisely) stay in the far-too-narrow space between the white stripe and the parked car, and someday soon somebody’s going to get killed that way.
Finally, of critical importance to the City of Austin is the following paragraph, excerpted from a detailed analysis of the Laird case in Boston:

The City might be held negligent for creating what is called in legal language an “attractive nuisance” — that is, a baited trap. Ample evidence exists that the City of Cambridge had been notified of the hazards of bike lanes in the “door zone” before the Massachusetts Avenue lane was striped, yet the City continued to stripe them.

This is basically why Shoal Creek Boulevard doesn’t have bike lanes today, it has a “multipurpose shoulder”. Unknown whether this will do enough to shield Austin from liability in the event of an accident, but cyclists ought to think about this when you decide to ride on this facility.

Shoal Creek Meeting Is Done

Largely as expected – council members want to remove the islands, and then we’re going to talk some more about what to do. Some indications that they’re either not willing to admit or not capable of understanding that a compromise solution is impossible for this roadway. Neighborhood people largely against the curb extensions but still adamant that parking on both sides must be preserved — which means that we’re back to bike lanes with parking in them, hich pretty much the entire rest of the world views as an oxymoron.

Here’s the letter I just sent to the three council members on the subcommittee:

Councilmembers:
I watched most of the meeting today while working at my desk, and had a couple of comments:

1. 2-way on-street bike lanes are not accepted in traffic engineering circles and have not for quite some time. They will not be an option for Shoal Creek Boulevard unless you want to override your staff.

2. Bike lanes down the median – same story.

3. A reminder: We already know there is no way to reconcile “parking on both sides” with “car-free bike lanes” on this street. There is insufficient width. Either one or more bike lanes must be abandoned, or one or more sides of parking must be abandoned.

Comments that you made in regards to #3 were especially disappointing – the failure of the previous council was in attempting to avoid this painful choice, which MUST be made. EITHER car-free bike lanes OR parking on both sides – you cannot have both. I would argue that the correct choice is to preserve on-street parking on ONE side of Shoal Creek Boulevard – this is not an unreasonable imposition on residents (my own neighborhood has highly restricted on-street parking; many streets allow it on one side and a few not at all).

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
(old email address removed)

Update from 2017: Yes, some people are actually pushing for 2-way one-side bike lanes on this roadway now, incredibly, the “bike lanes as stupid glorified sidewalks that are actually more dangerous even if they don’t feel more dangerous” fad is back!.

Letter to Council on Shoal Creek Debacle

A subcommittee of the City Council is getting some kind of an update on the Shoal Creek Debacle. I just sent this email to them.


Dear Mayor and councilmembers:
My name is Mike Dahmus, and I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000 through 2005. I cast the lone vote in opposition to the plan which (with modifications) ended up being constructed on Shoal Creek Boulevard. During my terms on the UTC, I served as the lone member who utilized both an automobile and a bicycle to commute to work — i.e., I’m not a pure cyclist, and I’m not a pure driver. I used Shoal Creek Boulevard as part of my bicycle commute for years and occasionally drove it as well.

I understand you’re going to address this issue in a subcommittee meeting this week, and I thought I should comment.
For those of you who don’t bicycle; Shoal Creek Boulevard is, without hyperbole, the most important route in the city for bicycle commuters. (It has a lot of recreational traffic as well, of course). It forms the spine of the route between northwest Austin and central Austin – alternate routes either are far too hilly for normal use (to the west) or do not connect with routes which can get cyclists across the Mopac/183/360 barrier.

Years back, Shoal Creek’s turn came up in the “let’s do what every other city does and put up no-parking signs in our bike lanes” process. Since the bike program staff at the time knew that Shoal Creek had long blocks and (some) short driveways, they offered a compromise plan which would have allowed parking on one side of the road, with smaller-than-typical bike lanes on both sides. This plan was opposed by the neighborhoods, for whom on-street parking was the priority over through cyclist travel.

Years ago, thanks to neighborhood pressure, Shoal Creek Boulevard was reclassified from a minor arterial to a residential collector (an inappropriately low classification by engineering standards). This allowed the neighborhood to then push back against that eminently reasonable plan to allow parking only on one side of the street (neighborhood partisans could declare that SCB was a ‘residential street’ and that therefore parking was more important than through traffic). The bike program plan was rejected thanks to a few neighbors who valued both-sides on-street parking more than cyclist safety.

At this point, as I’m sure many of you remember, the neighborhoods got Councilmember Goodman’s approval to start a planning process which ended with the absurd plan by Charles Gandy which none of your engineers would sign their name to, and which made Austin a laughingstock in other cities around the country. The modified version of that plan (removing the stripe between the ‘bike lane’ and the parking area) is nearly as ludicrous, but since it’s not marked as a ‘bike lane’ is nominally acceptable to engineers, I suppose.

The Shoal Creek Boulevard plan as implemented is a liability problem for the city of Austin (although not as bad as the original Gandy “10-4-6” plan would have been, since city engineers were smart enough to remove the “bike lane” designation). Sufficient space does not exist for a cyclist to safely pass parked cars and remain in the bike lane, yet drivers in the through traffic lane expect them to do so. This is a textbook example of bad traffic engineering (when one street user performs a safe and legal manuever, another street user should not be caught by surprise).

This isn’t about the curb islands, by the way. The safety obstacle for cyclists is parked cars. The curb islands must be passed in a fairly narrow space, but there’s zero chance that one of them is going to open their door while you’re passing it.

But what the curb islands and striping HAVE done is encourage more people to park on the street; increasing the frequency of the street user conflict which will eventually result in a serious injury – a car passing a cyclist while the cyclist is passing a parked car.

This entire process was nothing more than an abrogation of responsibility by the City Council. Your job is to make decisions, not to encourage a make-believe consensus when none can be found. There simply is no way to reconcile both-sides on-street parking with car-free bike lanes (and, by the way, the rest of the world views parking in bike lanes as an oxymoron). A decision either way would have been better than the mess you left us with — and cyclists are getting hurt already as a result.

I urge you to learn from this horrible mistake, and remember that your job is to make the tough decisions. Shoal Creek Boulevard has already been ruined for bicycling commuters – please don’t take this precedent anywhere else.

Regards,
Michael E. Dahmus