The lane is as important as the route

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.