Every day while I sit in my car pushing through Austin’s traffic like a salmon in spring, I stare out my window and watch helmeted figures whiz by on their bicycles.
From my steel confinement, I initially experience vicarious anxiety: Yikes! To bike past these crazy drivers, you’d have to be pretty brave.
Next comes awe: Ugh, trekking up those hills in this humidity would be a pain.
And finally as these bicyclists ride off into the distance and I’m left in the same gridlocked position I was in five minutes ago, I feel sheer jealousy. I want nothing more than to abandon my car, feel the wind in my hair and actually reach my final destination.
Though bicycling in Austin is often easier said than done, Bike Austin is working tirelessly to make changes for the better. This local advocacy group is already changing the way the city interacts with bikes.
Imagine Austin With Less Traffic and More Bikes
Recently, a city-wide poll revealed that 50% of Austinites are interested in using a bike as a major form of transportation. What’s stopping them? Bike lane problems.
If you’ve ever ridden a bike in Austin, you may have noticed that you can be peddling along a wide bike lane, only to cross an intersection and be spit out onto a major street with no bike designation in sight.
And even when there are bike lanes, they are often only separated from moving vehicles by a single white line, or maybe a few plastic bumps–nothing that would stop a distracted driver from inching too close.
Miller Nuttle, Advocacy Director at Bike Austin, says what Austin needs to become truly bike-friendly are protected bike lanes. Protected bike lanes provide a physical barrier between bikes and cars, making the road safer for motorists, cyclists and even pedestrians.
Currently, only five percent of Austinites ride bikes. This is more than other large cities, but still not enough. I would love to be someone who helps grow that percentage. I have a bicycle that sits in my room and sadly collects dust. I take it out from time to time, but can’t shake the intimidation factor of riding alongside cars driven by people who might not be paying attention to an unassuming bicyclist.
When Cyclists Are Protected, Everyone Wins
Bicycling isn’t only a form of transportation, but it’s a culture, a way of socializing. Bike lanes make roads safer, more social and more economically successful.
According to Nuttle, motorists are more likely to drive more calmly and with more awareness when bikes are around. When traffic is calmer, pedestrians feel safer and walking becomes more popular. In turn, foot traffic creates more business for local establishments along the way.
We can all picture that store or restaurant that always catches our eye as we drive past. But we’ve never stopped because the idea of trying to find parking is such a nightmare. If we left our cars at home more often and went around on two wheels, exploring the city would be more manageable, and those local businesses would get the attention they crave.
Bike Austin Seeks Support Two Wheels at a Time
Currently, Bike Austin is advocating for a change in the city’s Bicycle Master Plan. If passed in the upcoming Bond Election, the amended plan would fund the creation of 220 miles of protected and connected bike lanes throughout the city, including 50 miles of off-road trails. This would be an enormous victory for the advocacy group, whose primary goal is to raise awareness, and make bicycling safer and more accessible.
The dedicated Bike Austin team spends a great deal of time interacting with the public, trying to educate voters about the importance of bike safety and an improved Bicycle Master Plan. They also encourage Austinites to vote for city council candidates who support a safer bicycling and walking infrastructure with the I Bike I Walk I Vote Pledge.
In a recent victory, Bike Austin helped bring $500,000 worth of funding for bike lanes and street repair to East Riverside Drive and a stretch of Pleasant Valley in Dove Springs. A large percentage of the population living in these areas depends on bicycling as their primary means of transportation.
Bikes, Buses and Beginners
When Bike Austin is not trying to pass bills, their staff and network of more than 900 volunteers tackle barriers to confident and safe bicycling, one at a time. The team offers training to every Capital Metro bus driver, so they know how to interact with bicycles along their routes.
Bike Austin also provides classes for bike enthusiasts of all experience levels. From adults who have never ridden a bike, to people like me who know how to ride, but need a bit of guidance. There are classes on how to navigate traffic and how to ride in large groups.
Become an Advocate
There are numerous ways to get involved in Bike Austin and the journey to make Austin a more bike-friendly place. According to Nettle, one way to show city representatives that you care is to become a contributing member of Bike Austin. If a representative sees that 200 people in her district believe so much in an issue that they’ve paid to support it, she’ll feel more confident about receiving support when it comes time to vote on bicycle-related issues.
You can also participate in an upcoming rally. On April 26, 2016, Bike Austin is co-hosting a rally in front of City Hall to support the creation of protected bike lanes. Anyone interested is welcome to attend. The event will also serve as a memorial to those who have been killed in traffic as a cyclist or pedestrian.
Visit Bike Austin’s website to learn more about biking in Austin, becoming a member and the city’s Bicycle Master Plan.
If you’re interested in learning more about repairing bikes or want to purchase a bike of your own, check out these local bike shops:
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