Could we turn this..
This morning, Alyson and I repeated her and Jacob's bike tour of the Highland, Crestview, and Brentwood neighborhoods so I could experience it first-hand. We stopped off at the Brentwood Social House for breakfast, made stops at Arlen's Market and Half Price Books, and went shopping for urban bikes to see what Austin currently has on offer.
The protected bike lanes along Arroyo Seco, Justin Lane, and the Red Line Trail are all amazing, and feel completely safe and comfortable, even in the summer heat, although we did feel a little lonely. Where were all the families and neighbors, cycling to the local restaurants, cafes and shops? Why weren't any families biking to church on this Sunday morning? The infrastructure is here; if you build it they will come, right?
We may have stumbled upon part of the answer when we went bike shopping and spoke to some of the local proprietors. When we asked about an easy-riding, durable, urban commuter bike with plenty of storage and lighting, we were mostly met with blank stares. There were performance road bikes a-plenty, as well as many options for fun beach cruisers, but idea of cycling primarily for everyday transportation seems to be a new concept here. We are relatively new here, but it seems like the Austin bicycle culture is mainly limited to either competitive racing or tourists cruising around Lake Austin. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with biking for exercise or for fun, but we here at URBS are interested in how to make Austin a city that allows biking and walking to be viable options for everyone, not just the Spandex wearers and downtown tourists. Also, as much as I love the new bike lanes that are popping up all over town, I wonder how much thought has been given to a comprehensive bike network that is based on where people already want to go.
We have been reading the book Copenhagenize by Mikael Colville-Andersen, which discusses cities around the world, and their successes and failures to integrate bicycle culture into their urban space. In Copenhagen in the 80's and 90's, urban planners like Jan Gehl and others actually collected data on where people moved throughout the city, and then designed a bicycle and pedestrian network that got people from point to point as safely, quickly, and directly as possible. Colville-Andersen calls these paths "desire lines": not some curvy, meandering path through neighborhoods and woods, but the primary paths that people wanted to move in to accomplish their daily tasks. This resulted in cycling being the most efficient and quick way to live life in the City, and was crucial for getting a critical mass of the population out of their cars and into the streets.
I'm not sure Austin will ever become an American Copenhagen, nor do I think it wants or needs to. But if we want to provide viable cycling options for any percentage of the general Austin population, we need to think about how to change the culture, not just the infrastructure.