Lovely Austin Park and Sara YoungLovely Austin park and Sara Young.
AUSTIN, TX - My bike ride from my temporary house in East Austin to Walnut Creek Park illustrates perfectly the incredibly difficult situation that is bicycle commuting in Austin.
Google maps told me that my trip would be a mere 11 mile, one hour and ten minute bike ride to my destination, Walnut Creek Park, so I set out an hour and a half before my set arrival time in order to ensure that I would not be late. As I rode my comfortable but strangely inefficient bicycle along the back roads of Austin, sun screen on all exposed limbs, hot plastic helmet securely fastened around my chin, winding around long curves and turning down streets with names like Sprinkle Cutoff, I began to wonder just exactly where I was.
To call the route circuitous would be an understatement. I ended up going through neighborhoods, rural areas, and ended up in, of all places, a gigantic strip mall by the highway before I finally made my way to the park. The only reason I even made it is that I threw out my Google directions and used my phone’s navigation app to get me there.
I arrived sweaty and slightly annoyed, absolutely certain that I would not be going back the way I came. I had to cross a freeway in order to get to the park. In Austin, this is just something cyclists do, either ride on or across freeways.
I met a man at the park who told me that the park was his favorite place. He was shocked to hear that I rode my bike the whole way. He expected me to have put my bicycle on a bus for a big chunk of that trip.
After sitting in the park for a while, he took me on the trails. Walnut Creek Park is not only a park; it is also a very popular mountain biking destination. Unfortunately, I was riding my comfortable but strangely inefficient bike. I ended up walking it up and down over most of the steep hills and holding on for dear life as I steered my inefficient contraption over the “easier” paths. Though uncomfortable, much more enjoyable than the epic and challenging journey to the park.
It has come down to expectations and my ability to lower them. Austin is not a good bicycle commuting town. Due to the heat and the presence of so many freeways in and around the city, most of the people who commute any distance use the bus system for significant parts of their journey.
I have to stop treating Austin like it is Portland. There is only one of those, and the longer I am away from it, the more I appreciate it.
Sara Young is a writer, artist, cyclist, amateur yogi and avid poetry appreciator. Originally from Chicago, IL, and most recently from Portland, OR, Sara is presently traveling the US, working on her project, 25 Days, in which she travels to 15 cities around the US, talking to people about their favorite places and bicycle commuting. She hopes to create a more bike-friendly society through advocacy, and a more peaceful world through listening.