As the year comes to an end, Austin on Two Wheels takes a look at the stories that defined 2010 for cycling in Austin. While this year was not as eventful as 2009 , much still happened to change the face of cycling in our town, some for good and some not.
5. Social cycling steps on the gas
Social Cycling Austin made our top 10 list in 2009 as a new and growing trend in cycling: biking purely as a social activity, not exercise. Social Cycling Austin routinely draws several hundred people every week for their signature Thursday Night Social Ride and were recognized this year with two Austin Chronicle Best of Austin Awards. The social cycling movement showed it was not a flash in the pan and grew more this year. Social Cycling added several new rides, a new social cycling group in Cedar Park and Leander got started, Austin Cycling Association added some social rides to their regular rides, and Austin on Two Wheels hosted two series of all inclusive, guided social rides . Social cycling looks here to stay.
4. Austin as hand built bike mecca of the Southwest
OK, that might be overstating things, but Austin’s presence as a place for locally made, hand built bikes grew by leaps and bounds this year. After a successful 2009 show, the Texas Custom Bicycle Show returned to Austin this year with over 2000 people attending the two day show of hand built bikes and cyclocross racing. In the mist of this growth, we got national recognition when the organizers of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show announced Austin as the 2011 location for their show.
3. Local bike shop closures
Not all news was good this year. We lost several local bike shops as victims of the Great Recession including South Side Bicycle Shop, VO2 Cycle, and Spin City Cycling. It was not all bad as Bicycle Sport Shop actually was able to expand this year with a new shop on Parmer Lane . Running a bike shop in good economic times is tough, and if you read Rick Vosper’s Bike 2.0 Blog , the industry certainly doesn’t make it any easier. Let’s hope we don’t lose any more shops in 2011.
2. The bicycle boulevard fracas
In 2009, the Austin City Council passed a ten year Master Bicycle Plan with much fanfare and bicycle community support. The plan was much more ambitious than previous plans with many more specifics and time tables for implementation. There was much rejoicing, however as I pointed out at the passage , the plan is just words on paper until it is implemented. Our city loves to pass plans and make bold vision statements. We are not so good on the follow through. The City of Austin Bicycle and Pedestrian Program had been chugging along with new bike facilities for the last few years when earlier this year, they hit their first major road block. One of the signature facilities of the Master Bicycle Plan was a downtown bicycle boulevard on Nueces Street . When wealthy property owns mounted a campaign of misinformation and threaten legal action, the City Council and staff backtracked and moved much of the facility to the less desirable Rio Grande Street. Bicycle advocates fell into two camps: those that viewed any facilities as a step forward and those that think we should build it right or not build it at all. The League of Bicycling Voters led the charge for the latter but enough advocates pushed for the former that Council and staff had the political cover to move ahead with the compromise plan. This episode is less important in the scheme of the facilities that will get built and more important in what it says about how we will address future facilities decisions that will involve the tough decisions to prepare our city for the future. The speed at which staff and Council abandoned good planning and the lack of unity within the bicycle advocacy community does not bode well for future conflicts.
1. 2010 transportation bonds pass
If the Bicycle Boulevard fight gets you down, this final story ought to restore your faith in the Austin community at large. In an election year that saw a conservative surge knock out one Austin State Representative and nearly take out another , Austin voters bucked the anti-government, Tea Party trend by passing $90 million in transportation bonds including completing the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail loop, $14 million in sidewalk improvements, and millions for bike infrastructure. The Mayor pledged that all the projects will be underway within two years with some starting this spring. The bonds passed despite a anti-bond campaign that singled out the spending on bicycle and pedestrian projects as foolish and asked why the money wasn’t being spent on more facilities for automobiles. As a counter to the Bicycle Boulevard controversy, staff and City Council should put more trust in the Austin citizens at large in the face of very vocal, but very small minorities of nah sayers.