South by Southwest is here in full force. For those of you reading this blog who don’t live in Austin, TX – think of it as Mardi Gras with fewer beads and more intelligence. I can’t think of any other festival where you can catch both Justin Bieber and Edward Snowden within a 24 hour span. For many locals the festival means a week and a half of hibernation or rediscovering chain restaurants on the north side of of city. That’s at least partially due to the fact that the core of the city is completely gridlocked and so those who haven’t figured out how to get around without a car must remain parked until March 17th. Since I rely on a bike as my main means of transport I’m able to carry on with minimal headache even while living in the middle of all of the insanity. I have noticed a great benefit to the festival beyond the non stop partying. As people flock to Austin from around the world it seems more attention is paid to our transportation issues. Each year we get improvements such as expanded rail hours, faster buses, and a city bike share program.
I’ve already had a couple of opportunities to take advantage of these improvements and put my car-free commuter skills to the test during this madness. I used our new MetroRapid bus to make it to a doctor’s appointment which would have otherwise been very time consuming to get to. The MetroRapid buses utilize a bus only lane and are able to hold green lights longer. They also run more frequently than regular buses and carry more people. They even have free wifi and transport bikes. All this for only $3.00 for a day pass. I was able to make the 9 mile trip across town in just 40 minutes. At this time a day and during the festival it would have taken a similar amount of time with a car.
The next day one of my best friends had a baby in a hospital northwest of Austin in Cedar Park . I biked to the MetroRail station near my work and caught the northbound train to the closest station to the hospital. This took 35 minutes. It would have taken at least that long in a car during Friday evening rush hour traffic, which is when I made the trip. From the train station it was still a five mile bike ride to the hospital. I got the chance to try out a new bike path along the 183A toll road.
It worked out pretty well for the most part. At one point I did have to go from a residential street onto a steep rocky path to access the bikeway. It was a little harrowing on my commuter bike and slightly terrifying on the way home when I had to do it in the dark. But, it really wasn’t far and I just walked my bike on that portion of the trip to avoid breaking my neck while alone in a dark forest.
It was worth it to see my friend and her new baby. I realized afterwards that most people would have snapped cute newborn photos for you to look at instead of bicycle path pictures. But, I am not like most people and I am afraid of babies so I stayed on the other side of the room. The baby was quite cute, though, and my friend was doing very well.
After my visit at the hospital I rode home on a train that was pretty packed with people heading to check out the festival downtown which makes me think more local people are figuring out how to utilize other means of transportation than cars. Another new Capital Metro feature worth noting is the new app. You can plan rides, check schedules and more importantly buy and redeem tickets from your phone. I never carry cash so I find so awesomely convenient to be able to pay for the tickets with my credit card. I love living in a city that is recognized globally as a creative mecca. I hope that this time in the spotlight continues to shed some light on some creative ways that we can improve mobility.