Thursday, May 28, 2009

Whatever You Do, Don’t Tell Lance Armstrong

Austin, Texas. Live Music Capital of the World, home of the University of Texas, Barton Springs, great Tex Mex food, the start of the beautiful Texas Hill Country, and the Capitol of our fair State. And, of course, the home of famed, 7-time winner of the Tour de France – Lance Armstrong. All of these are things any self respecting Austinite is proud of, and as one of the dwindling few, true Austin natives – born and raised here – I am too.

Listen, I know that Austin is Lance’s town and all and everyone here is supposed to be all into bicycling but I have to tell you I am getting kinda tired of all these cyclists myself. Now I know I am going to make a lot of my friends mad, but I need to point out a few things.

I drive on Exposition almost every day and I keep discovering that suddenly I am driving in the bike lane and need to move back over to the car lane. I guess because I have driven down that street for more than 30 years, I still think of it is a two lane street, but now that it has those bike lanes it is really like a four lane street with much skinnier lanes for the cars to drive on. The other day I started thinking, “Where are all these cyclists this lane was built for?” Only once in about the past three months have I seen anyone cycling in that lane and it wasn’t a child either. I have, however, seen thousands of cars, now squeezing past each other nose to nose, on that curving street due to the fact that what used to be a much wider street has now become a narrow, winding thoroughfare so we can accommodate those bike lanes that I never see anyone riding in.

Now I am all for safety and stuff but why do all those bicyclists need to have a special designation to use Exposition (or Loop 360 or 2222 for that matter?) – Why can’t they just take one of the side streets? And on top of that why do we have to give up such prime street passages for them? Remember the Shoal Creek Blvd. debacle a just a few years ago? The one where the City put all those bump thingys in the road up and down Shoal Creek in hopes of forcing cars to stay out of the bike lanes and all it did was cause a bunch of wrecks for both cars and bicyclists. I think those cost us like a million dollars or something to put in and then they had to spend a bunch more than that to take them out again! I don’t have the exact numbers but I know that there are a whole heck of a lot more cars than bicycles on our streets. But it sure seems to me like the odds are getting stacked in the bike’s favor.

It’s fine with me if they want to ride bikes all over our streets, and I will even promise to keep thier safety top of mind, but why do the rest of us have to do something special for them? I don’t really have a sport, but if I did I don’t think I would be as demanding as some of these cyclists are…although come to think of it, I would like to request that shopping become a recognizeable Olympic Sport – I am pretty sure I could medal in that one. I also know some guys who are really into the sport of Cheese Rolling (Yes, it’s a sport. Google it if you don’t believe me.) but I haven’t heard our City Council recommending setting aside lanes of 2222 to accommodate that activity.

And what’s up with all these bicycle people thinking that the traffic laws don’t apply to them? Several times just in this past month I have been at stoplights where the bicyclists just breeze right through the red light or the cross walk expecting the cars to just magically give them the right away. Or how about the way they ride several people deep on the streets actually blocking more than one lane? And the other day I was walking down the sidewalk near Lady Bird Lake and this bicyclist was coming toward me (going the wrong way!) and even though I stepped over to the side to let him pass, he still yelled “WTF” at me like I had done something wrong when clearly he was the one going the wrong way and riding his bike on the sidewalk! I just don’t get it. Has there been some sort of Papal blessing bestowed upon these cyclists that I don’t know about? Have they suddenly become royalty?

Of course, I must mention the outfits. I would be remiss if I did not. And yes, I do call them outfits because they are color coordinated and carefully selected to ensure that everyone realizes the wearer is a true cyclist. Now you wouldn’t catch me dead in one of those cycling outfits, first of all because there is probably some sort of law against something like that and second of all because no one should be forced to face that kind of horror. As to why someone would voluntarily don one I can’t really say. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but what self respecting grown man actually chooses to wear body hugging lycra and spandex that not only grip personal areas that are best left to the imagination, but also make you look like some multi-colored Doofus?

Just in case you think I am being too hard on these cyclists, let me tell you what happened to me a few weeks ago and maybe then you can see why I am feeling a wee bit bitter. I ran out of gas, and yes, I know it was stupid, but I had a hysterical 14-year old girl in the car who apparently thought the earth would stop spinning and she would die if she did not make it to the movies to meet her friends within the next seven minutes, so I foolishly thought I would get gas after I dropped her off. Anyway, I ran out of gas and got stuck on the big hill going east up Loop 360 just past 2222. My first thought, was “great, now we are really going to be late and CeCe is going to have a fit.” My second thought was “(insert expletive here) I am going to block up all the traffic on 360 and somebody is probably going to hit us.”

Fortunately for us, I got far enough over to make it safe from the onslaught of car traffic whizzing by. Unfortunately for us, the only safe place for me to pull over was onto the shoulder, which even though it is not marked as such, is clearly considered the "bike lane." (Imagine me saying that while making little finger quotation marks in the air.) At least it seems to be considered such by the cyclists. If you haven’t been on Loop 360 lately let me remind you of a few things.

First of all the traffic is very steady no matter what day of the week or time of the day it is and Austin drivers show no mercy. It is all about getting them where they want to go as fast as possible. Also, for reasons I can not even begin to fathom, bicyclists love to ride on Loop 360 – especially on the weekends. So here you have this strange dichotomy of 2,000 pound steel vehicles whizzing by at speeds of 60-80 miles per hour juxtaposed with all these tiny bicyclists one tenth that weight and size geared out in bizarre multi-colored, form fitting outfits peddling with all their might to get up and down the multitude of hills.

Add into that mix, one middle aged slightly deranged woman in a large suburban with a hugely impatient 14-year old daughter as her passenger who are both now sitting ducks smack dab in the middle of that Loop 360 self designated "bike lane" with the flashers on. And what you get is not good.

At first I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. Here I was I had run out of gas because I had spent my entire Saturday rushing from carpool, to errand, to carpool to more errands – all for other people mind you – and, it was almost 4:00 pm and I had to be home, showered and dressed by 6:00 pm to go to yet another event that had nothing to do with what I wanted to be doing. Now if you think road rage is bad amongst Austin drivers, let me tell you that is nothing compared to the road rage Austin bicyclists experience.

Funny me, I would have thought a stranded woman and her daughter alone, sitting in a car with the flashers on, on the side of a busy road would engender, if not immediate aid from strangers, at least some sympathy. But what we got was somewhat shocking at first and then it just pissed me off.

While cars continued to whiz past us at high speeds, many of them switched lanes, no one honked at us, and two actually pulled over and walked back to ask us if we needed help. "No, but thank you," I explained as I told them my husband would be here in just a few minutes. But then there were the bicyclists. Because I was so scared when I first realized I was going to be stuck on 360, I really didn’t realize I had pulled into the so called "bike lane". All I felt was relief that I was not going to block traffic and possibly get hit or cause an accident.

As I realized that I was blocking the "bike lane", I got worried because I know how dangerous that road is and I did not want the cyclists to be in any danger either. So I valiantly leaned out of my window and made my, by now totally humiliated, daughter do the same on her side to keep on the lookout for cyclists. We added the frantic waving of arms to the car flashers we had on just to be sure that oncoming cyclists could see well in advance that we were blocking the "bike lane" and that they were going to have to ride a little over to the rocky side of said "bike lane" to be safe.

Now not being a cyclist myself I guess I was kind of naive about the sport. First of all, just how many crazy people could there be going up Loop 360 on a hot Saturday afternoon? Two, maybe three extremists? Nope. Try about 35! And all of them acted as though I had just decided to pull my Suburban over to the side of the road on purpose for some unfathomable reason.

Every single rider shot me the bird, yelled an obscenity, or did both as they rode by. At one point I began to have fantasies of opening up my passenger side door just as they were riding by and knocking them off their bikes. I even encouraged my daughter to just stick her hand out the window and give someone a quick little shove just as they came even with the car but she’s a Wuss and wouldn’t do it.

“Well, excuse me for getting in the way of your bike ride. I just felt like pulling over my car to the side of this busy road in 90 degree heat, cars blowing by me with inches to spare while my daughter weeps and yells at me, just so I can enjoy this lovely view of asphalt and traffic anchored by industrial buildings and concrete apartments on both sides. It’s just so peaceful here STUCK ON THE FREEWAY."

"Oh, and by the way, what are YOU doing here?"

I realize that this is your sport and all and that you are serious about your passion and I even understand that some of your anger might be caused by the fact that you got a bit freaked out by having me blocking your "bike lane." Ok, I can get that. But what I don’t get is WHY anyone would actually choose to cycle on a road like that. It is scary, dangerous, hot and grueling uphill work and no matter how hard I try I just don’t think that looks like very much fun.

And P.S. you look really stupid in those cycling clothes they are seriously ugly.


  1. DITTO on all this
    I won't tell Lance....ok?!
    and....seriously ugly!!

  2. I almost issued a citizen's arrest to a herd of bike cops who inappropriately *took* the right of way while running a stop sign in Pemberton. SO annoying. Who are they going to catch anyway?