Friday, August 24, 2012

Cycling with Children on South Lamar

We were more adventurous on our bikes this week, heading out to Kirbey Lane on South Lamar one morning for pancakes. Would never take my kids on the bike lanes along South Lamar. Too close to vehicular traffic for children. Instead, we navigated over a hodgepodge of sidewalks and driveways to get there and back. Verdict? Not as bad as I thought it would be, although definitely some treacherous parts and one bike crash from navigating around the noxious corner at Bluebonnet and South Lamar.

cycling with children
Headed out on the new cycle tracks

cycling with children in Austin
Headed to Kirbey Lane on eastside of Lamar

cycling with children in Austin
Navigating around the bus stop

cycling with children in Austin
Headed back on westside of Lamar; no sidewalks in parts

cycling with children in Austin
Sidewalk closed.

cycling with children in Austin
No curb cut or way to stay on bike without riding into oncoming traffic
or picking up bike and walking over flower bed (which we ended up doing)

cycling with children in Austin

cycling with children in Austin
The noxious curb
Why are there so many utility poles in the middle of sidewalks?

Bike crash! Bruised knee and bruised ego.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Safe Routes to School

My kids are headed back to school in a few days, with mixed feelings. We have all had a wonderful summer, and it is hard to make the transition to a new season and schedule.  One thing we are excited about is using the new cycle tracks in our neighborhood to bike to school. No more sharing the sidewalk with walkers, navigating around telephone poles, and riding across poorly marked intersections.

The city has installed a bunch of other great safety improvements to the streetscape around my kids' school, including a new sidewalk, new paint markings in the street, and new crosswalks. These improvements will make it safer for all the children in the neighborhood to walk and bike to school.

These types of improvements are critically important in getting children to travel to school via foot and bike, with long-term health benefits. In 1969, 48% of children used active transportation to get to school. This number had fallen to 13% by 2009.  Meanwhile, obesity rates for school-aged children have tripled since 1980.  And, most importantly, these improvements save lives. One-third of children's traffic deaths occur when children are walking or bicycling and struck by cars.  

Many safe routes to school improvements have been made possible as a result of federal transportation dollars. Unfortunately, according to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, Congress completely eliminated dedicated funding for safe routes to schools this year, so it is up to our state officials to choose whether to dedicate transportation funding to these important projects. 

Here's a great picture of a before and after shot of a street near a school that has been upgraded to a safe route to school:

safe route to school

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Summer Night Out in Austin with Children

The summer break is coming to an end, although it doesn't feel like it. This weekend we enjoyed a night out at one of the most beloved child-friendly spots in Austin: Butler Park.  A magical place in the evening.

Austin Butler Park fountains for children

Austin Butler Park fountains for children

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cycle Tracks have Arrived in Austin

Cool things are happening in Austin and my neighborhood with family-friendly cycling. Two words: cycle tracks.  Austin was one of six cities selected this year by the Green Lane Project to improve its cycling facilities via cycle tracks--to make cycling safer and more accessible to a broader range of residents, including children.  Cycle tracks are dedicated bike lanes that are on the roadway but physically separated from the street, typically with bollards, large painted markings, or barriers.

My neighborhood (Zilker) was a beneficiary of the city's first round of cycle tracks. The new bike lanes were completed this past week, and my family tried them out today for the first time. With the loss of parking and sudden change to the streetscape, the lanes were not without controversy and became the hot topic on our neighborhood list serve for the week. My family's verdict? We love them! Connecting our house to our elementary school, nearby restaurants, and our city's largest park, these new lanes are super transformative in terms of opening up cycling possibilities for my kids. We can't wait to see more of these built in Austin.

Here's a before and after shot of my neighborhood street where the cycles tracks were built, and below that is a picture of the first cycle track that went in this spring on Rio Grande, connecting downtown to the college student neighborhood west of U.T.:

new family-friendly cycle tracks in Austin
Trying out the new cycle tracks today.

new family-friendly cycle tracks in Austin
Google image shot of the same street from opposite direction
pre-cycle tracks (notice the cars parked in the old bike lanes).
The elementary school is on the left with the big lawn.

new family-friendly cycle tracks in Austin
First cycle track installed in Austin connecting downtown
to the neighborhood just west of U.T. campus.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Converting Alleys into Public Spaces, Part II

Last month, I posted an idea about a family-friendly alley conversion project for downtown Austin. Everyone I have been talking to about this project is excited about the possibilities. In talking to folks, I also found out that an "Alley Regeneration Project" is underway in the residential area of Guadalupe Neighborhood outside of downtown, as a partnership between the City of Austin, University of Texas Center for Sustainable Development, Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, and the Austin Community Design and Development Center.  The project started in 2011, when a team of UT students in a Public Interest Design course put together a toolkit with some really cool ideas for greening Austin's alleys, with a focus on residential areas. The toolkit includes 17 different strategies, many of which could and should be applied in a downtown context, including lighting, alley gateways, street graphics, shading, and alley furniture
Seattle alley project
Seattle Alley Conversion
Photo by Mira Poling, Courtesy of Alley Network Project

Through this initiative, the partners are now collaborating closely with residents to put their ideas into action in the Guadalupe Neighborhood. They are working on a Green Alley demonstration site that will likely become a model for other Austin neighborhood alleys.

I've had a fun time researching other cities' alley conversion projects as well. Check out the fun stuff happening in Seattle via the Alley Network Project. As their organizers stated:

"Changing the perception of alleys as places for crime or garbage into places to be used by everyone is not only possible, but happening all over the country and the world."

Seattle alley project
World Cup Watching in Seattle Alley
Photo by Jordan Lewis, for Alley Network Project

Seattle alley project
First Thursday event in Nord Alley, Seattle
Photo by Kari Quaas, for Alley Network Project

Seattle alley project
AlleyUp! Performance in Seattle Alley
Photo by Jordan King, Courtesy of Alley Network Project
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Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Summer is still here, for now, although just a couple of weeks left before the children are back in school. I am still feeling poetic about the summer and want to share this dear poem for parents (like me) who have had a child away at summer camp--although, since this is about children growing up, it will resonate with all parents.  Does this bring tears to your eyes like it did for me? 

The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb, by Sharon Olds (again, even better if you listen to Garrison Keillor read it at this link).  

summer camp drop off
Dropping my son off at camp for the first time

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Children's Access to Great Outdoor Spaces vs Austin Funding

children and great public open spaces

I am still in Telluride with my family, where we have been completely immersed in the outdoors.  It has been a delight to see the joy our kids experience as they play in the woods, discover wild raspberries and worms (see below), and explore all around them.  Being here has made me feel poetic about the outdoors and summer, so I wanted to share this wonderful poem, The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver (click on title; it's ever better if you listen to Garrison Keillor read it). 

Not much can compete with what parks and open spaces offer children in terms of cognitive, social, and motor development, in addition to all-around physical and emotional well-being.

On the City of Austin front, our City Council is in the midst of deciding what to put on a November bond ballot for a host of items, including parks and public open space. The Council is also about to adopt the City's budget for the next fiscal year.  Unfortunately, for both these items there is a dismal amount proposed to increase access to parks and public open space. Currently, 63% of Austin's inner-city residents do not have walking distant access to a public park. This is in contrast to cities like Minneapolis (99%), Boston (97%), Denver (90%), Seattle (79%), and Chicago (90%). Austin also ranks 65th in the country in per capita spending on parks operations and maintenance. Other related stats can be found in the City's Urban Parks Workgroup report.  More on this topic in future blogs, but now is the time to speak out to Austin City Council members about the bonds ballot and city budget to ensure that all Austin children have access to great outdoor spaces.
children and public open spaces
Finding raspberries in the woods
children and public open space
The joy of finding a worm!

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