Monday, January 28, 2013

Exploring Austin on Bikes with Kids: Duncan Park and Shoal Creek Trail

Duncan dirt bike park in Austin
Duncan Park, Austin
Yesterday my family headed out on our bikes for an afternoon outing and discovered Duncan Park in downtown Austin (aka 9th Street Trails), a mecca for dirt bikers and kids of all ages.  Younger kids appear to congregate here earlier in the day, followed by older, more hard core BMX bikers in the later hours. My kids fell in love with this park, although (thankfully for my sanity) they stuck to the smaller dirt hills. There are several things I love about this park as well: its organic development and maintenance by a community of local BMX bikers; its prime location in downtown Austin; and the fact that you can access it via the Shoal Creek trail. 

Shoal Creek trail is now passable in most parts from Lady Bird Lake, providing a safe alternative for families with kids to bike through Downtown Austin, off the streets.  With our beautiful January weather, it was a wonderful outing!
Duncan dirt bike park in Austin
Duncan Park
Riding back home, we also discovered the new interactive public art installation next to the Zach Scott theater: Rhytons by Cliff Garten
riding bikes with kids on Shoal Creek trail in Austin
Shoal Creek trail 
Shoal Creek bike trail with kids in Austin
Parts of Shoal Creek trail still need work
riding bikes with kids in Austin
Most of our group on the pedestrian bridge over Lady Bird Lake

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Will Children Be Able to Access Austin's New Bike Share Program?

The City of Austin's new bike share program is quickly moving forward, with 40 kiosks slated to open this spring.  But will families with children in tow be able to use the program? It's unclear at this point according to city officials. I hope the City can find a way to make the program accessible for children, keeping in mind that families with children constitute close to 25% of Austin's households. 

Apparently no other U.S. bike share program offers access to children who cannot fit on adult-sized bikes, so there are no nearby models to learn from on this front in terms of best practices. Why is this the case? Is it because families with children won't use the bikes if they are available? Or, is it because these other cities lack the vision to support families? Or are there other barriers?

One issue is helmets, although presumably parents could carry kid helmets with them. Many adults using Austin's bike share program will also likely be bringing along their own helmets--especially in a city like Austin with such high incidents of bicyclist deaths. In DC, 30% of local riders using the Capital Bikeshare program wear their own helmets.  

Or, there could be a dispenser for helmets in addition to bikes, although dispensers are not widely offered at this point in bike share programs and have their issues.  Other cities around the world have compulsory helmet laws for all bicyclists and have still figured out ways to address the helmet issue. Portland is looking to offer helmet vending machines, and Vancouver is in process of installing them.

In addition to serving Austin's families, developing a bike share program that is accessible to children is also important for tourists traveling here with kids. During my family's travels, we have found that cities with bike share programs that don't serve children make it harder for families to bike b/c they drive the private rental shops in the city core out of business or farther out of town.

Austin's City Council has adopted a vision that our city will become the most family-friendly city in the country; a bike share program that leaves out up to 25% of the population is not representative of this vision. Hopefully the City can figure out a way moving forward to address this issue.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Amazing Playgrounds -- Integrating Play and Art

We were visiting New Braunfels, Texas, this past weekend and came across this cool playground at the children's museum there.

great innovative playground for children
New Braunfels, Texas, children's museum
On my Pinterest board, I have been collecting photos of other cool playgrounds from around the world that I have come across in some form or fashion this past year (either in person, via pics from friends, or via Internet). It's refreshing to see so many playground designs innovating beyond the ubiquitous swing set, slide, and monkey bar grouping (which are quite limited in how they engage children, especially the 8 and older set). Some of the newer designs are truly magical. Among the best playgrounds are those integrating play and art to captivate children's imaginations, encourage their sense of wonderment, and draw them into play.  Please keep sending me pics of any amazing playgrounds you come across in your travels.

Here are some of my favorites:

Horiuchi MacAdam crochet playground innovative for children
Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam designed playground
at Hakone Open Air Musuem in Takone, Japan
© Sikuen, Flickr, available under a Creative Commons Attribution/Noncommercial/Share Alike License
More photos of this amazing playground are available on the designer's website.

spider Monstrum playground in Denmark
Monstrum playground in Denmark
Image from Monstrum website
Merry go 'round in Paris
Merry go 'round in Paris
From our trip there this Summer

Monstrum playground and art in Copehnhagen Denmark
Monstrum playground in Copenhagen Denmark.
Image from Monstrum website
Monstrum whale Playground in Gothenberg Denmark
Monstrum playground in Gothenberg Denmark.
Image from Monstrum website
innovative playground in Takino Suzuran Hillside National Park in Sapporo Japan
Takino-Suzuran Hillside National Park in Sapporo, Japan
© MJ/TR Flickr, available under a Creative Commons Attribution License

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