"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mayor of Austin "Feels My Pain"

Not this one, but this one, the man with the best imaginable name for a politician, Will Wynn.

Wynn has been giving a talk remarkably like Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth talk, with a bit of Texas interest thrown into the mix. I hate to fault him for that, and he did a reasonable job of it. He asserted, correctly, that "clammit santiss" like me are pretty much unanimous about many global warming questions that still generate far too much debate in the press and among the public. He also had a lot of interesting initiatives, including making the institution of city government carbon neutral, which is a very sensible way to help create necessary markets.

(In fact he goes out of his way to make Texas look even worse than it is on this issue, since the energy cost of energy production is split into our per capita emissions on his slides: those should be charged to the consumers not the producers... Texas is by far the worst per capita emitter among the states but it is an energy provider. Also I'm not at all sure that driving to the farmers' market to buy a tomato is all that much more efficient than buying a mass market tomato at HEB.)

And as you can see from his homepage, he really is pushing very hard to be recognized as an especially climate-aware mayor.

So I'm afraid I messed up his public presentation last Sunday evening at the Alamo (the Austin Alamo, the beer and movies one) because I got to ask the first question, which was, as a new Austinite and former resident of Madison WI, I am absolutely apalled by the conditions in this town for a bicyclist. I acknowledged that the city was not designed around any transportation mode other than cars, but I suggested that ought to change. Being Lance Armstrong's hometown, there is immense interest in recreational bicycling around here. That combined with the mayor's ambition to be a leader in urban efficiency, you'd think, would be enough to argue for a little bit of leeway for the overweight middle-aged climate scientist trying to get to work and get a little exercise at the same time.

The audience applauded my point. The mayor cringed and (literally, I swear this) said the words "I feel your pain". Bah. I cannot bicycle to work, the bus takes an hour, the car takes 12 minutes. I would happily switch to zero emissions if I weren't risking my life to ride that last no-choices mile up Burnet ("burn it durn it") Road. Do you think that the energy research complex of the great university in the great green boomtown of the sunbelt might deign to put in so much as a shoulder or a sidewalk by its energy research campus for its energy researchers to, um, save some energy?

No, but Will Wynn deeply sympathizes. What am I to make of this? Burn it, durn it, and to hell with the clammit, dammit?


James Annan said...

I'm not sure I understand why you cannot cycle to work. Is it just that you don't like the road? You might be surprised at how quickly you get used to it - and how quickly the regular commuters get used to seeing you on it, especially if you try to travel at a regular time.

Anonymous said...

haha HAHAHA hahahaha
and HAHAHhahahHAAAAH!!

Welcome to Austin.

I had a little problem digesting SustainLane's ranking of Austin as
14th "greenist" city, was it (?).. this was, without a doubt, one of the reasons I believed that rating was maybe a little generous.

On the basis of their approach:

"Among those standards:

* Public transit use
* Air and tap water quality
* Planning/land use
* City innovation
* Affordability
* Energy/climate change policy
* Local food/agriculture
* Green economy
* Sustainability management"

I find several factors lacking.

Still, all things considered, a lot of these shortcomings are elements of the city that Wynn inherited once he won the election. Still, he willfully accepted responsibility to make things better, and some of his plans are indeed woefully lacking.

Michael Tobis said...

James, let me describe Burnet Road between Research Drive and Braker "Lane" in person. The lanes are narrow, the legal traffic goes at 40 MPH, a significant fraction of Texas drivers are (what do you know) cowboys who like to go 50% over the limit with negligible safety margins, and there is literally no shoulder at all, just a thicket of weeds hard up against the outer lane. What is more, I'd have to make a left turn across two lanes of traffic without a signal. The alternative is the north entrance to the campus (it's a closed and fenced campus, so there are only two entrances), which is further, involves a left turn across a huge intersection, and an extra mile of pedaling, but at least the final entrance into the site would have a signal when cutting across the vastness of Braker "Lane".

It's literally not something I would recommend to a very athletic person on safety grounds, though a few students do manage it. I believe there may be as many as half a dozen bicyclists among the thousand or so people there on a typical day, but I am not brave enough to be among them.

James Annan said...

So it seems like you'll be going the longer route and getting a little more exercise then :-)

As it happens, I've actually been to Austin (and by strange coincidence, I'm even wearing the t-shirt today, although it is a little tatty). A friend got married there, we stayed in a motel somewhere on the edge and then had a very pleasant cycling tour in the hill country. I did notice that the traffic on the edge of the city was noticeably nastier than well out of town.

In fact, the 3rd pic down here, is Texas - the other ones are bicycle-friendly Boulder, Colorado :-)

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine described bicycling in Texas with his then college math professor. A pickup truck pulled up alongside them and began edging over, to push them off the road.

The prof calmly reached into his vest and pulled out a handgun, laid it across his forearm, pointed at the truck's cab, and kept pedaling.

He never even looked at the truck, the whole time, just kept riding.

The truck departed.

The professor said safe bicycling in Texas isn't a problem --- you have to communicate your intentions.

Regrettably this is probably not a useful approach inside the city limits.