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BRAIN Dealer Tour plies Austin’s prime paths

Published October 21, 2014
Dealer Tour riders along the Boardwalk Trail at Lady Bird Lake.

AUSTIN, Texas (BRAIN) — Rolling on pink-accented tires provided by sponsor Hutchinson and attired in Sockguy socks bearing slogans like “Save the Ta Tas” and “Cancer Sucks” in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, BRAIN’s Austin Dealer Tour kicked off Tuesday sampling some of the Texas capital’s growing network of premier cycling infrastructure en route to four shops, including multisport specialist Jack & Adam’s Bicycles and multi-store powerhouse Bicycle Sport Shop.

Robin Stallings, executive director of advocacy group Bike Texas, led a crew of about 20 riders on a mix of paved, dirt and gravel paths and protected bike lanes. “Austin is one of only three or four cities in Texas that understands protected bike lanes,” Stalling noted.

The tour also rode the newly opened Boardwalk extension of the Ann and Roy Butler Trail, a $25 million over-water path that closes a 1.2-mile gap in the hike and bike trail around Lady Bird Lake. One beneficiary of the new path is Rocket Electrics, a three-year-old seller of e-bikes in the rapidly gentrifying East Riverside neighborhood adjacent to the Boardwalk. The shop’s mission is “electric bikes as transportation tools,” and general manager John Dawson believes attracting the non-enthusiast customer is vital to growing a broader base of support for cycling projects like the Boardwalk and safe routes to navigate the increased motor traffic accompanying Austin’s explosive population growth in recent years.

“We have to continue to push the politics because we have to fight for our right to bike,” he said, adding that recreational cyclists are already “a slam-dunk” on supporting bike infrastructure.

Austin faces a watershed election next month that threatens the City Council’s pro-cycling majority. Up until this year, the six members of the council have been elected at large from throughout city rather than by district. But this year 10 members, plus the mayor, will be elected by newly drawn districts, with all seats up for grabs.

“Right now we have a generational change happening in our council,” Bike Texas’ Stallings said.

Stakes are high. The city has drawn up a $150 million cycling plan, to be implemented over five years, that would link together current cycling routes and create a complete bike network for Austin, according to Stallings. “That’s where we’re going to get the big mode shift,” he said.

If the plan goes through, Stallings said, mode share could vault to 7 percent throughout the city—a ridership level seen in pockets of Austin but not citywide.

But activists and city officials already appear to have made significant strides for cycling in Austin.

Emil Ellis, an Austin transplant from Louisiana who manages high-end mountain specialty shop Cycle Progression, commuted by bike for five years after moving to his adopted hometown. “In that time it’s progressed so much,” he said of bike lanes and other local cycling infrastructure.

Ridership has also been buoyed by Austin’s B-cycle bike share program. Since its launch in December 2013, the program has grown from 11 stations to 45, and monthly trips topped 100,000 in August—six months ahead of projections, according to a report on the Austin American-Statesman website.

Rocket Electrics owner Dawson sees the high ridership as a boon for his shop rather than a threat to sales. “Bike share is good for business because it raises bike awareness,” he said. 

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