David Byrne Journal: 9.28.09: Austin http://ow.ly/xaQe Inter-disciplinary Observations & thoughts about bicycle life whilst in Austin, TX
Bikes, Cities and the Future of Getting Around
I’m on a one week tour — a series of events focusing on bikes and cities timed to coincide with the release of my Bicycle Diaries book. I told the publisher I didn’t think I’d be very good as a reader — which is the usual way authors are trotted out to promote their books — so I suggested instead we do a series of forums focusing on our cities and how bikes have become a symptom of a new interest in urban living in North America. (This has a little bit of the added effect of hinting that the book is not just about riding a bike.) The publicity department of Viking, the publisher, generously helped put these events together. Sometimes they are held in bookstores, as those are the venues the publisher knows; and sometimes, like last night in Austin, in small theaters.
At each event there will be a representative of the local city government; an advocate; a theorist/designer/planner or historian; …and me. We each do short (10-15 min.) presentations about our area of expertise and then there is some Q&A and then we’re done. So far, I’ve been to NYC and Austin and Seattle and it’s working pretty well. By bringing these elements and people together the events serve as a catalyst, a reminder and a symbol that perception and policies are changing — about bikes as a way of getting around and about how our lives in cities can be. The interest and turnout might be as much for the content as what’s on stage.
The morning after I arrived here I rode around Austin and discovered that a surprising amount of the downtown area has been given over to parking.
There are parking lots everywhere and, maybe because of the oppressive heat in the Texas summers, lots of indoor parking structures as well. Some of these take up a whole block and some only take up the ground floor of a downtown building. Either way, they kill any potential for life, business, interchange and encounters on those blocks. It seems that not only did the city accommodate cars with some massive freeways that are often jammed up, but they have given some of their best downtown real estate simply to house automobiles. I was reminded that the vibrant “people” streets (South Congress and 6th St.), no matter if you love or hate those scenes, would never exist if there were massive parking structures on every block there. The vacant lots on S. Congress are now filled with tent kiosks and tiny Airstreams and other trailers that serve as specialized food carts (like the ones in Portland). I got a mushroom tamale and berry smoothie at one, and they were great.