Dodgeville

Random Wanderings and Wonderings

Posts tagged: Austin

Dodgeville’s fifth

By , February 15, 2012

Mural on a garage overlooking a parking lot

I published my first public post on this blog five years ago today. Writing a blog always struck me as kind of a funny thing to do, so I always wanted to have fun with it. My work largely requires me to fix problems (occasionally of my own creation) on relatively short timelines so I’m used to quickly identifying issues and researching solutions to the various technical absurdities and contradictions that I encounter. I suppose that mindset translates into my Dodgeville ramblings as well. In a lot of ways, updating Dodgeville is a release valve, a way to get something off my chest or to put aside some other problem for a few minutes while I slap together a post. Although I write primarily for my own enjoyment, I greatly appreciate that you, my loyal half-dozens of readers, accompany me on my journeys through the city, the countryside, and the boxes in my basement.

The topics I cover are frequently hyper-local and the posts often more detailed than necessary. Indeed, something as minor as repaving of a road around the corner from my house merited a grand total of six posts (so far) examining the results. A big empty field has been the subject of three recent posts. And on days when I’m too lazy to go outside, I just write about random things I pull out of boxes in the basement. I’ve sometimes thought about resubtitling Dodgeville from “Random wanderings and wonderings” to “Stuff within a five-minute walk of my house and sometimes not even that far.”

One of the eternally frustrating things about blogging is having too many things to cover and not nearly enough time to write about them all. So my digital archives slowly fill with clippings, links, pictures, snippets of potential posts, research reminders, and large projects that just haven’t come together yet. Some of those projects have been hanging around on my to-do list since 1994, waiting for technology to advance to the point that I’ll be able to do justice to my vision. One project idea that I had in 2006 will finally be coming to fruition this summer. Many others continue to bide their time, already born of my 1% inspiration and awaiting my 99% perspiration. Still other posts await because they were no longer timely when I finally got around to writing them, but will almost certainly be topical again at some point. Yet more ideas never made it into the serious consideration stage, including Bruise of the Week, Grave of the Month, and The Daily Sock. Consider yourselves lucky.

It’s been three years since I did one of these anniversary posts, so rather than going back and picking out my favourite posts since then, I’m going to put up a short gallery of a few interesting pictures that never made it into full posts for one reason or another. As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you accompany me for another year of wanderings, amusement, outrage, and signs. Always more signs.

Check out the random gallery below the fold.

Continue reading 'Dodgeville’s fifth'»

Austin miscellany part 2: City of signs

By , April 3, 2011

Regular readers of this blog know that I love signs. I could read, interpret, admire, ridicule, and wonder about them all day long. So naturally, when I went to Austin, I read, interpreted, admired, ridiculed, and wondered about a whole lot of new signs that we just don’t see in Toronto.

First off, Texans really like their longhorns. Up here, we think of them adorning the hoods of Cadillacs, but in Texas, they adorn just about everything, including the Golden Arches.

Jail Release

I saw this poor schmuck on billboards around the city on several occasions, so was a little amused to walk by Dunham Law Firm’s downtown office one day. There’s an annoying TV commercial too, which I was lucky enough to see only twice during the week.

I was staying near the University of Texas, and there were many punnily named businesses catering to students:

House of Tutors

Bite Mi

Austinites are so friendly that even the walls make small talk while you’re passing by:

Hi how are you

Even the Internet—home to anonymous trolls, unfettered outrage, and random aggression—is friendly in Austin:

Helpful Internet

Can’t we all just get along?

Coexist bumper sticker

Score one for the name, and another for the logo:

Arab Cowboy

A small subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises:

Bat City Awards and Apparel

And finally, Canada may not be high on the minds of most Texans on any given day, but parts of Canada do have a certain reputation:

BC Smoke Shop

Austin miscellany part 1

By , March 30, 2011

I’d written this post before I took my winter blogging break, but never quite got around to posting it. So, a few months late, here’s a random collection of sights I saw in Austin last year. There’s one more of these, and if I’m feeling energetic, I may eventually get around to that post about Calgary that I promised a year and a half ago.

W. 22-1/2 Street

The big problem with giving streets numbers instead of names is that occasionally, you need to squeeze in an additional street and are left with a dilemma: do you renumber all of the streets above it or come up with a new name? In Austin, there are a few of these half-streets downtown. They’re all just a few blocks long and thus don’t intersect whichever main street necessary to qualify as a full street.

From a Torontonian’s perspective, the transportation infrastructure of Austin outside of downtown seems to be overbuilt. As in any North American city, there’s lots of room for cars, but in Austin, everything seems to be a big four-lane road leading to lots of huge, three-quarters-empty parking lots. The picture below was taken just off a major highway at the T-intersection of two broad four-lane roads. In the ten minutes I was walking around the intersection mid-morning on a Friday, maybe three cars went past. The mall parking lot at the top of the T had about a dozen cars in it with room for a hundred and fifty more. My quiet two-lane residential street in east-end Toronto sees way more traffic than this crossroads.

Empty streets in rush hour

Despite the overbuilt car infrastructure, there are some nice touches for pedestrians. Many crossings receive a different surface treatment (as the bricks above) to alert drivers, and many curb cuts are textured to provide grip and warning to pedestrians that they’re entering a roadway. Still, despite the fine detail on the road crossing here, there isn’t a sidewalk in sight on the other side.

Empty parking lots abound

Here’s just one example of the many empty parking lots I encountered on my trip, this one at a business park on Friday morning. Not all parking lots were this empty, but it was common enough to make me wonder why parking was so abundant.

I also didn’t understand this sign, which I saw at the local Taco Cabana on my first day in Austin:

Parking only in a space

I thought it was strange that the sign carried an admonition to park “only in a space,” but chalked it up to poor writing or a bad translation. However, after spending a couple of days in the city, I understood the reason:

Bad parkers

As far as I can tell, no one in Austin can park. Every parking lot I visited abounded with cars taking up two or more spaces. Straddling a line was the most common infraction, but it wasn’t at all rare to see cars parked diagonally across spaces, in the lot aisles, blocking doors or curb cuts at building entrances, in the middle of crosswalks, and just generally ignoring all of the standard rules of conduct in parking lots. Maybe this is why parking seemed so abundant: city planners order up three times as many spots as necessary at any given building, figuring that each car is going to take up two or three spaces.

Incomplete overpass

Another oddity was the number of flyovers, ramps, overpasses, and underpasses that, like this one, just seemed to end somewhat prematurely with no sign of ongoing construction. It looks like they just build a section and then wait months or years until money is available to build the next section. It seems like a highly inefficient approach to infrastructure.

This being Texas, people take their trophies roadkill very seriously:

Cycling in Austin

By , December 19, 2010

Tikit to the Capitol

While I was in Austin last week, I managed to get out for a couple or rides and get a bit of a feel for cycling in the area. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect in the way of cycling infrastructure in the city: my cycling friends all said that Austin is a very bikeable city with cyclists everywhere, whereas all of the drivers I know who have been there said that the only cyclists to be seen were large groups of spandex-wearing racers who took over the thoroughfares heading out of the city every weekend. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle.

Like Toronto, Austin is split between a bike-friendly core and somewhat bike-hostile suburbs. There are recreational trails all over the place, but actually getting by bike from one place in the suburbs to another requires you to grit your teeth and put up with a lot of fast-moving traffic. The bike lanes and racks of downtown quickly give way to turning lanes and parking lots when you leave the core. Sidewalks also largely disappear, leaving car travel as the only practical way of getting from A to B in the suburbs. A lot of roads in the burbs have what most people would call shoulders, but what many Austinites seem to think of  as passing lanes: what looks at first glance to be a safe suburban haven for cyclists is actually home to lots of cars going really fast with drivers probably not expecting slow-moving  bikes in front of them.

It’s hard to tell from a short visit whether Austin has really embraced the practicality of cycling, but I do know that in just five days, I saw three different cars with “Please be kind to cyclists” bumper stickers, which is three more than I’ve seen in a lifetime in Toronto.

Yield to bikes

One of the major cycling routes downtown goes down Guadalupe St, seen above at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. There were a lot of bike lanes downtown, both on major arterials and on quieter side streets. But compared to the state of the road paint in Toronto, most of the lane lines were faded almost to invisibility. Several times while riding in a barely-discernable bike lane, I was unsure that drivers in the cars behind me could see the same markings that I could. The sign above, telling drivers entering a right-turn lane to yield to cyclists in the bike lane, is rare in Toronto, but common in Austin.

Area map on a bike route sign

One nice touch on some of the signed bike routes was an area map, showing not only where you where, but connecting routes and nearby attractions.

Bike racks with integrated cable locks

Another interesting feature was bike racks with integrated cable locks for securing your wheels without having to carry a second lock around. I only saw these in two locations, but it would be great to have these city-wide.

Bike frames made into a bike rack

Unlike Toronto’s iconic post and ring racks, there doesn’t seem to be a single standard design for bike racks in Austin. Many racks are provided by private businesses and can take interesting forms. I was especially taken by this excellent re-purposing of old frames into a functional sculpture.

The war on texting?

Just when I was starting to think that Austinites had fully embraced (or at least tolerated) cycling as a form of transportation, I read the above letter to the editor in the local newspaper as I sat down to my last breakfast in the city. Apparently, Toronto isn’t the only place where anything done in a car is more important than safe cycling routes.

Owed to a toe-away zoan

By , December 12, 2010

That would be marginally better than being toed, I suppose.

I’ve seen a lot of misspelled signs, but never one quite like this. I can’t even come up with something suitably snarky to say about it. There must be a joke here that’s going over my head.

How to take your bike on a business trip (or vacation)

By , December 8, 2010

Tikit at home

Step 1: Get a folding bike. Mine is a Bike Friday Tikit. This bike has a million options, from the most basic Model T (the one I have) all the way up to a fully tricked-out road bike with drop handlebars, lots of gear inches, and just about any component choice you could imagine. The hyperfold model folds in five seconds. I don’t have that one, so my Tikit takes a full 15 seconds to fold. The best thing about the Tikit is that although it looks weird and the wheels are tiny (just sixteen inches), it feels and rides like a normal-sized bike. My riding position on this bike is basically the same as on my mountain bike, which is perfect for commuting and tootling around the city. But don’t take my word for it, get yourself to Urbane Cyclist and give one a test ride for yourself.

Samsonite 30-inch Flite case

Step 2: Get a suitcase that your folded bike will fit into. The 30″ Samsonite F’Lite GT is the case that Bike Friday designs their bikes to fit into, so it seemed like a good choice. With only minor disassembly (one wheel removed and a half-dozen bolts loosened or removed), the bike fits neatly into the case with lots of room left over for a repair kit, pump, locks, and other cycling gear. Because the bike is designed to fit into a suitcase, there’s no guesswork involved; the manual shows the packing process in detail, right down to the correct way to orient the cranks. I didn’t manage to squeeze my helmet in, but I’m sure I could with a bit of practice. Practice could also get my packing time down from around 45 minutes the first time to maybe 15.

Homemade crush protector

Step 3: Get a crush protector to keep the side of the suitcase from collapsing on your fragile bike. Even a hard-sided suitcase like the F’Lite has a lot of give in it and given the way that baggage handlers toss luggage around, it would be pretty easy to end up with a bent wheel or chainring after a flight. The crush protector is just a support that keeps the sides of the suitcase from compressing, ensuring that there’s never any weight bearing down on the sensitive bits of the bike itself. Bike Friday sells crush protectors for $7, or you can make your own for about the same cost from parts available at any hardware store with a decent stock of electrical supplies. That meant Home Depot for me.

All packed up

Step 4: Pack the bike in the case, following the instructions in the manual. Bike Friday sells packing kits that include little fabric bags and sleeves to help protect the sensitive bits, but I found that a short length of packing foam, some old rags, and a few elastic bands did the same job.

Step 5: Check your bike at the airport, now indistinguishable from any other piece of luggage, and laugh at those ridiculous charges for bike boxes that airlines love to charge.

Ready to go

Step 6: Unpack at your destination. It only took me about 20 minutes to unpack and reassemble. I didn’t do too badly for my first-time packing: the rear reflector was broken in transit, but everything else survived without a scratch.

At the Texas Capitol, 2200 km from home

Step 7: Have a good ride!

So I’m in Austin, Texas at the moment, midway through a week of working hard, eating meat, and riding a bit. The Texas Capitol is about 2200 km from home, or a much more reasonable 10-minute ride from my hotel. Work commitments are keeping my exploring to a minimum, but I’m trying to get as much in as I can. There’ll be some more random posts about Austin in the days ahead.

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