Though I am a ridiculous old fat man on a bicycle, I have been working on increasing my mileage and exploring how to integrate cycling into my daily activities better. My goal for 2013 is three thousand miles on my bike. I knew I would start out behind (the weather in the winter is too often simply too nasty to ride) but I try to get as many miles in as possible.
Saturday was a gray post-misty day, cool but not cold – usually considered depressing winter weather – but without a breath of wind, perfect for a bicycle ride. I cruised all over Richardson and North Dallas, getting in about thirty-four miles of city riding, which is a lot for me. I was pretty well worn out.
Sunday was more of the same, a little warmer and a little windier and I wanted to ride somewhere and get a few more miles in – somewhere more or less useful.
About eight miles away (as the bike rolls) is White Rock Coffee, one of my favorite independent coffee spots. There are a number of Starbucks within walking distance of my home, and a couple of bubble teas/smoothie emporiums, but White Rock is the closest non-national-chain coffee spot. There is a new branch of The Pearl Cup, under construction in Richardson, and when it is done it will be a nice bicycle destination. But they are still working on it – so until it’s done it’s White Rock Coffee.
The problem is, I can’t find a good route to White Rock Coffee. The biggest choke point is LBJ/635 Interstate Highway loop. The best crossing between my house and the coffee place is the pedestrian bridge next to the Skillman DART station.
Once you start looking at that crossing you realize a nefarious little bit of nasty city planning. The bridge is useful, mostly because it connects a couple of neighborhoods of rundown apartments (on either side of the freeway) with the train station and each other. The problem is that it is almost impossible to get into or out of those neighborhoods on foot or on bicycle.
I don’t think this is an accident. Streets running up to these areas lose their sidewalks – some residential streets are cut and blockaded. It is obvious that the powers-that-be don’t want folks walking out of their rundown apartment complexes into the more upscale areas of housing.
So I have been working on finding the best route. I came up with one and it’s not that great – there are several nasty road crossings (Yale and Walnut, Leisure and Forest, and Adleta and Skillman are the some of the worst), four places where I have to walk my bike, and some heavy traffic. A long stretch of narrow, crowded residential street with parked cars filling both sides - the door zone fills the whole street. It’s especially tough because I’m riding my road bike right now – I’m rebuilding my commuter/bad weather bike. The narrow tires are pickier about terrain.
I decided to give it a go today – stuffed my laptop and an extra shirt into my backpack and set off. I know eight miles isn’t very far, but it’s a tough eight miles. The backpack was heavy and I was always riding into the wind (how does that work?). It’s all crowded urban stop-and-go riding.
That’s the thing about riding a bicycle in the city – you see things you never do from a car (or on foot, really, because you can’t travel that far). You see beauty, notice hills you never would otherwise, connect with the weather in an intimate, organic way… but you see a lot of nasty, brutish, and ugly stuff too. A lot of trash, homeless people, and neglect.
I hadn’t anticipated the amount of broken glass on the streets and sidewalks in some of these neighborhoods. Sure enough, crossing 635 on the pedestrian bridge I put a sliver of shattered malt liquor bottle through my rear tire and had to patch it in a nasty little parking lot covered in antifreeze and oil that had been dumped there, keeping an eye on the crack dealers that were keeping an eye on me.
Life in the big city in this best of all possible worlds.
I had better finish this up and drink the rest of my coffee and get home – I don’t want to do that ride in the dark.