With All Their Speed Forward

“I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization — that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls.”
Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons

A while back, on July 26, 2012 to be exact, I wrote a blog entry called Bicycle Lanes. In it I wrote a bit about Richardson’s attempts at improving its cycling infrastructure. I praised the bike trails and especially the bike lanes (while noticing some dangerous flaws).

But I also mentioned how dangerous some of the railroad crossings are. For example, at Arapaho (a very busy street that is necessary for me to get to the library and a few other spots) I took this photo:

Rail crossing on Arapaho road – July, 2012.

I wrote:

There are three lanes of traffic both ways going through that little space – going fast, up to fifty miles per hour or more (don’t lecture me on speed limits… this is Texas). There is no sidewalk, no shoulder, no other way to cross. That hump has a set of rough wheel-swallowing steel rails sitting there on top of it. You hit that wrong on a bike and you are going down. There is no other crossing to the north for a mile. It’s two miles south to a safe crossing.

The Grove road bike lane is right behind me… as is the Arapaho DART station. If I want to ride my bike to the library; I have to go through there. If there is any traffic at all I have no alternative than to stop, get off my bike, and carry it over the tracks.

Which isn’t the worst thing in the world… but I wish someone would work on these choke points.

It’s been almost seven years now, and the city has done something. Here’s what that exact same railroad crossing looks like now:

Railroad crossing on Arapaho road, Richardson, Texas

Railroad crossing on Arapaho road, Richardson, Texas

It’s really only a couple of concrete plates, a bit of asphalt, and some sidewalk work – but it makes all the difference. To almost everybody – those that only drive – this is something completely unnoticeable. But to people that cycle for transportation (and for pedestrians) this sort of thing is a game-changer. To think that the city and the transportation departments are actually, finally thinking about people that aren’t in hurtling steel boxes is a breath of fresh air.

I know, by the way, that it isn’t a good idea to ride on the sidewalk – but that is a rule that sometimes, like along fast moving arterial streets – is made to be broken.

They did the same thing on the other side of the road – going the other way. That makes it not only possible, but easy, for me to ride my bike to the library. Little improvements.

The first Patio Session

In my neverending quest for free stuff to do I came upon an article touting this year’s Patio Sessions at Sammons Park in front of the Opera House in the Dallas Arts District. That sounded like a plan, so I rearranged some scheduling, dragged myself out of bed a little earlier so I could leave work on time, and took the DART Red Line from work downtown.

I got there in plenty of time – they weren’t even set up when I arrived. The two musical guests for this, the first Patio Session of the year were Madison King and Calhoun.

It was really nice. With the evening sun starting to set, the light in the Arts District was thick and gorgeous. The musicians played in front of the reflecting pool between the Winspear and the Wyly – which is a particularly attractive spot. The skyscrapers of downtown all glowed in the evening light like warm mountain spires and far overhead the aluminum sunscreen reached out with a welcoming last bit of shade. The crowd was light and super mellow – most people brought blankets and spread out on the patches of bright green grass around the pool. The weather, unusual for North Texas, was perfect – the killer summer heat hasn’t arrived yet.

Madison King was up first and did an excellent acoustic set. Everything was so relaxed and chilled – it was just what I wanted – a perfect escape at the end of a day.

Between the bands I wandered over to the food trucks and bought something to eat. There were plenty of tables – my only difficulty was balancing my food on the way over. Most people found their way into the roped-off area with little tables where they were selling alcohol. Even though this was outside, the sound was good and you didn’t have to scrunch up close – though you could if you wanted to. The only downside was the periodic roar of a Southwest Jet overhead and, for some reason, a couple of times the bells of the nearby Catholic Church erupted into a cacophony of clanging – which usually is cool, but clashed with the music.

I wandered back for Calhoun’s set. They were using an instrument I had never seen before – it was like an accordion in a ornate wooden box set on a stand. He would move one wall of the box back and forth and you could see the air going through little cloth valves. The box said “NAGI” on it and it didn’t take much work to find out what the instrument is. It’s a portable harmonium. These seem to be mostly used by Indian musicians, but it fit right in with what Calhoun was playing tonight. It enabled the three piece ensemble to have a deeper, more complex sound.

In their Youtube video for their SXSW showcase they look like a pop band, but again, for this setting, they went for a mellower, chilled out acoustic sound. They were very good at it and I really liked their set.

It didn’t last long – at 7:30 or so they were done. That’s nice for a work night, and I was able to catch the train before the sun set.

The Patio Sessions continue into the summer, every Thursday at 5:30. The lineup looks impressively diverse – and thankfully full of local talent – The Simon & Garfunkel tribute band looks cool, and I’m always up for a string quartet. I don’t know if it is always as relaxing and laid back – but I imagine it is. It might get more crowded as the season goes on, but there is plenty of room.

I’ll have to remember to bring a blanket next time.

Madison King at the first Patio Session

Madison King

The musicians play next to the reflecting pool in front of the Opera House

.

The audience was very, very laid back.

.

Tha Nagi harmonium that Calhoun used... very cool.

.

.

.

.

.

Santa Fe Trestle Trail

A few weeks ago, looking around I found out about a trail that I had barely heard of nearing completion in Dallas. It isn’t very long and it goes nowhere, but it looks pretty cool.

When they built the DART rail line along the Santa Fe rail right-of-way going across the Trinity River into Oak Cliff, they constructed a new rail bridge over the river. They left the old Santa Fe iron trestle next to the new concrete bridge. Right from the first, there was talk of trying to preserve the old trestle, both the iron bridgework and the wooden timbers. It was decided to build a hike/bike trail over the old trestle. The first plans were to simply build the trail where the rails used to be, but the Corps of Engineers wanted to clear away the old wooden timber piers to allow debris to wash through during flood periods. So the design was modified with new big, curving, concrete approaches to the metal bridge over the river itself. Over the last few years construction continued, cleaning up the old bridge and putting the new trail causeways into the river bottoms.

I found notice that the construction was nearing completion and although it wasn’t officially open, but the trail was walkable. Sunday I wasn’t able to get some of the things done I had planned, but as the day went on, I was running out of time, but I guessed I would have time to go down and check out the trail as the sun set.

There is parking at the Corinth DART station and the entrance to the trail is across the street. It’s a short walk through the swampy river bottoms (there was a lot of water, mud, plus flotsam and jetsam from the recent heavy rains) and then the trail begins to rise along a long, curving elevated causeway. They are still working on the landscaping, but otherwise it looks pretty much finished.

The sun was setting as I reached the bridge itself. It was pretty cool – the path is wide and smooth and there are nice benches set along the way. I enjoyed watching the DART trains going by a few feet away and there are great views of the downtown skyline contrasted with the vast open areas of the Trinity River Bottoms.

The entrance to the trail near the Corinth DART station.

A view of the Dallas Skyline from the trail. (click to enlarge)

The trestle trail going over the Trinity River.

A DART train rumbles by with the biking/hiking trail in front. (click to enlarge)

I didn’t stick around very long – this is not the part of town you want to be hanging out in after dark. As I was walking back to my car I heard some chanting in the distance. As I walked it was closer and I realized I was hearing some sort of yelling through a bullhorn. Finally, I could understand what was being yelled:

“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Columbia Packing has got to go!”

Oh, crap, Columbia Packing. That was the place that became infamous last week when they were busted dumping pig blood into a creek that ran down to the Trinity. I did not realize I was so close to the place. It was only a block or so away and I was walking along a stand of trees that bordered the contaminated creek. There was a demonstration going on trying to shut down the plant.

I want to go back to the trail with a group of bike riders during the day once the park is completely open… it’s a cool place even if it doesn’t connect with anything else (yet) – but still, I was glad to get back to my car and get headed home.

A video of a ride across the bridge from a while back. The construction was a lot further along this weekend, and the water in the river was a lot higher.

Then and Now – Lee likes shiny things

Then:

Lee at MLS soccer gameT

Lee at MLS soccer game

Lee, outside a soccer game at the Cotton Bowl. He likes shiny things

This was a game in 2002 where, in honor of the visiting Clint Mathis, everybody (that wanted one)  got free Mohawks – all the kids on Nick’s soccer team did. .

2011 Mardi Gras

2011 Mardi Gras

Lee, New Orleans, 2011 Mardi Gras. He still likes shiny things.