April 9, 2014
Texas has it going. Bicycling is hot, and I'm not talking temperature. Don't take my word for it? Check out this piece on NPR. As our friend and colleague Robin Stallings of Bike Texas notes, "It's absolutely amazing. It's on fire."
So true. Recently I participated in the Texas Trails and Active Transportation Conference in Fort Worth. While there, I learned about the incredible progress being made in big cities like Fort Worth, Dallas, and Houston, and out-of-the-way places like Brownsville, El Paso, and Denton. In turn, I shared information about the U.S. Bicycle Route System and presented on growing bicycle tourism with my dear friends, Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of the Path Less Pedaled.
This session blew me away so much so that a group of us stayed afterwards to talk about the possiblities of this project. I initally saw Joseph Pitchford post about the trail on Bike Overnights, but watching the presentation and hearing the incredible back story about this trail was truly inspiring. The Northeast Texas Trail (NETT) is a rail-trail (it won't be affected by the recent Supreme Court decision, so don't worry) stretching 130 miles across seven counties and passing through 19 small towns. It runs from Famersville, about 45 miles from Dallas to New Boston. Towns on the trail range from a population of about 1,000 to 25,000. While the trail is only partially rideable as is (unless you are truly an Adventure Cyclist), it is a protected path and a perfect example of a bike trail destination just begging to happen.
Unfortunately, it might take a while before the trail is completely rideable. There are some segments of the trail that are overgrown, illegally fenced from public access, or are being used by adjacent landowners as their own. In addition, the trail isn't considered eligible for some federal funding because Texas doesn't allow transportation enhancement/alternative funds for "recreational" facilities. The good news is that the trail has dedicated advocates who are working to complete it. Joseph has ranked the trail segments so that they can be prioritized and completed over time. Advocate Earl Erickson is fighting to win the hearts and pocketbooks of the communities and travelers who will eventually benefit from the completion of this trail. To learn more and to ride the trail, visit the Northeast Trail website.
What in the heck is going on in Brownsville? A lot evidently. While I didn't have the opportunity to visit Brownsville (it's a few miles from Fort Worth), I was impressed to learn that so many good things are happening there. I met the head of the public health department who told me about the town's ordinances to encourage healthy lifestyles. They are the first town in Texas to ban plastic bags and they also have no-smoking policies. He's very interested in promoting the health benefits of biking, walking, and trail development. I also met the Brownsville Convention and Visitors Bureau president, Mariano "Bean" Ayaly, who lit up during our bike tourism presentation.
Beth Nobles (center) with Laura Crawford and Russ Roca
Beth Nobles, executive director of Texas Mountain Trail, has long been a hero of ours and I finally had the opportunity to meet her. She presented on cycling tourism opportunities in far west Texas and she really had me itching to explore that region by bicycle. Talk about wide open vistas, low traffic roads, wild flowers, national and state parks, and historic sites. Read more about this area from the expert herself, on Bike Overnights.
Darn, I really wanted to explore the city on the Fort Worth Bike Share, B-cycles. However, I was mostly stuck inside. On the one occasion I did get out, along with Velo Quebec's own Jean Francois Provonost, our ride was cut short by a bike station malfunction. We made the best of it by inviting the Bike Share mechanic, Mark Troxler, to join us for a beer on the patio of one of the great downtown pubs. Mark has an interesting story — he's a ballet dancer from Pittsburgh, he completed a cross-country tour and stopped into the Adventure Cycling offices a couple years back. Today, he's in Fort Worth, taking in the bike culture that's literally growing up around him.
I wasn't expecting a style show, but then again, I wasn't expecting to eat chicken in Texas for a straight week. Not only were we entertained by Mikael Colville-Anderson, founder of Copenhagen Cycle Chic, who went back in time to when bicycles were sexy, but the evening highlight was Momentum Magazine's Bicycle Fashion Show featuring Jack Sanford, a favorite Bike Texas celebrity. Other celebrities included Andy Clark from the League of American Bicyclists and my mentor, Jean Francois Provonost of Velo Quebec, architect of the La Route Verte network. And of course, a host of Texas heros doing amazing work across the second-largest state in the union.
Another great feature of Forth Worth was the beer. Yup, it was really good and there were so many different choices. And one of the big highlights for me was seeing Sundance Square (pictured above) and so much sunshine. After months of snow, clouds, and cold, that Texas sky was a welcome sight. The freeway fly-overs I had to negotiate in the rental car were not my best moments, but Texas is definitely on my bucket list for future bike travel. I can't wait to come back in the spring when the blue bonnets are in full bloom. Thanks Texas! You truly are a lone-star state.
BUILDING THE U.S. BICYCLE ROUTE SYSTEM is posted by Ginny Sullivan and Saara Snow of the Travel Initiatives Department and focuses on news related to the emerging U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS). The USBRS project is a collaborative effort, spearheaded by a task force under the auspices of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Members of the task force include officials and staff from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, and nonprofits like the East Coast Greenway Alliance and Mississippi River Trail, Inc.