The creative writing, observations, experiences, and opinions, on life, and the world around him, by Kiril Kundurazieff; taking one step at a time on the Journey of Discovery, and Enlightenment, that every individual must take from the cradle to the grave.
Submitted to Outlook, at the Houston Chronicle, 9/13/13, but not published
In response to the article “Helping Mass Transit, Bicycles Work Together” (Houston Chronicle Print Ed.), AKA "Bike-bus syncing an uphill climb, but getting there" online (9/10/13), by Dug Begley, I write from the perspective of a life-long bicycle commuter and user of mass transit who has never driven a car. I moved to Houston, exactly 1 year ago, after living my first 52 years in southern California.
For a person who comes from a region where 6 connected counties each have mass transit, there are 4 long distance commuter rail routes, and Los Angeles has a half dozen somewhat lengthy, urban/suburban, (Some even part subway), local routes, and I could use any combination of this to travel upwards of 50 to 180 miles, in almost any direction (for commuting, or even to take a few mile bike ride somewhere), to say that the transit situation, here, came as a shock, would be putting it mildly. Plus, there are some bus systems that, for years, have had bike racks designed for 3!
Not that I don’t mind riding my bike 14 miles, from the nearest bus stop, to visit the USS Texas and the San Jacinto Monument, or visit any number of other places in Harris County, by bike, after taking a bus as far as the system allows.
Where I come from there are bike trails that run anywhere from 20 to 46 miles and that’s just 3 major river trails, plus the residential Mountains to the Sea Trail, in Orange County, and one, in combo with a few short miles on the street, will get a cyclist from the beach in Huntington Beach to the base of Big Bear mountain, east of San Bernardino, after an 80 mile ride; the existence of extensive mass allows anyone who cares to take advantage of it, access to bike trails and the ability to exercise and also commuter to and from work.
I call myself the Cycling Dude (and the Mad Houstonian); I am the guy you may have seen pedaling around town wearing a yellow and black “3 feet please” Jersey and, after having rode the length of Westheimer and Memorial, as well as continually familiarizing myself with Metro Transit, I am not afraid of anything this city, or county, has to offer.
Bicyclists looking just to exercise or a bike commuter looking to exercise and get to and from work, are only limited by their curiosity, imagination, stamina and determination. You can use bike routes and bike trails to commute and you can use the existing trail system alongside the existing transit system, to do both if you truly want to do so. Don’t be intimidated. Find ways, time permitting, to be active in the support of improving the situation, from better sidewalks and streets, to improved and increased transit and bike trail options, including better, more detailed, maps about the bike trails and bike routes.
According to the US Census, several years ago, a half million people throughout the United States commute to work by bicycle. There are studies that show that bicycles offer the strongest potential for reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics bicycles are second only to cars as a preferred form of transportation.
One can learn about a federal financial incentive for commuting by bicycles in the Federal Bicycle Commuter Benefit Act, effective Jan. 1, 2009, from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.
Houston, Harris County and areas beyond can do better by the bicyclist as well as those who must rely on mass transit, but it’s up to us to encourage them to find the will, the ways and the means to do so.
I left the following comment: "Ever feel like your batteries were alkaline, and not the energizer bunny brand either? Seriously, I'm gonna ride my bike to church this morning. I haven't been to church since before my surgery, in April."
As I prepared to go, inspiration struck.
There is nothing like a long, leisurely, bike ride, for re-charging one's batteries, even huntin' down creative ideas and inspiration out of the blue, as you train your mind on something you have been working on, or something new.
Whether 10 miles, or 4,141, the journey has the potential to inspire the writer in ways he, or she, might never imagine, while refreshing a body and spirit that possibly has recently been through a lot.
Over the years I have taken bike rides of 45, 48, 66 (twice), and 81.60 miles (over 2 days) that, camera in tow, inspired me to creatively share those adventures. My rides helped me come up with ideas for new stories and poems, and even think through daily life challenges.
At 16.70 miles I reached State Highway 6 and the large West Oak Mall. The next 3 miles found me on a busy 3 lane road with residential on my left and nothing but what was, at the time, nothing but mystery on my right.
There is another time, along this stretch, where things are difficult for the cyclist; where street parking is allowed cars take up most of the lane and, to avoid being doored, the cyclist must carefully take the outside lane as needed.
As I arrived at Weslayan, the street at last widened to three lanes and a left turn lane.
After another mile you reach the 610 freeway and start pedaling through the Galleria area. Soon, at Post Oak, Westheimer becomes 4 lanes each way, with an additional turn lane, in order to better handle the crush of traffic through, possibly, the fanciest, most expensive, shopping district in town. This one mile stretch is chock full of high-rise hotels and office buildings, highly expensive boutique stores in several strip malls and the huge Galleria shopping mall with so many floors and stores that one could easily get lost before going broke (though, with all the fancy stores you COULD go broke first w/o trying.). On my two visits to the place I stuck to the great food court and Macy’s.
From here, the 6 mile mark, on out, it is strip mall heaven all the way to Highway 6. All the fast food places are here; Burger King, Chic-Fil-A, Del Taco, Jack-in-the-Box, James Coney Island, McDonald’s, Raising Cane’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Whataburger, even Shipley’s Donuts.
Big Box stores, like Target and Walmart, pet stores like Petco and Petsmart, supermarkets like HEB, Kroger and Randalls, as well as Office Depot, Home Depot and Barnes and Nobles; In other words, all the familiar comforts of suburban life.
At 11 miles I reach Beltway 8 and the Sam Houston Parkway feeder road beside it I am only a mile or so from home if I want to call it quits, which I don’t.
The road has long since smoothed out, leaving the lumps and cracks to the sidewalks, which is a problem just about everywhere in Houston, except those parts of town where the streets are practically one lane, leaving no room for a sidewalk, but that’s another story, for another time.
The further out I went the dingier some of the strip malls became.. I continued to pass gated apartment complexes and high end residential communities, as well.
At 13.25 miles I came to the Bike Barn, bicycle shop.
At about 15 miles some teens in a silver Nissan, kept yelling at me out their window; I just smiled and waved. At the next intersection I was behind them and they opened a passenger window, expecting me to pull up next to them as we waited for the light. I pulled up behind, smiled and wagged my finger at them. A young Hispanic stuck his head out, smiled and waved back.
At the next light a Sentra pulled beside me with a pair of well-dressed black ladies inside, they opened the passenger window and asked me about my shirt and we had a very nice, short, chat.
I have lived in Houston since September, but it was only in March that I took to the streets on my trust steed, Cleopatra, in any serious way.
A few months back I rode my bike alongside the Pasadena freeway, for 14 miles each way, to visit the San Jacinto Monument and recently explored the stretch of Westheimer from Highway 6 to a few miles beyond the Harris County line, but other than a few short rides, on not so busy streets, to run errands, I’d not begun to explore Houston proper.
I decided that, one day at the end of March, it was time to start.
What better way to begin than to introduce myself to the longest, busiest, street in town, Westheimer?
It runs from Bagby Street in downtown Houston, all the way out to Westpark Tollway on the southern edge of George Bush Park, west of Highway 6. At this point “Old Westheimer Road” soon becomes the FM 1093 feeder road for the tollway, at the county line.
The street was named after Michael Louis Westheimer, a German immigrant and flour salesman, who came here before the Civil War. The road itself was born in 1895.
The width of the road is as varied as what one can see while traveling it, but when one only views it from the windows of a crowded, moving, bus there is simply no time to stop and smell the flora and fauna, or experience anything else.
My name is the Cycling Dude. I also fancy myself The Mad Houstonian. I have bicycled all my life and, up until last September, that was all in southern California. In 2003 I began one of the earliest bike blogs in America and while that blog ended in 2010, I still write about my cycling adventures. I am a poet, storyteller, commentator, photographer and safe cycling advocate and, now, I look forward to exploring my new home on 2 wheels.
Houston, you are a huge ol’ place, you cover a lot of ground. You started small, but now you have grown so big that motor vehicles compete to make the loudest sound. It’s said you give bicyclists lots of space to ride around alongside bayous, large and small.
Multi-use trails do abound but I ask, is that all? Is that the only option for me to saddle up and pedal toward? Can I also safely share the road with motorists and trust my precious life on your many, varied, city streets?
Everyone knows that Lance Armstrong plans to come clean about doping in the confessional that is the Oprah Show on Thursday and Friday. Though I will read the newspaper reactions to his appearance, I won't watch the 2-parter online. His exploits once inspired me, on my Cycling Dude blog, to a bit of creative writing, and so I figure the best response I could make would be to share those pieces once again, alongside links to some essays I read in the paper this morning.
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