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Letter to the Mayor

We all agree on at least these three truths:

1) Austin does not have the infrastructure to support the current needs of all of the various travelers using our limited methods of transportation, such as roadways, highways, tollways, sidewalks (where they exist), bike lanes (where they exist) and surface streets.

2) Austin continues to grow despite already outgrowing our ability to move comfortably and safely around the city.

3) Planned changes to increase mobility are not immediate but the harms caused to our population without these changes are severe, and with infrastructure changes mostly preventable.

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Another tragedy, another call for better streets

June 7, 2016, Alexei Baureis, a 14-year-old was hit and killed on his bicycle at the intersection of Spicewood Springs and Rustic Rock Drive. A large truck hit this child. After noting that the driver was not intoxicated and cooperative KXAN reports that police warn “with summer here, people on bikes should be certain to make sure they have their lights and reflectors in place, there is no mention that lights or reflectors were a factor. There is no warning to motorists to make sure their vehicles are operational, that they are not driving distracted or without lights.

A 14-year-old is dead. Looking at the intersection (see interactive street view below) where he died it is clear, there is no infrastructure for people on bikes. Had the motorist been looking and driving with lights on and seeing what there is to be seen and observing the vulnerable road user ordinance, would this young person still be with us? Had the City provided adequate street lighting and a bicycle lane would this young person still be with us?

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City of Austin and Bike Lanes — Particularly Mesa Drive

bikelane-300x225-300x225In 2007, the City of Austin Bike Plan (click to download document) began with these words, “The aim of the Austin Bicycle Plan is to increase bicycle use and safety.” Per the adopted Austin Bicycle Plan, “On-street automobile parking and bicycle lanes are incompatible because the parked cars essentially prevent use of the lane. Parking should not be allowed in bicycle lanes.” Through the Bicycle Program and other programs, the City of Austin strives to increase bicycle use and safety to protect cyclists from the impact of automobiles.

In 2009, the bike plan began with a forward letter from then Mayor Will Wynn. The document reveals what was to be done when improving infrastructure for the goal of becoming the most bicycle-friendly major city in Texas and a world class bicycle-friendly city. Page forty-five of this master plan shows the studies and feedback provided as well as illustrates the stake the City had in increasing contiguous routes not just for commuters but for recreational and athletic users of bike lanes.

In 2014, the plan grew seemingly even stronger. “A change in focus” leads the charge on the city website for the master bike plan.. The change is touted as going from “To Create and Promote the best environment for the friendly coexistence of bicycle riders and other transportation users in Austin” to “To maximize the contribution of bicycling to Austin’s quality of life”.

Due to lack of preparation and planning by the City of Austin, last night’s meeting devolved into a group of people arguing their opinions in anger, or into what I think of as the “angry face phenomenon.”

In a book I once read this illustration was provided:

Jarvis Masters, who is a prisoner on death row, wrote a book, called Finding Freedom. In a chapter called “Angry Faces,” Jarvis has his TV on in his cell but he doesn’t have the sound on because he’s using the light of the TV to read. And every once in a while, he looks up at the screen, then yells to people down the cell block to ask what’s happening.

The first time, someone yells back, “It’s the Ku Klux Klan, Jarvis, and they’re all yelling and complaining about how it’s the blacks and the Jews who are responsible for all these problems.” About half an hour later, he yells again, “Hey, what’s happening now?” And a voice calls back, “That’s the Greenpeace folks. They’re demonstrating about the fact that the rivers are being polluted and the trees are being cut down and the animals are being hurt and our Earth is being destroyed.” Some time later, he calls out again. “Now what’s going on?” And someone says, “Oh, Jarvis, that’s the U.S. Senate and that guy who’s up there now talking, he’s blaming the other guys, the other side, the other political party, for all the financial difficulty this country is in.”

Jarvis starts laughing and he calls down, “I’ve learned something here tonight. Sometimes they’re wearing Klan outfits, sometimes they’re wearing Greenpeace outfits, sometimes they’re wearing suits and ties, but they all have the same angry faces.” Pema Chodron, (1997) When Things Fall Apart.

Last night’s meeting literally fell apart. People who don’t regularly advocate came to the meeting hoping to have a voice, but the City was unorganized and threatened by its own meeting or lack of procedure or perhaps unprepared for the passion in the voices that were there. There was a lack of moderation, a quelling of speech, and palpable fear from prepared speakers wanting to present factual information. No facts were ever presented save for a few slides I had prepared that were shouted about by those assuming the direction of the slide.

What happened last night was a gathering, a coming together of a group of caring people, of community members, all of whom share a similar goal. The resounding need in the room, both spoken and unspoken, by everyone who attended was this: “Help calm this street, it is moving too fast, it is dangerous for those trying to leave their driveways, it is dangerous for children riding their bikes though the route is designated as a safe route to schools, and homeowners want on street parking. Help keep us safe, help us keep ourselves and our families and our neighbors safe.”

Various arguments were made that began with, “I have a circular driveway and a long driveway” I need on-street parking. “I want my grandmother to be able to park in front of my house on the street when she comes to visit,” this last seeming to assume that there is no room in the driveway when in fact the street-to-door length in this area is actually greater than driveway-to-door in most instances. People wanting bike lanes were arguing for their life and the lives of those they love who use the bike lanes and fear being pushed into faster-moving traffic.

The City has neither posted nor provided actual studies of what is wrong with the current situation or how to fix it; instead, they created a forum in which many disparate opinions were shared in the absence of facts, in which neighbors shouted down neighbors in an emotional effort to be heard. . The City of Austin so far has only presented goals involving striping and nothing that demonstrably would improve calming conditions which is what everyone is seeking. There is no scenario, though, where facts have been provided that show that removing bike lanes creates safer streets for our most vulnerable road users.

The Austin Vulnerable Road User Ordinance code provides that cars must maintain a distance of three feet from people on bikes and other vulnerable road users and six feet if the motorist is a large truck.

Not one person or City staffer addressed how any of the proposals would work with this law. A discussion that I tried to initiate, but the city shut down due to last-minute time constraints and a fear of my prepared slides.

I came to the meeting to show the various hazards presented by the proposed options. I was met at the beginning of the meeting by City of Austin representative and proposal leader, Laura Dierenfeld, the Active Transportation Program Manager. She stated that she did not want me to show slides because it was using “technology”. She stressed that she did not want me to make any presentation despite the fact that I live off of Mesa and have a child and a home in the area. In other words, free speech was not being afforded. Laura and Nathan Wilkes of the same department dealt with this by disclaiming at the beginning of the meeting “a person wants to show a powerpoint and we want to let you know we do not approve”. They decided to limit each person’s time to speak to three minutes. So, a line was formed and folks that had something to say lined up, took the microphone and spoke until they were told their time was up.

Opinion followed opinion. Again, similar cries for safer streets. Except for the one guy who argued, he needed a wide shoulder in front of his house with a circular and long driveway because traffic is too heavy, even though he does not concern himself with traffic because “I drive a big truck with a big bumper and I make my way”. Dangerous much?

An engineer from the City attended but was not asked to address any of the issues brought to the table. Council Member Sherri Gallo could not be bothered to attend, according to a representative from her office, due to more important issues in “another neighborhood.”

Nobody addressed the lack of studies on what can be done with a forty foot street for traffic calming, maintaining marked and contiguous bike lanes and creating some relief for those in need of parking. I note that there has been no demonstrated need for parking, only a loud cry from a very few for want of parking.

The only “study” was the parked car count conducted only four times during different times of day. Attendees at the meeting reported completely different independent observations just this past week.

Basically what this comes down to is there is not enough information, no formal studies, and a blatant attempt to prevent free flow of actual facts. Apparently a community meeting is only for opinion, what could go wrong there?

I left last night’s meeting wondering what unintended consequences will follow from what I perceive to be a lack of integrity on the part of the City, which seems to prioritize a knee-jerk reaction to a few homeowners over a thoughtful solution which would protect thousands of people who ride bikes along this corridor daily.

The majority of voices heard asked resoundingly for street humps, or turnabouts, or even narrower car lanes to reduce the traffic pace and create a calmer environment. These concerns remain without acknowledgement or answer from the City of Austin.

What I do know is that there was an amazing turn-out of concerned citizens; some who live in our neighborhood and some who use the bike lanes regularly and whose voices are those the City of Austin Bike Plan is allegedly addressing.

Regardless of the decision the City of Austin reaches in this situation, it will walk away, wash its hands of any liability for future consequences, no matter how foreseeable, and any and all unintended consequences. Under no circumstances should any changes be made without the appropriate studies of what each the proposals presented may produce in terms of traffic and the risks associated or how these proposals work with existing goals, policy, and plans.

Facts to be considered relating to ten foot shoulders with no designated bike lane:

  • The average truck width is six and a half feet.
  • The average door opens three feet.
  • The average space a person riding a bike needs to pass a vehicle safely is three feet if it is a small vehicle and six feet if it is a larger vehicle.
  • Cars or trucks parked on a shoulder rarely park directly against the curb, that may leave less than two feet of space for a person on a bike to pass.
  • If a person is exiting the vehicle there is the door zone of three feet and the human factor zone to be considered of several feet for ingress or egress of the vehicle.
  • Ten feet of shared space for parked cars is dangerous and we have seen the results on Shoal Creek.
  • Shoal Creek has this configuration of on street parking with shared bike path. There are regular battles of wills and might from autos to people riding bikes.

Benefits of bike lanes…well, there are too many to enumerate, so please reference what People for Bikes has to say on the matter.

A simple online search will demonstrate the multiple options not even being suggested by the City of Austin to create safer cycling and traffic calming on Mesa.

Let’s get serious about safety. Frankly, no one’s opinion matters as much as learned answers following deliberate efforts to find safe solutions.

Medical marijuana will be a big issue in the next voting cycles

Medical Marijuana and Voting in Future Elections

Medical marijuana will be a big issue in the next voting cycles

In 2005 and 2006 in Northern and Southern California, the DEA under the Bush Administration was swarming medical marijuana dispensaries that were operating quasi-legally (as legally as they could) under California State Law, specifically The Compassionate Use Act, arguably laws written very poorly. The moment the SCOTUS reached a decision in Reich v. Gonzales, 21 USC 801 the doors to the largest chain of dispensaries throughout the State and the largest edibles manufacturer (our clients) were knocked down and every asset seized in what is called a civil forfeiture action. A civil forfeiture action is a legal tool that allows law enforcement officials to seize property that they assert has been involved in certain criminal activity. This seizure of property includes cash direct from bank accounts. Businesses operating under color of State Laws but impermissible under federal law are subject to this action and medical marijuana businesses operating under the Compassionate Use Act of California were surprised when their money disappeared from their operating accounts and they were left with a subpoena and civil citation they could not defend against, U.S. v. $124,000.00. This taking was common and caused additional lawsuits by employees who were not paid for work they had provided for their employer, now sitting in jail on federal drug charges. Class actions ensued against these employers because often the dispensaries had sufficient employees to trigger what amounted to a factory shut down within less than proper notice required by state employment laws. With all operating expenses seized there is often no way to pay payroll and of course no way to pay for necessary services or expenses.

As civil counsel for both Compassionate Caregivers and Beyond Bomb edibles we turned over representation to criminal counsel in 2006 following the raids of each establishment. Shefman Law representing Compassionate Caregivers Inc. The police came in and arrested owners, managers, and employees sometimes issuing up to five year sentences. This enraged the medical marijuana community. A medical marijuana dispensary was turned into a “drug ring” by DEA accounts: DEA page on Compassionate Caregivers, Inc. The same type of reporting by the DEA of Kenneth Affolter’s Beyond Bomb business: DEA page on Beyond Bomb. Suggested that business was focused on selling to children despite the products only being available in dispensaries subject to the Compassionate Use Act and a doctor’s recommendation and patient ID card. Though, the community that supported over 30 dispensaries in San Francisco at the time and countless dispensaries in Los Angeles had a different account, here is one from the SF Gate.

Since then five states have provided for the legalization of marijuana and have operated smoothly under the Obama Administration. But, what lies ahead? The Texas legislature once again introduced a bill into the session that went nowhere, indicating legislative intolerance of alternative medicine, or perhaps more indicative of the lobbyists for the larger pharmaceutical company’s intolerance for competition from medical marijuana operating within the State.

Are you registered to vote? If you are reading this my guess is medical marijuana is a concern for you? If so, register to vote. Each of the business that are operating in California and Colorado and within whatever bounds the states they exist within allow, are not secure under a hostile federal government. If Scott Walker or another Bush become the new POTUS, the 2005-2006 behavior of the DEA and the IRS will be repeated and the legitimate businesses now operating will be reduced to a page of DEA allegations of organized drug criminals.

SXSW on Two Wheels – Quick Tips for Bikes

It’s that South-by time of year again in Austin and with the great music, speakers and all of the parties comes gridlock and street closures making two-wheeled transportation your best option for quickly navigating your way to the most events. Here’s a few quick pointers to make cycling around the city during a festival easier.

1) If you don’t have a bike, there’s always the new, shiny B-cycles rentable at multiple stations downtown. There’s also a variety of rental options (check out AustinPost’s list here) and SXSW badge holders have access to Tern folders.

2) Accessorize. Lights and lock are required, helmet is a good idea and a bell can be useful for alerting the sea of pedestrians and cars that come with downtown during SX.

3) Keep an eye out for those aforementioned cars and pedestrians, they’re not always looking for you.

4) Stay off the sidewalks. We know, its tempting to take off past the gridlock, but sidewalks can be more dangerous than the bike lanes.

5) Signal, signal and yield. People are everywhere downtown, let them know what you’re doing by signaling and yield to the pedestrians.

6) Try to stick to bike-friendly routes. North to south has Nueces, Speedway through the Capital to Congress and San Jacinto. Keeping a few blocks south of 6th to travel east/west is usually slightly less crowded and there’s an easy bike-path crossing under I-35 by the Convention Center on 4th.

7) Lock up every time you leave your bike. There are a lot more bike racks downtown than in previous years – use them. Watch for no bike parking signs because sometimes they’ll remove your bike.

8) Go slow. No matter your wheels, it’s slow going but biking is still faster than walking or driving. The faster you go the harder it is to dodge the power partier on their cell phone stepping directly in your path.

9) Don’t ride drunk. You CAN still get a ticket for impairment on a bicycle. Plus it’s just not a good idea. Play it safe and take a pedicab instead.

10) Wanna get downtown and walk? Motorcycle parking is always free downtown, if you can find a space and CapMetro has several stops along key SX zones.

Have fun, ride safe and remember, CyclistLaw – we’ve got your back.

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