Fit City: Bicycles might be speediest way to get to Formula One track for races

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Fit City: Bicycles might be speediest way to get to Formula One track for races

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Mark Matson
Project Manager Chad Crager, right, points out the suggested cycling route from City Hall to Richard Moya Park to Austin City Council member Chris Riley, center, and American-Statesman writer Pam LeBlanc.

Barring a trip in your own private helicopter, a bicycle might offer the speediest way for fans to get to the new Circuit of the Americas Track on Formula One race day.

To find out just how feasible that might be, I met City Council Member Chris Riley, a bike commuter and staunch supporter of cycling, at City Hall so we could scout the route from downtown. Chad Crager, a project manager in the city of Austin’s neighborhood connectivity department, joined us for the roughly 11-mile trip.

First things first. Cyclists won’t be allowed to pedal to the front gates of the track. Roads surrounding the facility will be closed to bicycles — as well as to pedestrians and any vehicle without a parking pass. (A limited number of those are available for motor vehicles starting at $150 plus service fees.) That’s created some grumblings within the cycling community, but bear in mind that the two-lane, no-shoulder roads, such as FM973, that lead to the track aren’t exactly bike friendly — at least not yet.

Race organizers and city officials instead are encouraging cyclists to bike to Richard Moya Park on Burleson Road, which is about a mile from the track. From there, they can valet park their bike, clean up at a portable shower and hop a shuttle exclusively for cyclists. It’s all free, paid for by the Circuit of the Americas folks.

The bike valet will operate from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Nov. 16, 17 and 18. Bicycles cannot be left overnight. Showers will be open from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. all three days.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase all sorts of sustainability practices and how bikes can offer viable alternatives to cars,” Riley said. “Those willing to try it will find a really enjoyable experience. Biking could be a highlight of the event.”

No one’s sure just how many cyclists will take advantage of the offer, especially this first year. “We’d like to say there will be 500 or 1,000, but it’s just too hard to know,” Crager said. “But it’s our responsibility to provide alternative modes of transportation to get out there.”

Signs designating the cycling route will be posted approximately every 1,000 feet along the way, and at all turns.

We pushed off from City Hall on our reconnaissance mission at about 10 a.m. on a Friday.

The first few miles overlapped the hike and bike trail around Lady Bird Lake. We crossed the river on the pedestrian sidewalk along Interstate 35, then headed east on Riverside Drive to South Lakeshore Boulevard and on to Pleasant Valley Road. The bike lanes on Pleasant Valley are narrow and covered with gravel in spots. It’s an uphill slog across Riverside Drive and Oltorf Street, but then we popped onto a wide bike path that cut us through a greenbelt and spit us out on Burleson Road.

There we faced our biggest obstacle, Ben White Boulevard, which could be a little intimidating to folks without much city riding experience. Just cross with traffic, and when you’ve crossed the underpass, veer left, onto the main part of Burleson Road. There’s a nice bike lane all along Burleson, and it’s a nice, flat stretch of road. Beware of fast-moving traffic, though. A tortilla factory must be tucked along the road somewhere, because it smelled terrific.

Just after the intersection with U.S. 183, which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds and will be manned by a police officer on race weekend, you can hop onto a paved asphalt trail that runs parallel to Burleson. It’s a little scruffy and cracked, but city crews have been busy trimming trees and removing vegetation. Eventually, you’ll merge onto a trail that leads into the park. The bike corral will be set up at the east end.

It took us just under an hour of easy riding to reach the park from downtown.

Keep in mind: This is Year 1. Infrastructure improvements are planned. Riley and Crager both said that an improved, multiuse trail to the track could eventually become a reality.

Here’s another idea: If you don’t want to bike all the way to the track, load your bicycle in your vehicle, drive to a point a few miles from Richard Moya Park, park and pedal the remaining distance.

For folks who want to ride but don’t want to do it on their own, Bike Austin, a nonprofit cycling advocacy organization, is planning guided group rides to and from Richard Moya Park on Nov. 17 and 18. The fully supported rides, each led by a cycling instructor from the League of American Bicyclists, will depart several points downtown in the morning and after the races.

“Our goal for these rides is to provide a more convenient, healthy and fun method of transportation to the track,” said Noni Jarnagin, volunteer coordinator for Bike Austin. “We especially want to highlight the safety, benefits and ease of cycling in the Austin area in general.”

Austin bike shops hope to cash in on the races, too. Rocket Electrics, 1608 E. Riverside Drive, will offer a four-day rental package for its electric bikes, which can travel up to 30 miles on a charge or can be pedaled like a traditional bicycle, said shop owner John Dawson.

“It takes an electric bike 40 minutes one way, and I guarantee you the traffic jams are going to be at least that,” Dawson said. “At worst you’re going to be even, and at best you’re going to be half the time.”

NOTE: This story has been corrected to change the Todd Lane to Burleson Road.

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