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On the trail of common courtesy

Pam LeBlanc, Fit City

Staff Writer
Austin 360

If you run, walk or cycle on the trail around Lady Bird Lake regularly, you've probably come within a sweaty hairsbreadth of bumping into someone at least once.

The trail bustles with people, dogs and strollers. To keep everyone safe, it's important that we all pay attention and slow down.

In Dallas, where 28-year-old Lauren Huddleston died from injuries in October after colliding with a cyclist on the Katy Trail, that city's parks and recreation department has launched an educational campaign to encourage people to do just that.

As part of the new Happy Trails campaign, 450 informational signs will be posted along the city's 104 miles of outdoor trails. Among the happy face-themed reminders? "Safe Speed," "Listen for Others" and "Look Before U-Turn."

The campaign also includes TV and radio spots and a Facebook page. Austin's own Junior Brown provides background music for one of the public service announcements.

Private partners donated more than $120,000 in materials and services to help create the campaign, which cost the city of Dallas about $80,000.

Austin's trails have grown more congested in recent years, and I'm hopeful that our own trail etiquette blitz isn't far behind. Austin parks officials have said they're looking for ways to make our trails safe as traffic grows. Suggestions include a trail safety awareness campaign or portable sandwich-type signs with safety tips.

The top reminders? Don't walk or run more than two abreast, stay to the right and pass on the left, turn down the volume on headphones (or take them off), and slow down.

That sultry summer sprint known as Maudie's Moonlight Margarita Run & Gala gets a new date this year, moving from its usual late summer time slot to June 16.

Organizers hope the earlier date will attract more people. They theorize that fewer people travel in June and temperatures will be cooler. (Like 98 instead of 108, perhaps?)

Runners will race 5 kilometers up and down streets bordering Lady Bird Lake. One of the city's most casual fund-raising galas, complete with Maudie's TexMex food and margaritas, will follow.

"It so much fits the culture of Austin and the trail," says Susan Rankin, executive director of the Trail Foundation. "You get to go run and then wear shorts to the gala. You don't have to wear a little black dress."

Proceeds from the event support an array of trail projects, including the current renovation of the Johnson Creek Trailhead next to Austin High School, where the race starts and finishes.

A retaining wall and steps already are taking shape there, just east of the pedestrian bridge underneath MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1). Next, crews will tackle the stretching area west of the bridge. Plans call for rainwater gardens, new landscaping, a wide wall and a bank of water fountains.

Construction began in mid-April and should wrap up by September. The trail will remain open during the project.

Registration for the 5K is $30 or $95 for both the 5K and party. Prices increase June 15. To sign up go to www.thetrailfoundation.org.

If you thought blowing through a stop sign on a bike didn't have consequences, think again.

Al Bastidas, founder of the nonprofit group Please Be Kind to Cyclists, received an anonymous letter recently, following an article I wrote about his campaign to improve relations between cyclists and motorists.

The letter was hand-written and mailed to Bastidas' home.

"I don't really feel any remorse for you or other cyclists and here's why," it read, in part. "On the same day as your article I was running errands on S. Congress and was stopped at a red light along with a number of other vehicles. Well, gosh, here comes a Lance wannabe in his outfit (sort of like yours) ... Guess what! Right thru the red and then proceeded to also go thru the next red down the road. I see this every day. So we auto/truck drivers are supposed to feel sorry for you guys? Get real!"

The post script was the real kicker.

"Keep riding and sooner or later - BLAM! From some vehicle."

I'm a daily bike commuter. It irks me to no end when I see cyclists blast through stop signs or disobey traffic laws.

"No matter how hard we work spreading our message and bringing awareness, the purpose almost gets defeated by such actions," Bastidas says.

But likewise, it ticks me off when cars and trucks speed down city streets, roll through stop signs or do anything else illegal.

There are good cyclists and bad cyclists, just as there are good motorists and bad motorists.

We should all strive to stick to the laws.

As cyclists, though, we've got more to lose. We'll lose that battle with a car every time.

There's another reason to stop, too. We're ambassadors for the cycling community. We should set a good example.

pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994