Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Car Free in Texas

"I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults"  - the late, great Molly Ivins

I've been thinking about Texas a lot lately.  Partly because the Scientist went to give a talk in Houston, and that got me thinking about the places I used to hang out and just the feeling of the town.
We've also been re-watching season 3 of Friday Night Lights,  which is, in my opinion the finest show on television. Different part of Texas, somehow just the same.

The main reason I've been thinking about Texas though,  is what's been going on in Ennis Tx,  where I've been following the story of blogger Chipseal who is car free in a town about 40 miles south of Dallas.

He's a pretty hardcore vehicular cyclist, informed about the minutia of all facets of bicycle law, and unfortunately having way too much experience with having to defend his right to bicycle in the lane.
It's an interesting story, and if you go to his blog, I recommend looking at posts from last year and beyond as the recent ones are a bit confusing if you don't have the background.

Basically, to get where he wants to go, he often has no choice but to ride on rural highways- signed with 55 or 65 MPH limits.  Given a choice between riding on a debris strewn and disastrously paved shoulder, and riding in the lane,  he's ballsy enough to take the lane (as in the left tire track of the right lane).  People in cars are freaked out by this,  although they seem to go around him just as well as they go around a tractor, a slow moving truck, or anything else they have to go around.  He's had numerous run-ins with the county and city law enforcement, and even spent a night in jail.  Interestingly his interactions with the police have mostly been polite and respectful, and he talks about having had a real dialog with several of them.  He writes about it with disarming humor and modesty combined with a talmudic understanding of the minutia of the Texas Vehicular code..

Texas is a funny place.  People are passionate about the things they do, and can be determined (bullheaded) beyond belief.  If someone in Texas is convinced they are right about something, they're going to defend to the death their right to do it.  Tenacity and self righteousness can get whipped into a fury when directed at something foreign that you don't understand.  If you doubt me, check out the Ellis County Reporter and the people freaking out because someone wants to build a Halal slaugherhouse there and it will attract Muslims. Muslims grocery shopping.  How terrifying.  Actually- don't check out the Ellis county Reporter- it will probably just depress you.

On the other hand Texans tend to be polite, friendly and compassionate people.  It sounds to me that  people, including cops, are worried about Chipseal as much as they're mad that they're having to pass him.   He's had a lot of conversations with people who are willing to listen, even if they don't understand vehicular cycling's benefits.  I'm not completely sure,  but I bet Chipseal would be happy to ride on smaller rural roads than highways,  but the problem is that in many parts of the country, you can't get there from here on those roads.  And until drivers either cycle themselves,  or speak to an individual who can explain it to them, they're never going to understand why he rides there.

Anyway, I admire the guy's guts, while being glad that I'm not in his shoes.  I can't really articulate why I think this is such a uniquely Texas story,  but I wish him luck, and hope that he can convince win people over- one Texan at a time.


  1. I ride in Texas quite a bit. We have property near La Grange. Other than the Interstates, I have found few roads that did not have enough of a shoulder to avoid traffic. Most drivers are courteous. I think it is the Lance Armstrong effect. They do not want to risk running off the next Tour de France maillot jaune.

  2. I too am an avid reader of ChipSeal's blog and find what he is doing amazing. Texas is a very foreign concept to me, but I enjoy hearing and reading about it. Thanks for this extremely well-written story.

  3. I love Chipseal's blog - as a vehicular/recreational cyclist from the other end of Dallas, its almost comical how when you get two bullheaded groups of Texans togther. I've personally had 45 minute conversations at cocktail parties with folks who were somewhat shocked I made there ten mile trip there using my bike, worried for my safety, and offended I was using the road where the cars go.