clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How bike advocate Katie Deolloz gets around Austin

A car-free active-transportation champion is hooked on dockless scooters and e-bikes

“Dockless mobility is a normal part of everyday life.”
All photos by Katie Deolloz

Like many U.S. cities, Austin has experienced an influx of transportation options over the last year, as dockless scooters and e-bikes have flooded streets. Not only has active-transportation advocate Katie Deolloz embraced the new modes, now the car-free Austinite uses dockless services almost exclusively to get around.

A longtime champion of local pedestrians and cyclists, Deolloz is a 2017 Fellow of the America Walks National Walking College, a member of the board of Walk Austin, and currently wrapping up two-year terms with both the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Councils for the City of Austin.

She has also served as interim executive director at Bike Austin since January of this year (and the views expressed here are hers—not the views of Bike Austin). To keep up with her—she often bikes 12 miles or more per day—check out @katiedeolloz on Twitter and Instagram.

Deolloz brought Curbed around town during Austin City Limits, one of the many festivals that temporarily reconfigure Austin’s downtown—and illustrate how inefficient cars are for moving through busy streets. Follow along as Deolloz enthusiastically weaves through the city on e-bikes, scooters, and her own two feet.

Thursday, October 4

Today is kind of an unusual transportation day—I’m flying to Dallas and back. I’ve been planning a trip to Australia for years and want to make the re-entry process as smooth as possible so I need to do my Global Entry interview. This will actually entail visiting three airports! I fly for free on Southwest (my husband used to work there) and Southwest Airlines only flies into Dallas Love Field, so I’ll have to fly there first, then make the trip to Dallas Fort-Worth Airport.

Since the flight departs at 6:15 a.m. and there is no bus service available early enough or safe bike infrastructure along the way, I request a Lyft. Kenneth picks me up at 5:09 a.m. and drops me off 9.52 miles later. As we’re boarding I look over and see my friend Allan. He saves me a seat on the plane—thank you!—and we have a good chat before landing.

Allan is picked up by Silvercar—a car rental service that picks you up at airport arrivals—and I catch the 524 shuttle to the train station. I pay for my day pass on the DART app during the ride. From there I hop on the Orange Line to Southwest Medical Center Station, then walk over to take the 453 bus to my friend’s neighborhood for breakfast.

In October 2017, my daughter and I were in Washington D.C. for the U.S. FreedomWalk Festival. Around mile 10 or so, she asked to try out one of the dockless bikes parked along the route. It was the perfect tool, in the perfect place, at the perfect time. I was smitten.

The author, Austin-based active-transportation advocate Katie Deolloz, seen here with an action camera mounted to her bicycle helmet.
Katie Deolloz

About a month later, I was Dallas for an appointment where I got my first taste of dockless bikes in my part of the country. I hopped on a dockless bike at Mockingbird Station and rode it along the Katy Trail about five miles to Victory Station. I was able to lock my bike, pop onto the Orange Line back to Inwood/Love Field station, then catch the 524 bus back to the airport. It was fabulous—except for the hundreds and hundreds of bikes strewn along the trail.

The image of the hastily-deployed bicycles lying around stayed with me. Later, many of the Ofo bikes in Dallas ended up in the dump. Today in Dallas, I am amazed at how few bikes there are. In fact, I only see two people riding scooters the entire trip. That was it!

Francesca drops me off at DFW Airport Terminal D for my interview after meeting in Irving. Afterward I take a Terminal Link shuttle over to Terminal A where I catch the Orange Line all the way back to Inwood/Love Field Station. From there it was the same trip in reverse, 524 to airport, followed by a Lyft ride back home.

Friday, October 5

Today proceeds at a much slower pace compared to the day before. After I take an hour-long walking meeting with a colleague in Washington state using a conferencing app on my phone, I walk to the office.

We’ve been a car-free family for about six years now. I had been inspired by Chris Balish’s book How to Live Well Without Owning a Car, and following a trip to India with an intentional layover in Amsterdam, I told my husband, David, “That’s it! We’re selling the car!” Thankfully he’s used to being married to me, so he kindly countered with, “Okay. Let’s try it out for a week. If it goes smoothly, we’ll sell the car.” It went smoothly.

I wish that we had kept track of the expenses from the beginning, but we didn’t. That said, we don’t have to worry about replacing the tires, paying for gas, or registration. We do have a non-car owner policy that covers our liability while walking, biking, or operating a rented or borrowed car.

We live in the Galindo neighborhood and my office is about a half-mile away, as the crow flies. I tend to walk or ride my bike to the office. David commutes to his work at Whole Foods (he’s in IT) about seven miles each way by bicycle. If the weather is horrendous, then he’ll use a rideshare like Lyft, but that is infrequent.

Our son is 15 and in his second year at Austin Community College. He tends to get to class by bike, skateboard, or bus. Lydia, our 12-year-old, is still homeschooled, so she doesn’t have a commute, per se, but she does tend to walk, bus, or ride her bike when we go places in town like the Central Library in downtown.

After I wrap up at the office for the day, I head over to dinner at Thai Fresh by foot. My husband and the couple we’re meeting all show up on their personal bicycles, one of which is a Brompton folding bike that has traveled the world—check out my friend John’s videos on Active Towns!

The most fun aspect of this evening out is the fact that our conversation totally revolves around active transportation. It’s a conversation akin to Saturday Night Live’s “The Californians,” with bike routes name-dropped instead of highways.

It’s hard to believe it was just about a year ago that I was at a Bicycle Advisory Council meeting for a discussion about dockless mobility coming to Austin. The opposition was loud and unrelenting, but I stated resolutely that “dockless done right” was possible, and I believe I have been proven correct in that assessment. Note: I didn’t say “dockless done perfectly.”

A year later, I would say dockless mobility is a normal part of everyday life. The bikes and scooters are relatively accessible, fairly inexpensive, great on hot Texas days traveling up steep Hill Country inclines, and plain old fun! On the walk home from the restaurant I spy a Lime scooter near Oltorf and 5th, so I hop on and ride it the rest of the way home. Like I said: fun!

A bike lane in Austin obstructed by bins.
Katie Deolloz

Saturday, October 6

Today I end up riding Jump bikes on four separate trips for a total of 12.41 miles traveled. My friend Stephanie L. Lang produced the documentary “Reflections on a Legacy: East 12th Street,” so I ride over to Mission:Possible Austin from the office to participate in the screening and show my support for her incredible work, which is about how the East Austin neighborhood is changing.

Transportation equity is a serious issue here. Historically, East Austin residents have been disenfranchised in every way by people in positions of power. Trust has been lost, so when the City of Austin comes in with a new bike lane or installing a bikeshare station, neighbors react in anger because they feel as if they have been left out of the decision-making process. Time, consideration, patience, and a willingness to listen and truly hear what community members value is essential.

These disenfranchised communities are also where we have the the highest rates of traffic deaths. We are already at 57 fatalities this year, and nearly half of those deaths were people traveling on foot. Two people were killed while on sidewalks, including a man in my neighborhood named Ernesto Garcia.

Ernesto was waiting for the bus when a man in a white pickup truck was driving in the right-turn lane, but chose to try and beat the bus. He ended up driving on the sidewalk, striking, and killing Ernesto. I’m having trouble writing this because it makes me so furious and sad simultaneously. The man got out of his truck, had the audacity to touch Ernesto’s body, then got back in his vehicle and drove away.

This was completely preventable and touches on so many issues like street design, speed, drug-and-alcohol impairment, immigration, politics, friendship, family… the ripple effects of traffic violence are farther reaching than we realize until we are faced with the reality.

I’m a member of Central Texas Families for Safe Streets and will be facilitating a walk from City Hall to the State Capitol for the World Day of Remembrance for victims of traffic violence on November 18, 2018. Vision Zero is an effort I fully believe in—though it’s kind of feeling like only lip-service is being paid by local, regional, and state officials.

I will be thinking of Ernesto Garcia and the 56 other people who have been killed so far this year in Austin—and every one of the deaths was preventable. I’ll also be thinking of the individuals and families who are still living with the effects of incapacitating injuries. It’s agonizing and simply doesn’t have to happen.

After the event, I pedal back to the office where my husband meets me a few hours later and we ride bikes—me: bike share, him: his bike—over to Lamar Union to watch A Star is Born. From there we pedal back home—and fall asleep pretty quickly!

Sunday, October 7

Sunday morning I spend scouting an upcoming Smart Trips Austin ride to The Contemporary at Laguna Gloria. We will be partnering with Jump for that event, so I wanted to see where best to stage the bikes and negotiate the hills along the route since many of the participants will be new to riding pedal-assist bicycles. (Hello, surprise torque!) All in, it’s a 12.65-mile trip.

David meets me for dinner across the street at The ABGB where we sit outside and watch a number of people roll up on dockless bikes and scooters. I ask if I can take a quick picture of them “for this article I’m writing for Curbed about dockless mobility,” to which they all quickly consented. My husband is chuckling when I walk back to my seat and says, “They have no idea you’re about to ride away on one of those bikes!” He knows me well—I do!

David and I then pedal over to take in the spectacle that is the Austin City Limits Festival (everyone here says ACL). Our route takes us by the staging area for pedicab operators to queue up for ACL attendees needing a safe (and fun!) ride back to downtown, their hotels, or other destinations. Not surprisingly, I see my friend and well-respected active-transportation advocate Patricia Schaub, who owns Firefly Class Transport—they’re part of the e-assist pedicab pilot going on here in Austin. She told us that a typical negotiated rate for a single passenger from ACL to downtown is between $10 and $20.

From there, David and I ride along the Lady Bird Lake Hike/Bike Trail all the way down to the MoPac Bridge, then cross over to the north side of the lake and head back south via the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge—conceived and designed by the highly esteemed Girard Kinney—which transitions into Bike Route 31. We ride seven miles in total.

Monday, October 8

David isn’t looking forward to figuring out how to get to work this morning. ACL is taking a breather between weekends, but Zilker Park is still in full ACL setup mode. ACL—and other festivals—have a way of impeding the flow of bicycle traffic on off-street pathways and trails. For people like David who travel through that area five days a week, this is problematic.

A little later, it’s pouring down rain, so I called Lyft (the shared version, naturally) for a ride to the office. As soon as I’m buckled up, “Life is a Highway” is the first thing that comes out of the radio. I begin to feel pangs of guilt. “Am I a traitor to the active-transportation cause?! I just spent $5.13 when I could have grabbed an umbrella and walked the half-mile over?”

Things cleared up by the end of the day, so I find a Jump bike and ride it back to my home… well, I lock it to the stop sign in my front yard. The convenience of being able to lock a bike to any rack or sign means you might not have to walk far to use it the next day!

Tuesday, October 9

Got up early and—yes!—rode the Jump bike that was still parked out front from last night. It costs $2 for 30 minutes and I only need to go 1.01 miles—which feels a little pricey and I always want to keep riding until my paid-for 30 minutes have been well used. Today, I succumb to the siren call of getting stuff done, so I finish the trip and get down to business instead.

Electric pedicabs line up to take festival-goers in and out of Austin City Limits.

Annie is new to town and looking to volunteer with Bike Austin, so we meet for a working lunch at Bouldin Creek Cafe. I arrive via a Lime scooter. Thankfully the same scooter is still there after we’re done with our meeting, so I’m able to scoot back in relatively little time.

Scooters are definitely being discussed by advocates now and there seems to be little, if any, neutral ground. Bird and Lime are currently the main two operators in town, with Skip and Jump planning to deploy scooters sometime after ACL wraps up.

Scooters are verboten on Austin Parks and Recreation Department trails, along with all other forms of motorized vehicles, save for personal devices for individuals with mobility impairments. But when you see people riding e-scooters or bicycles on the sidewalk, that is a clear indicator that they feel unsafe riding on the street. Oftentimes that isn’t just their perception, but the reality due to dangerous design. The introduction of dockless mobility options is making obvious the fact that our streets are designed for cars, not people, and that the status quo is not acceptable.

Personally, I think the divide could be close to eliminated if the City of Austin would simply provide dedicated parking spaces for dockless and personal bikes and scooters. Business owners may want to follow suit and add parking for non-car patrons as well.

It rains a lot for the rest of the day. After things wrap up at the office, I take a Lime scooter back to the house, then snag a Jump bike from home to a meeting I’m invited to attend at 5th and Chicon. Since I’m a smidge early, I park the bike and grab a chai before walking back to the meeting. When the meeting wraps up, I check the Jump app for the closest bike with the greatest amount of battery life still left, reserve it, unlock it, and pedal my way back home in the cool evening air.

Wednesday, October 10

Today I have an appointment with my doctor, so I’m able to hop on a dockless bike and pedal about three miles to the Whole Foods Medical Wellness Center. I spend a bit of time chatting with the doc, then head upstairs to purchase a few vitamins and an early lunch. As I’m walking out of the store and across the parking lot to pick up a Jump bike, I hear someone calling out my name. Angela happened to see me from the cafe, so rather than taking my lunch to go, I joined her for a bit and caught up on all things Bike Austin (me) and bike-friendly real estate (her)!

A screenshot from the Jump app, which helps users locate available bikes.

Afterward I unlock a dockless bike I had put on reserve a couple of minutes beforehand, and commute to the office for the remainder of the workday… until I receive a call from a reporter at KVUE, a local television station. Bicycling Magazine had ranked Austin #13 in a list of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States.

I offer to meet the reporter at Epoch Coffee on the north side of the Pfluger Bridge because they’ll be able to get a lot of footage of people riding bikes, scooting, running, and simply being active outdoors. Not surprisingly they are late by nearly an hour because of all the congestion caused by people driving single-occupancy vehicles. The irony is not lost on her when she finally shows up!

It’s toward the end of the interview when they ask me to don a helmet mounted with a GoPro camera. I look a little goofy, but hey, it’s for a good cause—and some of my footage made it to air! They misspelled my name, but it’s me.

In 2016, Austin was ranked #7, and I take umbrage with the reporter’s statement that Austin “dropped six places.” If anything, Austin has been making great strides, but I would respectfully counter that the other twelve cities have been doing great work at a faster pace. Besides, in two years, Austin built 7.8 miles of protected bike lanes—more than any other city on the list.

David is bike-commuting home from his job via the same route, so I ask him to join me then grab a bite afterward. Gotta admit, date nights by bike are super fun. We just laugh and talk the whole way home and it’s a beautiful night—a true joy ride!