New bike lanes on Calder Avenue. Beaumont finally enters the 19th century

Out cruising on my bicycle today along the Calder Avenue bike lane in Beaumont brings to mind that this Upper Texas Gulf Coast city has finally reached the 19th century. Yes, I said 19th century.

So-called “segregated cycle facilities” such as the “California Cycleway” were among the first structures strictly for bicycles in 19th century U.S. Construction began on the nine-mile bike tollway in 1899 that linked Pasadena and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the elevated wooden toll road along the Arroyo Seco never made a profit and was closed a decade after opening. The wood was sold for lumber and the right of way eventually became a part of the Pasadena Freeway.

Whether Beaumont ever had any dedicated bicycle lanes in bygone days I can’t say. I just know that on the list of the top 50 most bicycle-friendly cities in the U.S., Beaumont, Texas, is not listed. For that matter, the only Texas city making the list is No. 11 Austin. That doesn’t surprise me one-half an iota.

For some reason I can’t find a “least bicycle-friendly list.” Surely there must be one with so many articles claiming this city or that is on said listing. Now I am not a bike expert. I rode a Western Flyer when I was a kid. Then I rode a bike belonging to my friend, Bruce, when I lived with him about six months in the inner Dallas suburb of University Park. I presently have another bicycle that I got from Bruce when I last visited Dallas and I now ride it for exercise.

With that preface out of the way, I can built a hypothesis for what a bicycle-unfriendly city might be. To wit: a city with dedicated lanes for bicycles and small motorized vehicles in which larger vehicles freely invade and strike cyclists without the courtesy or duty to stop and render aid. This is a model I have developed upon witnessing — well, hearing at least — this very spectacle about 35 years ago in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Biking on Beaumont's Calder Avenue can now be done in a dedicated lane. Let's just hope Bubba knows what those lanes are for. EFD photo.

Our U.S. Navy warship was on a port visit to Jakarta. We were offered a bus ride to the grounds of the U.S. Embassy where there was supposed to be some kind of party or other goings-on. That was never really too clear. The bus we were herded upon was very crowded with sailors from our’s and another U.S. ship. I was sitting in an aisle seat while others were standing in the aisle. The street had several lanes for larger traffic such as the bus and two smaller lanes for scooters and bicycles. The bus driver had no comprehension of English whatsoever and apparently had no idea where we were going. The driver quickly changed into a lane for whatever reason. In that lane was a man driving a moped. I heard a loud thump when the driver moved to the other lane, followed quickly by a loud moan by those fellow sailors standing in the aisle and others seated in the other side of the bus. Several guys who could see watched the moped driver “go tumbling” off his motor scooter while the bus driver continued obliviously, or perhaps not obliviously.***

I have no idea whether biking of any kind is safer these days in Jakarta. I do know that at the time our bus witnessed extremely bicycle unfriendliness, thanks to the driver, if not vehicular manslaughter.

The bike lanes in Beaumont were thrown in with some other street improvements including paved sidewalks and better curbing along with “aesthetic lighting.” The bulk of the work though is mostly invisible to the “nekkid eye,” as folks around these parts like to say. Under about three miles of the street leading from downtown to the upper-scale West End are 10-foot by 10-foot box culverts. These are for diverting water from the Middle Hillebrandt Bayou watershed to the Neches River bordering downtown Beaumont to help alleviate some of the flooding that takes place when we get heavy rains such as from hurricanes. FEMA paid about $31.5 million for “mitigation” costs. The total project bill is at least $65 million. And, from what I can see, the ponding after heavy rains does not seem as bad in the areas the drainage project targeted.

Beaumont is not nearly as bike-unfriendly as we experienced in Indonesia, even without the dedicated bike lane along Calder Avenue. The main problem — in addition to other streets which have crap for maintenance and those byways without shoulders — is that it is a city unaccustomed to bicycles. Every other automobile is a double-wide, Ford crew-cab, pick-em-up truck, some with tires as big as my bicycle, and the drivers believe that they pay for their pickups what some spend to purchase a small house it therefore gives them the right to park however the hell they want to and take up as much of the gol-danged road as they like. Most of these myopic motorists spend their lives driving up and down the freeway to Port Arthur or other locales in which their refineries or construction jobs are found. In other words, they aren’t used to sharing the road with little-bitty bicycles and are not particularly inclined to do as much.

I am not whining about it as I hear many other cyclists do, some of whom are just as short-sighted as those Bubbas who force the bike riders into the ditch or chunk their empty Lone Star can at them. I have met the enemy and he (and she) fights up and down both sides. I know what the problem is and I just intend to stay away from both monster trucks and helmeted cyclists wearing fanny packs.

It’s not survival of the fittest. It’s just plain ol’ survival.

***EFD’s note: If you’ve heard this story before you, obviously, can’t stop me. That happens sometimes. Suck it up.


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