If you live without a car or just opt to bike a lot, you see a lot on the road. Sometimes you get a really good look at neighborhoods–their age and character, the people who live in them, the grocery stores and small shops, the schools and the churches. Sometimes (depending on where you are going, and how far) you get a very good look at what is in between the places–specifically, the roads, in all their stages of decay or growth, in their 2 lane or 8 lane glory, with their shoulders and treatments and pedestrian amenities (or lack thereof). They are, most of the time, non-places between places, possessing enough asphalt and engineering to get you through but nothing else to keep you there.
In my 12 years or so as a bike commuter, I’ve seen and biked on a lot of shitty roads. This post series (Deathproof) catalogs my ongoing attempts to die by vehicular homicide as I traverse the worst roads my city has to offer in a bike that should have been decommissioned in the 1980s.
Today’s Route: Bridge over Troubled Water
Starting Point: Throckmorton Street, Downtown Fort Worth
Ending Point: North Oakmont Lane, Woodhaven, Fort Worth
Distance: 8.1 miles
Estimated Time: 45 min
Actual Time: 90 min
Rating: 10 dead cyclists
Soundtrack: Timbaland: Shock Value II
Mile 1: I hit after-work traffic leaving the city center at 5:30 pm. The roads leading out of downtown are red-brick paved and narrow. Christmas lighting abounds. Pedestrians clog the sidewalks and cars queue at every intersection. Beep-beep. The urban ballet is alive.
Mile 2: The city center falls away abruptly, and I’m cruising through an industrial area, looking at the butts of trucks, biking under huge overpasses, hearing the trains shriek, and skidding in the not-quite bike lane, not-quite shoulder on the side of a poorly maintained road. Potholes abound. The trucks behind me honk, because they’re not quite sure what I’m doing on this road.
Mile 3: We enter the land of way too many bridges–over the Trinity, over other roads, over dry ditches, over other bridges. Infinite recursion of bridges. Almost all the bridges have only a small concrete railing buffering cars from the edge. At three feet high, it’s not tall enough to keep a standing biker from feeling like they are going to fall right over it. Bonus: tons of these bridges and a bunch of the drop-down tunnels have adorable, hand-painted murals. They are real cute, but not cute enough to be the last thing I see before I die.
Mile 4-5: I start to smell something. Am I biking by a tannery? A crematorium? Also, it’s dark now, the road has widened from 4 lanes to 5, the road speed signs have gone from 30 to 45. At about mile 4 I run into a small dead tree that’s escaped from its tree well and blown into the road. At mile 5, the shoulder disappears and I’m treading in mud. I take a chance and reroute onto what looks like an urban trails system. Predictably, it is poorly lit and goes nowhere, save a soccer field parking lot.
Mile 6-7: Once I turn east on Bridge street I’m moving against traffic. Time to walk. Matted grass makes an acceptable trail, but I’m struggling with the 30’ wide curb cuts that make room for speeding cars to pull into the adjacent gas stations. I pause to contemplate the glory of Waffle House and the Fort Worth Water Tower, and then continue sliding down the sheer slope face of the buffer strip.
Mile 8: Right before I turn up country Club lane, an overgrown bush smacks me in the face and I almost skid into a pedestrian, who I also don’t see. This is why we have vegetation trimming standards in the right of way, people.
The good: Route passes by a Waffle House and the Fort Worth water tower; Incredible view of downtown Fort Worth from the intersection of Randol Mill and Oakland
The bad: Weird bridge art, mysterious smells, urban trails that seem promising but lead to nowhere.
The ugly: Long stretches of fast roads without sidewalks, unexpected utility holes/metal boxes/road debris on lanes under construction, tunnels that trap you between a fast truck and a hard concrete wall, scary bridges, sharp drop offs in grade on the side of the road, and those terrible drainage ditches that are the bane of my existence.