Terrible rides are sometimes also incredible. This was more or less the case on my trip from the north end of Fairmount to Shasta Trail, a ride that felt and tasted like a slow descent into well-decorated madness. True to its name, this charming and historic part of town, with generally high overall averages of walkability and connectivity, is transposed against some completely batshit intersection modifications, highway cut-throughs, and horrifically bad transportation planning decisions. Welcome to Fairmount: please don’t die on the side of the road.
Today’s Route: My Fair Lady
Starting Point: Magnolia Ave and Washington Ave, Fairmount, Fort Worth
Ending Point: Shasta Trail, Fort Worth
Distance: 6.5 miles
Estimated Time: 33 min
Actual Time: 60+ min
Rating: 3 dead cyclists
Soundtrack: The Tontons: Golden
The route south from the main commercial hipster-strip at Magnolia through a mostly residential historic neighborhood looked promising. The target location was almost a dead 6 miles directly south from my starting neighborhood. There were only a couple streets that ran the entire north-south course of the ride, but (I figured, with uncharacteristic optimism) this area of town would surely deliver many connectivity possibilities without too much effort on my part.
Most of Fairmount still functions on an old grid, full of short block lengths and alleys. The streets are slow, shaded by trees and flanked with 1920s craftsman houses with generous front yards. It’s a peaceful neighborhood, slow in life, light on traffic. This evening it was true to form: on 5th street, children and adults congregate on deep porches (required by the area’s design guidelines) with still-hanging Christmas lights. Road obstructions are minimal, limited to cars parked onstreet and the occasional feral cat. On Elizabeth Street, a small roundabout with a kind of monumental structure at the center negotiates light traffic through the neighborhood. Adorbs.
At Berry Street, the gods of multimodal transportation abruptly abandon me. 6th Avenue, my north-south connector, unceremoniously dumps me into this 6 lane, a superfast arterial (with no pedestrian crossing or light) with all the nuance of a robotic trash arm shaking out recyclables. The situation is intensified by a steep grade change on the eastern approach, and as cars barrel up the hill, headlights blaring in the unseeing dark, I skuttle across the right of way and stumble into a grassy median on the other side. This moment confirms my unimportance as a small human in a transportation world of cars. Surely, this is the Chthulu of intersections.
At 5th and Seminary, a public works crew is doing construction at an intersection with 4 way stop (signalized by four blinking red lights) that has no pedestrian crossing. The crew looks at me. I look at them. We both know that no cars are going to stop long enough for me to cross in any direction. “What are you going to do” their eyes ask, judgingly. Pouting and profoundly embarrassed, I turn my bike all the way around, backtrack 200 meters, and cross where two driveway cuts face each other down the street, not because I needed to go quite that far to feel safe, but because I didn’t want the construction crew to see me fail. “I am not a transit noob” I muttered bitterly to myself.
South of Seminary, outside of the historic district, the neighborhood changes character. Front-facing single family homes give way to duplexs. Pole barns abound. Music drifts out of parked pickup trucks. The roads are not as well maintained dead ends are more frequent. Most characteristically, I keep running into streets with bad offsets–streets that end in a T and then, whoops, start up again down the road on the other side. My route has become a series of small offsets; I move in 200 meter increments, jiggy-jogging west, then south, then west again, my movements much like those of a stay at home mom doing an intense round on the stairmaster.
In a brief interlude in between pivots, I’m cruising down Seminary and get the thrill of my evening. Right there at the T, fronted by hand painted signs, decrepit pumps, and a dozen blazing flood lights, is the biggest babe of an Old Gas Station I’ve seen this side of DFW. I have so many questions. Why is the parking area 4 times the size of the structure? Why does it have so many lights, and why are they pointing up into the sky like they are signaling to Petroleum Batman? I want to come back some day and unlock the mysteries of this truly sexy depository from ancient motoring days but for nowI just stare admiringly, longingly.
Sometimes you can only feel evil, but other times it takes architectural form and leers out at you. On Townsend street one uncanny vignette after another makes me question my own sanity and grope for pepper spray and/or a magical totem to drive out the dark magic of bad urban planning.
At Route 20, Townsend Drive stops abruptly. Small homes shirk in the shadow of a huge soundwall and a dark hill climbs up and under a partially complete underpass. Here be dragons, no sidewalks, and no reprieve from the water-filled construction pits on the side of the road. Pushing my bike in muddy grass, I stop, panic filled, at the dark opening under 20. Bare rebar sprouts from the concrete and orange cones litter the ground. I’m questioning for the first time this trip if this was a pretty bad idea, after all. But I go. I hold my breath and push my bike through construction dirt, and soon I’m through, following the weird curve of the road on the other side, out of the tunnel, into a little neighborhood.
And as I pat myself on my back for my bravery, I see that the next small leg of my journey (per the suggestion of the Google Singularity) is taking me through an unlit park with no apparent sidewalk in sight. And it is at that moment, dear friends, that I actually said Screw It and went home.
The good: Slow road speeds, nice tree cover, beautiful 1920s Craftsman Style houses with porches I can imagine curling up on, christmas lights across gables, the historic gas station with a dozen floodlights blazing.
The bad: Landscape: Backyard with Soundwall at 5337 Townsend Drive.
The ugly: The uncrossability of the Berry Street intersection, the bridge under route 20, the creeping fear in my heart that I will always be alone.
Tags: family-friendly, historic district, Cthulhu, descent into madness