Bicycling in Brownsville

As part of my 2000 New Year's resolution to exercise, I decided to start riding my bike to work. The first choice I had to make was what path to take. I live in the Lakeway subdivision off Alton Gloor, and work downtown on West Levee. The first part of the trip was easy. When Alton Gloor was widened, someone was kind enough to add bike lanes. To whomever had this vision, I offer my undying gratitude. The lanes are absolutely luxurious.

The next choice was whether to proceed south on the frontage road along US 77/83 or to take US 281 (Military Highway). I tried the frontage road first. There are lanes along the edge of the frontage road with plenty of room, but there is also plenty of gravel, broken glass and car parts to dodge. In fact, one day I got flats in both tires from this stretch of road.

The route leaves the frontage road just south of Shoney's with a little right jag over to Central Boulevard and then south to the intersection with FM 802. Now here's a fun little stop light for a bike. If you stay over to the right like the textbooks say, you'll be annihilated by cars turning right. The best thing to do is to park about 12 feet from the right curb to allow room for the myopic, right-turning motorist. Once the light turns green head straight down Central.

Now, you could call the six foot, 15° slanting strip on the side of Central Boulevard a bike lane, but I prefer to call it hell. Cars act as road graders plowing all road debris onto the shoulder. Unless you have Kevlar tires, it's best to ride on the leftmost portion. You can pick up some pretty good auto parts though.

There's an abundance of stop lights on the way downtown. Intersections with Wild Rose, Price, Los Ebanos, Boca Chica, Jefferson and Elizabeth provide ample opportunity for drivers to display their counting ability. Most only seem able to count to one, however, and do so with their middle finger.

Just one more block and another stop light to West Levee. We're just about a half mile from work now. The total distance for this trip is 6.7 miles and it only takes about 30 minutes. The workout is derived more from adrenalin rushes than pedaling.

The alternate route is to head south on Alton Gloor (FM 3248) to Military Highway (US 281). The stop light at Military Highway is more of a light show than a functional traffic director. The speed with which this light changes reminds me of the strobe light at AK's. Nevertheless, you can get through if you have moves like Walter Payton.

The shoulders on Military are fairly wide and offer some pretty good protection from traffic. Again, you could save the money you spend at Autozone by picking up auto parts. Interestingly, the shoulders end at the intersection with FM 802, the home of the Texas Transportation Department. Go figure.

The next 1.25 miles is shared with motor vehicles. The Texas rules of the road state to ride as far to the right as is practiceable. Hogwash! If you want to stay alive, capture and never let go of the right hand six feet of road. Otherwise drivers will try their best to brush you off the road. This concept may seem scary at first, but believe me, they do move over. I have found cabbies and the Border Patrol to be the most considerate drivers. School buses and morons in large cars are the worst. To the driver of a black Ford pickup with license number FM7-993 -- I've got your number.

On weekdays you get a reprieve for about 1000 feet as Military Highway passes in front of Garden Park Elementary school. There is a sometimes observed 25 mile per hour speed limit here. About three days out of the week some of Brownsville's finest park in the center lane with lights flashing to slow traffic.

Once you arrive at the stop light at the intersection with Old Military, use the 12 foot rule for right turning traffic. Proceed on through the light and take Madison heading southeast. They have installed three speed humps on this street and it keeps the cars going slow. I've noticed a distinct decrease in traffic on this street since the advent of the humps. I've always found it interesting that no allowance is made for bicycles when speed humps are installed. You'd think they could leave about three feet near the curb for us, but then again there might just be some speed demon on a bike that would get up to 20 miles per hour.

Turn right on Lakeside and follow the curve. I'm usually a little less possessive of the road here since drivers are negotiating a curve. God knows they need all the help they can get. Now turn right on Browne and proceed to Elizabeth. Watch the Washington street intersection. The trees block your vision here. You can now take 9th over to Levee and voilá, home free. This route is 6.2 miles long.

Of the two routes, I much prefer Military Highway. Even though you have to share a mile with cars, there are far fewer of them and the ride is much more peaceful.

I've been riding since January 2000 and have found very few days where the weather kept me from it. There are two conditions I won't ride in. One is lightning and the other is when it is cold and rainy. By cold, I mean less than 55°F.

Did the resolution work? I like to think so. I have lost 30 pounds since I started riding and I don't drink any more. I don't drink any less either.

Dennis Jay
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Last revised 2001.08.28