What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

29 August 2012

The Perils of Voting

Way back in May, I told you about my adventures in walking to my polling place. Well, we had a run-off election in July, and this time I decided to take my bicycle instead and take my chances with a road that the Austin Bike Map has clearly marked as being a barrier to cyclists; that is, dangerous enough that it should be avoided. Unfortunately, I didn't have much of a choice.

The next day, I sent an email about the experience to the Travis County Elections office. I have not received a reply (surprise, surprise) to this email or the one I sent back in May. Here's the (rather long) email I wrote:

Oh, yeah, walking through here is
a breeze! Or not.
My husband and I do not own a car, so in order to vote we must walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation. On May 31st, my husband chose to walk to the polling place while I took public transportation part of the way with the intention of cycling or walking the rest of the way. The nearest bus stop to the YMCA is 1/2 mile away on MLK Blvd, east of 183. I got off and rode my bike to the intersection with 183, where I had to get off the bike and start walking to avoid impeding traffic, getting run over by an inattentive motorist, or both. Unfortunately, the walk from MLK to E 51st is along 183, which has no sidewalks, but does have a sharply banked meadow of thigh-high (on me) weeds that I had to wade through while pushing my bicycle. I was somewhat concerned for my safety.

My husband chose to walk from our apartment, which is just over a mile in the opposite direction that I came from. The grass is mowed in that direction, so he didn't walk through weeds, but he was followed by a homeless man who wanted to know why my husband was walking around in "his" territory.

Neither of us suffered unduly from our experience, but I can see why having to walk so far in not-so-pleasant circumstances might detract people from voting.

Today, I chose instead to ride my bike along 51st Street, headed east from Springdale road. I had elected not to do this in May because east 51st is marked on the Austin Bike Map as being particularly hazardous for cyclists. There are patches of sidewalk on the south side of the road, but nothing going the whole way, so I had to ride in the street. I was genuinely concerned that a driver might be blinded by the morning sun and not see me until it was too late. Also, high weeds cover the side of the road in areas without a sidewalk, on both sides of the road, so walking would have been an unpleasant alternative once again.

Going back to Springdale road, 51st street is essentially one long blind curve. I was worried, again, that drivers might not be able to see me in time to react if they came around the curve and found a cyclist in their lane. But again, what could I do? No bus runs on this road. There is no shoulder and no sidewalk. And so, at one point a group of cars came around the curve and the driver in my lane had to get over enough to pass me with inches to spare. He or she was not at fault-- this road was not designed for cycling. However, the encounter gave me quite a fright, as I'm sure you can imagine, and once I was safely back to Springdale road I stopped to compose myself before continuing my ride to work.

Having now tried all three directions, I see four options for people without cars: 1) Long walk through tall weeds, near high-speed traffic, coming from the south on 183; 2) Long walk near a homeless camp, near high speed-traffic, coming from the north on 183; 3) Long walk with mixed sidewalk and tall weeds, but with a bit more space to get away from the traffic, coming from the west on E 51st street; or 4) Short bike ride on a dangerous street that is not designed for bicycles, coming from the west on E 51st street.

The election officials assured me that this YMCA has been a polling place for years. That is not encouraging news. I wonder how many people in the precinct have been discouraged from voting as a result?

Therefore, I ask that before November and any subsequent elections, Travis county consider its options in this area and choose a polling place that is ideally accessible to people using transit, but is at least accessible by foot or on a bicycle.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

What do you think? Am I being unreasonable to ask for a different polling place? Should I be more blunt with the election officials? What should my next step be?


Tim said...

I don't you're being unreasonable, but imagine the challenges of finding appropriate polling places. Must be interesting trying to coordinate given all the criteria.

But your post points out the car centric bias that permeates our society. Yet another barrier to voting (and other activities) for those who either can't or won't own a car.

However, I don't agree with your assessment of 51st Street. I find it very comfortable and not "dangerous" at all. But then I survived flying the Harrier so my risk parameters are a little skewed. Thus the ambiguous nature of the words dangerous and safe, and the subjective nature of cycling in our fair city.

Su Wilcox said...

They have had other places... there's a school nearby that they used a few times, for instance.

51st isn't terrible for the most part, but that curve coming back to Springdale from 183 is scary. And there's no shoulder, no sidewalk... nowhere to go if being in the road gets uncomfortable. :/ Even a few signs to alert drivers to watch for cyclists would be nice. Or lowering the speed limit a bit.