Monday, January 22, 2007

En route

A brief hiatus from the recent unpleasant weather, I would have hoped, would yield a more successful urban encounter than the preceding days. However, not much was different, and this was to no real surprise. My grievance is that the urban fabric to be observed isn’t as colorful as it’s esteemed. Against my normal proclivity to find the extraordinary, I chose to observe street traffic—a mundane phenomenon shared by every city; it’s unnoticed and yet demanding existence caught my attention.

The quintessence of contemporary urban thought relies on activity, bustle, and the progress. This manifests itself best in its most obvious and effective form of the road—an urban conduit designed to transport people from A to B. The city is overwhelmed with streets, and manytimes are they the most recognizable thing about an area. I observed a regular Sunday afternoon’s happenings between Guadaulupe and 8th and 9th streets.

The actors are most commonly the car, the biker, and the pedestrian—all of course linked by their means of transportation, and their contribution to the urban spirit. Their interaction, as did their personal narrative, diminished with respect to size and speed.

Myriad pedestrians used the streets and sidewalks, although rarely following traffic laws, to get to their destination. Some, however, were simply walking for leisure. A man was walking his girlfriend’s dog with little idea to where he was going--a local nomad who had recently moved downtown to be a part of the very urban dream which he helped sustain. He followed the encircling path of the nearby park and strolled past the city library twice before heading back home. The dog wouldn’t do its business, and so the man’s only response was to continue walking it with plastic bag in hand. The couple stopped and waited at a “do not walk” crossing signal as the ever-present traffic streamed through, and a pair of bikers unsuccessfully kept with the pace of traffic on their uphill struggle.
The bikers stopped amidst a rush of cars at a red light as the man and dog passed them by per the directions of the “walk” crossing signal. They had biked from West Campus looking forward to a fun downtown ride in search of some denim jackets to match their stellar jeans. The faint revving of engines meant the light had turned green, and the cars obediently went on as they had done at each preceding light; the bikers prepared dumbfoundedly for a swift downhill journey and took to the temporarily empty sidewalks before they were soon out of sight.
Cars came and went like lifeless sheep, revealing fragments of the people who occupied their bellies through the occasional thump of a loud base or a cell phone conversation loud enough to be heard over the hum of idling engines.

The street in an urban context has become more than a suggested path of travel; it goads the “en route” notion of urban doings on several levels. It is obvious where the pedestrian came from, what he is doing, and where he is off to next. The biker still retains a sense of personality, but for a brief period of time. The automobile, given its inhuman shape and speed, loses all effects of personal presence. These three means of movement co-exist at different tempos and scales under the prescribed direction of traffic to make Austin a rhythmically diverse city.


eray said...

Like you've said, the roads control everything in a city. And it's interesting to me how the conditions of a road or traffic can determine the mood of the city on many different scales. If the roads are bad or signage lazy, or if it is five o'clock and the traffic is crawling, one by one every driver gets in a bad mood and pretty soon that spreads to the entire city. When I'm stuck in traffic I can sense the tenseness in the air as everyone around me slowly gets more and more frustrated. Like an anthill ready to explode. It's amazing that we all obey those simple lines on the street so strictly. We would not dream of disobeying a traffic law even when we are caught in a mile long line and could easily just pull into the opposite lane and escape the frustration.

The roads control so much of our daily lives, even to the point of controlling our life or death.

(sorry for the poor writing i grow weary... good observations everett!)

charlienettles said...

I enjoyed how you compared the three different means of transportation on their own personal levels. The walker being the more personal and the car being the impersonal means of transportation. I think this hits a good theme about the people and city of Austin as a whole with means to transportation and thier feelings about pollution and conservation.

natalia said...

does transportation control people or do people control transportation?

Lauren B. said...

ok, i just had to comment. that picture of the road paint is beautiful.