A couple of weeks ago I went to the PMIP workshop in Estes Park. Since I was "in the area" (about as close as Tokyo to Beijing perhaps but we haven't yet popped to Beijing for tea) Michael Tobis and Charles Jackson arranged for me to visit Austin and the grand new climate science initiative at the University of Texas, although even now I am not quite sure if saying "climate" in the USA is really allowed. Even more excitingly, I arrived in Austin on Saturday so had a whole weekend to enjoy the city. For recreation I rented a carbon-forked vision of loveliness (but still their cheapest road bike) from the local vast glittering mecca of bicycleness. Of course I'd read doom laden apocalyptic warnings like this and this, and so was wondering if I'd get out alive. Yet I found that Austin surpassed all other US cities I've tried cycling in, including Boulder, the self-proclaimed cycling capital of America. I only cycled at the weekend, and I'm sure traffic is considerably heavier on weekdays, but in 7 hours of cycling I felt uniformly safe and unthreatened. For comparison, I usually get cross with a driver or two when riding my single bike in Japan, and urban Merseyside cycling was open warfare. The Austin drivers treated me with generosity, taking care at junctions and even changing lanes to overtake. There are a large number of wide, relatively clear bicycle lanes along the sides of many of the roads and I also had no trouble cycling on the roads that had no cycle lanes. Maybe I am just too comfortable jostling along with cars. The cycle paths are prone to stopping just before important junctions, but such is the way of the world, and things seemed nowhere near as foolish as in the UK. Finding my way was more of a challenge, and my compass was as invaluable in Austin as it is in Tokyo. Out of the city grid, there is some great cycling. Although the hills are too short, there are quite a lot of them, and there are trees and deer and stuff like that just a few miles from the city centre.
As I touristed around I found religion everywhere: the First Methodists, Second Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, and I stopped for coffee in the Tenth St Arbucks. Not having stumbled upon an Episcopalian of any numeral, on Sunday morning I rejoined the minority bicycling sect instead. The roads were very clear. This seems to be because, on Sunday mornings in Austin, absolutely everyone is indoors expressing their beliefs, even the atheists, and the humanists. Although everyone else looked at me very very oddly when I remarked on how hilarious I found this, I suppose it is all the better for the cyclists. I was misunderstood on a number of other occasions too, those same odd looks appeared when I had been expecting a smile. Is this because Austin is Weird? I think it is rather because there is a tendency to take things literally. I even heard Biblical Literalism used in a positive sense, by some proponents of the teaching of Intelligent Design. To fend off all this literalism, perhaps it is British humour that should be taught in American schools.