While planning a power-bonding group activity for my co-workers recently, I was struggling with the decidedly un-cool nature of the options. A pub on wheels? No thanks. A Segway tour? They’d never forgive me. Or trust falls? Oh God, no. I didn’t want to embarrass these people, I wanted to have a fun with them!
Thankfully, because of this very site, I came across Your Biker Gang, which bills itself as one of the funnest things to do in Austin. This company helps you create your own motorcycle gang, but subs in fat-tired electric minibikes for the motorcycles, which are so much safer and completely glee-inducing.
I can tell you now that when I surprised my beloved colleagues with this outing, I became, for that brief shining moment, the hero of our office. When we arrived at their headquarters in West Austin, our little gang of nine were outfitted with helmets and bandanas by our fearless leader and road captain, Cope. We also had what’s called a “sweeper,” a super nice guy who held up the tail end of the crew and kept us all very very safe.
After a quick tutorial and training on the bikes in a parking lot, we were out on the open road, with Cope blasting classic biker gang tunes from a giant speaker on his bike. I immediately wanted to buy one of these bikes and I still do. It’s a little intimidating at first, but once you learn to trust this speedy little machine and lean into your turns (top speed is 20 mph) you become one with the bike and basically feel like you can do anything. Anything! Like riding in Downtown Austin traffic.
As someone who has grown up in this city, and takes its beauty for granted on a daily basis, I can tell you that this is an amazing way to see Austin. As we biked over the pedestrian bridge on Lady Bird Lake, through Zilker Park, and along Waller Creek, I fell in love with this place all over again. The wind was blowing our hair back, people were looking at our crew with total envy, and Cope was doing stunts at the front like a badass. We were the happiest Hell’s Angels you ever did see.
If you need an activity to entertain a crew, whether they are family, friends, coworkers, or total strangers, Your Biker Gang will be a hit, I promise. They will customize the tour for your group so you can get history and trivia and see the big sights like murals, statues, the UT campus, and more. Or—if you are locals like us—you can just have a joyride and stop for tacos on the way. These bikes are easy to ride and the concept is as feel-good as it gets.
It’s time to jump on your electric hog and get lost for a while. Be a group-activity-planning hero for once. The road is calling!
It’s always touch-and-go with the rain on this event, but the mother of all kite festivals has finally arrived! To let the ground dry out a bit, all the activities today will be delayed by an hour and a half. The Zilker Kite Festival is the oldest in the nation, and one of the most anticipated events in Austin each year. It’s an amazing day in the sunshine that everyone in the family will enjoy.
Fly a kite just for fun, or get in on the competition. There are a bunch of free contests, including Highest Angle Kite, Steadiest Kite , Strongest Pulling Kite , Smallest Kite, Most Unusual Kite, Largest Kite , Oldest and Youngest Kite Flier.
It truly is such a fun day at Zilker. On top of more kites than you can imagine, there will also be a ton of good food. Plenty of your favorite vendors will be out there with your favorite treats.
Warning: Parking is a major issue! This festival always draws a crowd, so plan to ride your bike or take one of the shuttles.
Let’s hope for a breezy day with clear skies!
When: Today, March 4th
Time: 11:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
2100 Barton Springs Road
Austin, Texas 78704
We may not have that much of a winter in Austin, but we can party like they do Aspen. Every Tuesday in December, January, and February the San José is celebrating the Texas Winter Après Ski style. Enjoy ’80s tunes and wintery food and beverage specials. Après Ski outfits are totally encouraged but definitely not required.
When: Today, December 26th
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Hotel San José
1316 S Congress Ave.
Austin, Texas 78704
We have every kind of festival in this city, but we haven’t had a dessert festival until now! Peached Social House will be packed with drool-worthy sweets from some of Austin’s best and most talented bakers and shops.
Approximately 20 vendors will be dishing out sweets in the following categories:
cakes & cupcakes
All attendees must purchase a ticket to gain access to an afternoon sure to make your Instagram feed swoon! General Admission: $10, Sweet Tooth Ticket: $35 (includes one treat, early admission and swag bag packed with goodies and deals.)
When: Today, October 29th
Time: 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Peached Social House
6500 N. Lamar Boulevard
Austin, TX 78752
If you live for the smokey stuff, as most of us do in Texas, don’t miss this chance to see and taste some of the best in the state. At BBQ Austin cities from all over Texas send their Champion BBQ Teams to compete in the Invitational Division for the title of “State of Texas BBQ Grand Champion.” Additionally, all teams compete for the title and purse of “BBQ Austin Grand Champion.”
Of course the best part is that while competing in several contests, all teams provide BBQ to the public for sampling. Many teams will also be setting up elaborate spaces to welcome folks to join in on the fun. The whole family will enjoy the competition along with live music and carnival rides.
Friday, March 3
11:00 a.m. – Gates open
4:00 p.m. – BBQ tasting and carnival opens
6:00 p.m. – Concert by Koe Wetzel
8:20 p.m. – Fireworks
8:30 p.m. – Concert by Charlie Robison
Saturday, March 4
11:00 a.m. – Gates open for BBQ tasting and carnival rides
2:00 p.m. – Concert bt Electric Inferno
4:00 p.m. – Concert by Stephen Dae & the Repeat Offenders
We know, we know—you haven’t even thought about New Year’s Eve yet. How could you with all the shopping, caroling, baking, traveling, gifting, and eating you still need to do? We get it.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide to some of the best options for you to commit to before it’s December 30th and you realize there is nothing on the books! The following are some festive offerings from a few of our favorite Austin spots. Let’s ring in 2017 in style, shall we?
The New Year’s Eve party lasts from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and will include a special limited cocktail menu with an emphasis on Champagne and whiskey drinks, plus large format punches available for groups of 4, 6 or 8.
Josephine House is having a three-course dinner for $75 pp and $115 pp with wine pairings. First course is choice of Lobster Wedge Salad, Musrhoom Soup, or Foie Gras Terrine. Second course is Steak Frites, Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Crispy Red Snapper a la Plancha, or Hand-Cut Noodles with Black Truffles. The dessert course is Dark Chocolate & Mint Tart, Vanilla Bean Creme Brûlée, or Stinky Cheese.
To ring in the New Year Sophia’s is featuring an amazing prix fixe menu, optional wine parings, party favors and more. Staring at $85, guests can enjoy a four-course meal featuring a salad, pasta, entrée, dessert and a glass of prosecco.
For New Years Eve, Parkside is offering a four-course prix fixe menu boasting a selection of signature favorites including Ruby Snapper Crudo with winter citrus, buttermilk and radish, Leek Veloute with potato fondant and caviar, and 44 Farms New York Strip served with oxtail jam and beef fat sunchokes to name a few dishes.
Emmer & Rye: Surrender or revolt this New Year’s Eve at Emmer & Rye with a special themed menu to ring in the New Year. Guests will be given the opportunity to surrender to the kitchen and let the chefs choose the menu or they can revolt and select the dishes that will make up their last meal of the year. Dinner is $100 per person.
Culinary Dropoutwill be offering a four-course prix fixe menu for $50 per person. The menu features champagne and antipasti to start, followed by the Dolce Gorgonzola Salad and a choice between Pan Roasted Salmon and Korean Ribeye Cap Steak, and ends on a sweet note with Chocolate S’Mores Pudding.
OLIVE & JUNEShawn Cirkiel’s Southern Italian eatery is offering a four-course prix fixe menu for New Year’s Eve. The authentic Italian menu is broken up into Antipasti, Primi, Secondi and Dessert, and complemented with an Amuse Bouche and family-style plates for the table to share. Signature dishes include Beet pansotti, ricotta, brown butter, sage and Texas quail, golden raisin, celery, porchini.
BULLFIGHTBullfight is thrilled to offer a special treat to ring in the New Year: cochinillo. A delicacy from Spain, Cochinillois a roasted baby suckling pig traditionally served to celebrate the New Year in Castilla and particularly in Madrid. These authentic and tender cochinillosare not found anywhere in the U.S., but Chef Shawn Cirkiel will be flying them in directly from a longtime purveyor’s farm in Spain. Guests must pre-order this special offering by Wednesday, December 28. Bullfight’s Chef Ryan Shields will serve these rare cochinillo pigs table-side and family-style using traditional Spanish techniques. Each cochinillo serves four people and is available by pre-order only for $200. Guests can enjoy this traditional
Eberly on South Lamar is throwing a roaring 1920’s party with champagne, cash bar, photo booths, live music, late night treats, and aerial entertainment and more. Tickets include entrance to the event, heavy hors d’oeuvre stations, dessert and coffee bar, live entertainment including a live band, DJs, dancers, a champagne toast at midnight, and a post-midnight snack.
Some time ago, a fabulous group of people (whoever it is that decides these things!) came together and declared that July 24th would henceforth be known as National Tequila Day! I love this holiday very very much. It’s circled three times on my calendar along with doodles of a lime, a salt shaker, and a little worm wearing a top hat.
Jared Ficklin is a partner and the chief creative technologist of the local firm called argo design. He is also a bit of a pragmatic dreamer and has become an evangelist for a mass transportation vision that he co-created. The project is known as Wire Austin and has been creating a steady buzz since 2011 when Ficklin and his colleague Michael McDaniel did a TEDxAustin Talk that received a standing ovation from the audience. If you’ve cursed the traffic gods while sitting parked on I-35 this week, it’s definitely worth a watch.
The gist is this: Imagine a gondola system, similar to what you are used to seeing at a ski resort, that takes riders high above the congestion and capacity woes of Austin’s roadways. Ficklin and his team believe that a climate-controlled urban cable system could not only be the answer to many of our problems, it could be an attraction for tourists, and a pioneering investment in our collective quality of life.
As highway improvement projects stretch on forever, and previously sleepy neighborhood streets become busy routes for drivers avoiding the main arteries, Ficklin thinks we should look to the sky for the next big thing. We wanted to know more … much more! So we called him up.
365: So what is urban cable?
Jared Ficklin: Well urban cable is a kind of mass transit similar to what you would ride at a ski area—cars that ride on a cable, which is hung on towers and they go on a loop. We call them detachable high-speed gondolas. They clamp onto the cables, and when they get to a stop, they are lifted off the cables and go to a platform which is perfectly level, where the passengers get on and off. So you can imagine in a stack of six cars with one coming every 30 seconds from one end, and one leaving every 30 seconds from the other end—the cars are big enough to hold 10 people and some climate-control equipment—so it’s this continuous system. It’s basically aerial ropeways, greatly elevated for application in urban settings. It has the capacity of about 25 buses per hour in each direction. That’s like a bus stopping every 40 seconds.
Where has this been successful?
The case study most people point to is Medellín, Colombia. They deployed a three-line system and they are working on a fourth line to add to it. Their version of the suburbs, places where low-income families live, are very tightly packed and dense. There was no eminent domain to add roads and run busses. If they were going to put in transit, they would have had to tear down a whole bunch of houses. So instead they put in urban cable and they could hop over a lot of people’s houses just using these towers. It revolutionized their system and it functions as a true mass transit system there, three lines that come together at a central hub. Throughout South America it’s been quite popular. It’s also deploying in Europe and Asia. We have some small forms of urban cable in North America, but a true urban cable line that would approximate mass transit really hasn’t been deployed yet.
Why is Austin a good candidate for something like this?
We’re just big enough to feel the problem but not big enough to afford the traditional solutions. We also have river, greenbelts, and freeways in place and all of the eminent domain has been claimed. These are very expensive things to work around when adding mass transit. Urban cable can cross all of these things nearly for free. So it’s a way to add mass transit on the routes that we already use. All it needs is a straight shot. We have a few streets in this city where we could run these. South First is one of those streets. It’s a nice straight shot from Slaughter right into Downtown. You could jog over the river and then ride it right down Guadalupe until you meet the corner of campus. We could build this with a very good cost profile.
Is that the pilot line you have proposed?
Yes, recently we’ve been looking at a pilot line called Wire One. It has the potential to serve basically all of those people who live south of the river. It’s a route we couldn’t achieve any other way. South First is one of our four major north-south arteries. We could add a fifth right above it with urban cable. Because it’s above the street, it doesn’t remove any supply from the street. If you put something like surface rail, you are actually removing supply from the street. People could still leave their house the way they do now—you can build parking garages at certain retail areas—and head into Downtown. A good 30,000 people do that every day. These days the congestion line starts at Ben White, a good 25 minutes from City Hall. On a bad day it could be worse and five years from now it’s going to be way worse. It could be basically the same journey people already take—start at home, park in a garage—with one extra step of getting on urban cable.
Where does the proposal stand right now?
There is a citizens group that is working with city officials to try and get this in action. But ultimately we do need to convince the city to invest in this form of mass transit. We need the citizenry to agree with us, because we all may need to pay for it.
How much would it cost?
Well I can say this about cost: I’m not trying to be competitive here, but we all know what surface rail costs, so I will use it as a comparison. I actually believe that to solve the transportation crisis in Austin, we need to add supply whenever and wherever we can. For each route we want to achieve, we should look for a technology that best matches the need. We shouldn’t think in terms of only roads and only trains. There is no single solution to traffic. But surface rail lays out at about 100 million dollars per mile and I think we could get twice the mileage with urban cable. Some cities have done it for far less than that—some have done it for around 13 million per mile. But I think for the climate in Austin and the commuters we have, we are going to spend for a more luxurious system. We need climate control; we need stops that are civic in nature; we need an up time of 19 hours a day; and we are hoping we’ll need a high capacity for this thing and those attributes will make it more expensive. But the fact that we are only doing construction where there is a stop and a tower, and we are going to cross the freeways and the rivers for free, and the fact that you actually just couldn’t put anything else on South First, means that this is a very sensible thing to do from a cost perspective. And I think when the tourists are in town, there is a certain number who are going to jump on a ride it just for the experience.
It does seem like this has an appeal beyond just getting from place to place. Most mass transit systems aren’t fun to ride.
This is what our tourism needs. I think it was recently proclaimed that we have a festival economy—people are coming to experience our culture, and traffic and congestion are a threat to that. Urban cable would get people around, and be a real mass transit system, but it goes up in the air and over the river, and there are beautiful views. Everyone is going to take that selfie and a lot of people will pay just to get on it while they are here. It will become the thing to do in Austin. There are a lot of cities considering this and I think there is this feeling of well, who is going to go first? That also makes it pretty exciting.
And other than it just being cool, what are some reasons people might be quick to adopt it?
I think the fact that it isn’t on a schedule and the pilot route is on a route that everyone can imagine using and is growing in popularity. The fact that someone could walk out their door and be downtown in 22 minutes, people are going to start doing that. Another thing that urban cable has is an amazing amount of predictability. In other words, it’s always going to be that same amount of time between gondolas.
What is the biggest challenge about getting this off the ground?
I just got back from the New Cities Summit in Montreal and we were discussing just this: What are the barriers to entry for North America? Familiarity is one. You can’t call up your sister city and say, “Hey! How was implementing this?” There is no lobby because there are only two urban cable companies. And no one is quite sure about the funding yet. The good news is those are all surmountable barriers, but it’s going to happen at the speed of civics. We have a policy of figuring out what’s best for the commuter, rather than figuring out what makes sense for the city.
If people like the idea, what can they do to help?
Right now they could write their city council member and ask them to consider urban cable. If they saw a good show of support from the public, I think it would happen. It’s a good time for folks to rally around something like this.
They should also like Wire Austin’s Facebook page. That’s how they will learn more and hear more in the future. In about a month’s time we’re going to be releasing the vision. Right now we’re just talking about it.
Above: A rendering of the Wire One pilot route. Image courtesy argo design.