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Jason McDowell is also known as Little Tiny Fish. He is the Creative Director for OnMilwaukee. Occasionally he freelances. Mostly he rides bikes.

littletinyfish.com is not a cohesive blog, but a repository of musings on an assortment of topics, such as design, art, cycling, Milwaukee, and other personal experiences.

I just got back from vacation in Austin, Texas and I have a few thoughts. Some might be wondering “What? Vacation in March?” Yes. Last time I “wasted” my vacation days towards the end of summer, just visiting my parents and my brother. I don’t want to say wasted per say, because I love my family, but it’s not a very exciting vacation. Also, in the meantime, I had missed two or three Milwaukee events that I wanted to attend, while I was away.

My idea, this time around, was to take vacation at the end of February or beginning of March, when the temperature is equal to the events being planned: zero.

Temperature

The temperature in Austin in mid-March was close to the summer in Milwaukee in mid-July: 70-80 in the day, 30-50 at night. The couch surfing hosts with whom we stayed were quite gracious, but just like I believe air conditioning in Milwaukee is unnecessary, they believe a heater is equally so. Nights got a little cold for us, but the sun helped the temperature bounce back up.

Milwaukee has sub zero streaks in the winter, while Austin tackles 100+ streaks even longer in the summer.

Bike Friendliness

The first thing we did after getting in to Austin was eat, lie in a park, and then check out the city’s Critical Mass. The critical mass in Austin is ten to twenty times more populated than in Milwaukee. Curious, I Googled “Critical Mass Milwaukee” and came up with articles at least three years old. Part of Milwaukee’s participation problems might be because of the lack of information (or the historical tenacity of the police), so I set up CriticalMassMKE.com when I returned from vacation.

Austin’ streets are also more bike friendly. More drivers get out of the way, pull in to the other lane, or just simply let you go first no matter what (which can actually be more confusing and dangerous, but the thought means something). There are bikes attached to every rack and everybody seems to own one, even if just for casual riding. Of course we were very close to downtown, which is also close to the University of Texas’ campus, which naturally means many more pedestrians in general.

Public Transportation

The buses on the main streets run just as regularly as those in Milwaukee, but they appear to be much cleaner and less vandalized. Fares are also significantly cheaper. Just $0.75 per ride, or $1.50 for a 24 hour pass. If you buy a ticket at 9:30 at night you can go to sleep for the night, wake up, run some errands, eat all your meals, walk your dog, go on a dinner date, and still be able to get on the bus by 9:30 the next night and not have to pay an extra cent.

The buses are also equipped with bike racks which are beautifully designed. They fold up when not in use and take only seconds to prepare if one is needed. The only downfall is that they are large enough to fit only two bikes.

The one problem we ran into with the bus system is not realizing how early they shut down on Sundays. An evening movie caused us to miss the last bus by mere seconds at a paltry 9:00pm. We were forced to take a taxi, which more than made up for the amount of fare we saved on their cheap daily passes.

Oh, and the roads, in general, are nigh–immaculate. They don’t have to deal with the cold, the salt trucks, and the plows on a yearly basis.

Vegetarian Food

There were tons and tons of vegetarian and even vegan friendly establishments. Milwaukee has only one totally vegetarian restaurant (the Riverwest Co–Op), while Austin is home to several. We also visited the Wheatsfield Co–op, whose selection was so daunting that I was paralyzed by choice. However, I am certain Austin has no bar/restaurant that can compete with the Palomino.

Overall

There is a lot of great things that Austin has to offer, but it almost feels like a fantasy land where the work is already done. Milwaukee hasn’t reached that point, but over the last 9 years I’ve seen it change for the better. Not only are people moving back into the city, but the city’s structure, neighborhood, and crimes are improving too. Sometimes we have potholes that turn into sink holes, but sometimes we get an expanded bike lane. I feel like Milwaukee needs us. It doesn’t need it’s creative, progressive individuals to move out. It needs them to fight to move the city forward.

Archived Comments

These comments were pulled from the archives after a site failure in mid 2014. Though I no longer accept public comments on my site, I’ve included them for posterity. If you’d like to submit a comment, send one to littletinyfish@littletinyfish.com.

  1. Nice review of the city! I had a lot of the same thoughts after visiting SanFran and Portland last summer. And yes, those cities seem to be lightyears ahead of where Milwaukee is, but I’m starting to see momentum grow for good, local, vegetarian/vegan friendly food, the bike culture getting more inclusive and ever-present, and the neighborhoods are becoming more lovely with every passing season. So, while these other cities look so amazing, I totally agree with your last paragraph. I’m loving Milwaukee and I want to do anything I can to help bring it up to par with the others. People are starting to notice us and we need to snatch all opportunities to shine.

    Sam Dodge · 2009-03-06 17:58 · #

  2. This was a really interesting read. I’ve never been to Austin, but go to Milwaukee often for work. Downtown has a lot of potential and I always wonder why more people are not out and about. Maybe I have unreasonable expectations for bustling streets, coming from Chicago, but Milwaukee’s downtown seems to be under-utilized. You’re the type of person the city needs more of!

    Dottie · 2009-03-15 19:59 · #

  3. I’m in Austin right now. I think I follow in your vacation footsteps, whether that’s Iowa or Texas.

    Tim · 2009-03-16 22:59 · #