As what passes for winter in Central Texas finally arrived a couple of weeks ago, those who spend their weekend nights pedicabbing are breathing easier. It's not just the farewell to extreme heat and relentless rainfall; last summer was particularly difficult for Austin's pedicabbing community. A highly publicized hit-and-run accident occurred on the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, pedicabbers were restricted from loading and docking at some of the most lucrative spots Downtown, and just when it seemed like Downtown couldn't become any more congested or the competition more fierce, the already precarious Austin pedicab industry expanded. In the shadow of the increasing challenges, company owners and their riders have been forced to set aside their differences and join together, confronting human tragedy.
On Aug. 24 around 2am, just as the bars were closing, a car traveling south on the Congress Avenue Bridge hit Russell Stinnett's pedicab from behind. The impact of the crash knocked Stinnett off the bike and passengers Jayne Tracy and Jeff Uribe out of the carriage. Uribe suffered the most severe injuries. The driver of the car has not yet been identified; a $25, 000 reward is offered by Red Bull (Uribe's employer) for anyone who identifies the person responsible.
The incident highlighted a longstanding problem for bikers (pedicabbers and cyclists alike) riding on the bridge. "We've had a few bad wrecks in the past couple of years ... all of them on the Congress bridge due to riders taking the street rather than the sidewalk, " said Steve Smajstrla, co-owner of Heart of Texas Pedicab. "A regulatory snafu has contributed to this, where it's actually legal to be in the ... road but illegal to be on the sidewalk, which is our company's internal policy. The police, whom we have been working much more closely with, have promised to change this and told us to go ahead on the sidewalk in the meantime."
The Lush Rush
Dealing with drunks, on foot or behind the wheel, is inherent to pedicabbing, but pedicabbers fear that the consequent negative media attention dissuades pedestrians from accepting rides. Smajstrla says that people often ask him about safety. His answer is that if a pedicab's brakes and lights are intact, it's safe – unless, like anything in traffic Downtown, it gets hit by a motorized vehicle. "I've seen pedestrians get hit; I've seen the horse carriages get hit, anything that's slow-moving Downtown. I guess we have a lot of drunk drivers."
Another safety issue, and a source of controversy that has divided the city's pedicab companies over the years, has to do with the different types of pedicabs. There are two basic types: 1) a trailer essentially hooked to a mountain bike or 2) a tricycle with a built-in carriage manufactured specifically for transporting people. Those who own or operate the more expensive tricycles assert their superiority. Bike-trailers "are unstable, inherently fall down, and have only the brakes which the bike comes with. They are usually poorly lit, " said Greg Foulkes, owner of Capital Pedicab.
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