CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
MARBLE FALLS — As thousands of bikers descend on Austin for the 20th anniversary of the Republic of Texas (ROT) Biker Rally on June 11-14, a spike in tourism and traffic issues could follow in the Highland Lakes.
The event at the Travis County Expo Center in east Austin includes live concerts and a parade to the Capitol as well as the “tradition” of a number of the participants making their way into communities such as Burnet, Fredericksburg, Marble Falls and Spicewood.
“We’ve actually started seeing people getting loaded up and heading towards Austin,” said Blue Bonnet Cafe Manager David Plante. “We’ll see clubs that might have 15 bikers … many people coming down from the Dallas/Fort Worth area and coming up from San Antonio and (U.S.) 281 is such an easier ride than I-35.”
The city of Austin invites crowds for the event by closing a number of downtown streets, including Congress Avenue, starting at 5 p.m. June 12 until 3 a.m. June 13.
Daniel Downing of Canton and Samantha Bodart of Dallas made their way into Marble Falls on June 11 on their Road King Classic ahead of the main event in Austin.
“We ride through the Hill Country, and we stop at Blue Bonnet. It’s a tradition,” Bodart said.
Downing added, “It’s a nice, quiet, slow ride through the Hill Country; see everything, do everything and then stop and hang out, and enjoying it.”
Route favorites include Texas 29 between Burnet and Georgetown; RR 1431 between Cedar Park and Marble Falls; Texas 71 between Lakeway and Marble Falls; Park Road 4 just outside Burnet and Inks Lake State Park; and U.S. 290 between Dripping Springs and the Blanco area.
This year’s event could see record crowds, thus increasing the potential for more local traffic due to the 20-year anniversary appeal.
“There will be about 75,000 bikers coming into the Austin area, which greatly affects the Hill Country,” said Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Robbie Barrera. “During the day, you’re going to see a lot more traffic with motorcyclists taking a scenic route to ride that day.”
As a result, law enforcement will ramp up public safety efforts.
“It’s about keeping people safe and high visibility. We’ll have more troopers out this weekend making sure people are complying with the law,” she said. “The crash rate goes up due to the number of motorcyclists in the area.”
During the 2012 ROT Biker Rally, the Austin Police Department reported three motorcycle fatalities among the 175 accidents that weekend.
“For motorists, you should be watching for motorcyclists because they are smaller — but this weekend especially with the larger amount of them in town,” Barrera said.
DPS offered the following tips for motorists:
• limit distractions inside and outside the vehicle
• offer enough distance in front of the vehicle
• observe the whereabouts of motorcycles on the road more closely
“Often, I’m be looking two or three cars ahead in traffic and waiting to see if anyone is hitting their brakes beyond the one in front of me because I’ve had a lot of them slam on their brakes because they’re not paying attention,” Downing said.
Traffic concerns have motorcyclists on alert as well.
“We have to be almost double alert for everyone else. It’s the size of the motorcycle and the one headlight throws people off for distance,” Bodart said. “We don’t have the same stopping power. We’re not as protected. We need to look out for each other.”
Despite the potential for traffic headaches, local business owners welcome the influx of visitors.
“Anytime we can get a wave of people to come in and eat at our restaurants, stay in our hotels, it’s all for the betterment of the community,” Plante said. “It bumps up our sales-tax numbers, gets people staying in the hotels, eating at the restaurants maybe shopping at some of our local stores.
“Hopefully, you got them the one time, they’ll get the whole family next time, load up and spend a weekend here,” he added.