Five Things Dallas Needs to Become More Bike-Friendly, According to Cycling Advocates

Categories: Transportation

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Max Kalhammer is leaving City Hall at a key time for cycling in Dallas. During four years as the city's bike coordinator, he helped develop a very solid citywide bike plan and oversaw a remarkable expansion of bike infrastructure in the city. Downtown is now crisscrossed by shared bike lanes, and more substantial bike infrastructure -- buffered lanes and cycle tracks -- has begun to sprout.

Despite the obvious momentum, however, Dallas has yet to reach, or even really approach, the critical mass of bike facilities and ridership that will transform cycling from a weekend hobby into a viable transportation option. Part of what drove Kalhammer out was that his bosses at City Hall didn't always seem to share that goal.

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-Max Kalhammer, the Architect of Dallas' Bike Plan, Is Leaving City Hall

That's going to have to change if Dallas is going to become a more bike-friendly city, but so will a lot of other stuff. For a blueprint of what needs to done and how to do it, we turn to Councilman Scott Griggs and Bike Friendly Oak Cliff co-founders Jason Roberts and Zac Lytle for some direction.

Replace Kalhammer: This is probably the simplest and most obvious step. Kalhammer didn't single-handedly will the new bike plan into existence, but things like the Jefferson cycle track wouldn't have happened, or wouldn't have happened nearly as quickly, without a dedicated city staff member who knows about and advocates for bikes. The good news is that the city is already looking for a replacement. The bad news, Lytle says, is that whoever is hired will have their work cut out for them.

"Its my hope that the City hires a new coordinator who is not afraid to push to get things done in the face of general apathy," he says. "Until things change at the mayoral and City Manager levels the bike coordinator will be an uphill task." And that brings us to No. 2.

Democracy: Voters won't pick Mary Suhm's replacement as city manager, but they can elect City Council members like Angela Hunt, Scott Griggs, and Lee Kleinman, all passionate about cycling. When you put a bike advocate at the horseshoe and combine that with constituents showing up and lobbying for progress, good things happen. Look no further than North Oak Cliff for proof. That won't always be enough to thwart the will of the city manager's office (see the plans for hike-and-bike trails between the Trinity River levees, that mysteriously vaporized), but that's how things get done.

"In the end, getting things changed is top-down, either mayor or [another top official] or it's community powered," Roberts says. The city staff members charged with implementing things are stuck in the middle. "They're just going to work on whoever's telling them what is the priority."

Cut the Red Tape: Dallas -- everything from the streets to the buildings to the city charter -- was designed with cars in mind. For the bike plan to be properly implemented, that mode of thinking will have to shift, as will the car-centric rules that are baked into every level of the planning process. "We've created a bureaucracy that has to be changed in order for us to get off the ground," Roberts says.
He likens this task to untangling a giant wad of Christmas lights.

The first strand to pull is the thoroughfare plan, the overarching blueprint for transportation in Dallas. One of the major hurdles, according to Roberts, is that it requires the city to notify property owners within 200 feet anytime it wants to so much as touch a road. With hundreds of miles of streets included in the bike plan, Roberts says that's a major headache and serious expense. Better to do away with that rule for biking projects, which make roads safer by slowing traffic and increasing pedestrian activity.

Griggs is less concerned about the notification requirement. "If there's one thing the city of Dallas does better than anyone else it's to hold public hearings and sending notices," he says. But there is a need for the plan to take a more integrated approach to transportation, focusing on bikes and public transit rather than just cars.

Doing that won't be easy, since it requires a modification to the City Charter, something that can only happen once every 10 years and has to be approved by voters. Luckily enough, the next opportunity comes next year. Both Griggs and Roberts say the time has come.

Connections: The city and DART recently finished painting shared bike lanes that connect the Katy Trail with the Santa Fe Trail and the Jefferson cycle track. It's progress, but it's only a start. For ordinary riders to start using bikes as transportation, they have to be able to get to their jobs and friends' houses and restaurants in a way that's convenient and safe. That means a more robust network of separated bike facilities and trails, which will require the city to stop slow-walking projects like Griggs and Hunt's Trinity River trails.

Ditch Helmets: Dallas began requiring cyclists of all ages to wear helmets in 1996, ostensibly to improve public safety. It's a non-issue to the spandex-clad weekend warriors at White Rock, but cycling advocates insist that it discourages more casual riders.

There are a number of studies out there that suggest that the marginal safety gains from helmet mandates are far outweighed by the negative impact on ridership. As an example, Roberts cites the struggling bike-share program in Melbourne, Australia, which he recently visited with Better Block, his urban advocacy organization. The people who run the bike share program identified that city's helmet law as the biggest obstacle to their success, since the casual rider who wants to hop on a bike for a few blocks to go to the store probably won't have their own helmet and probably won't want to wear a used one.

Even without a bike share program, Roberts says the same concerns will keep casual riders off the street in Dallas. It's just another rule to follow, advocates say, another piece of equipment to buy and carry and wear.

So. It's pretty clear what needs to be done if Dallas is to become a bikeable city. One advantage of coming late to the game is that other cities have already paved the way. The question is whether the city will embrace the challenge.

Griggs and Roberts are confident that more people will warm to the idea once more game-changing projects like the Jefferson cycle track get built. Roberts likens it the response to Klyde Warren Park.

But Dallas needs to act fast, Roberts says. More and more young, talented people are moving to places for quality of life reasons, and businesses and jobs are following. Fail to make cycling a reasonable transportation option, and both will stay away.

"The reality is we're not going to be a competitive city if we don't adopt these things," Roberts says.


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109 comments
honeybee
honeybee

It's funny that none of the people in the picture are wearing a helmet...

sleepyhead420
sleepyhead420

In the words of Omar, the Transit bike mechanic now wrenching for the stars in LA, JUST WEAR YOUR HELMET. If that is keeping you off a bike, then stay off. 

Nathaniel Heidenheimer
Nathaniel Heidenheimer

"Right. Which reminds me that RFK Jr. made some extraordinary comments about the assassination in Dallas recently. But we haven’t been allowed to hear what he said. That was remarkable, but again, this is Charlie Rose who’s asking the questions, and Charlie Rose, or his network, or Charlie Rose incorporated, whatever it is, they will not release that interview. I know people have been trying to get it to get the exact words, because it’s very, very important. He’s out there saying that his dad didn’t agree with the Warren Report, which isn’t a secret, but this is the first time RFK Jr or a member of the family is saying that. That is big news, except that it’s no news." http://www.straight.com/life/360251/vancouver-bound-author-james-douglass-jfk-and-unspeakable

Scott Strong
Scott Strong

People just learning how to ride a bike and negotiate obstacles.

Scott Strong
Scott Strong

No helmets? That's got to be the stupidest fucking thing I've heard from the Observer. Safety may not be sexy, but falling off a bike onto a curb head first happens, and it's catastrophic. But hey, helmets keep people from riding. So let's advocate people not protect their heads! WTF?

Warren Johnson
Warren Johnson

bikers need to become more pedestrain family. Bike riders on the Katy Trail are dangerous

s.aten
s.aten

I would imagine that you need a helmet not because of the dangers from car drivers.  I would think the greater risk would be to road hazards, glass, pot holes & poorly maintained streets.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

The biggest issue with a greater use of bicycles is the design of our area.

with an average of 25 minute commute by car to work, people tend to not live near where they work; if they don't live near where they work, they won't use a bike to commute, their utilization of a bike for non-recreation is low.

the land planning/use locations are also negative to using a bike. most people live a mile or more from the closest retail nodes, and think about how far you travelled to get to that restaurant/bar/movie last time you went. It's not uncommon to see 5 mile or greater trips to and from these locations, and most people aren't going to bike that far. more bike lanes and freedom from helmets isn't going to change this.

that being said, it is certainly changing, the infill high density trend is making DFW more conducive to alternative transportation. it will take time for this to be impactful, it doesn't happen overnight.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

I seem to have missed the number 1 thing Dallas needs to become more bike friendly: Domes. 

Once we're like the future depicted in Logan's Run (filmed in Dallas, if you recall), an air-conditioned city with no old people driving, then we'll be bike friendly.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

i vote eric for the new CBC...just so i dont have to read his cut n copy n e more.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

How come none of these lists of things that "have to change for biking to succeed" in Dallas ever mention changing riders' attitudes and compliance with the law?  Cyclists put forth this image of entitlement that turns off the rest of the citizenry.  We know there are groups who are working to integrate biking into the overall transportation plan for Dallas, but there are also those whose goal seems to be replacing the overal transportation plan in Dallas with cycling.  One of these courses of action has a hope of succeeding, the other doesn't.  You're not going to get traffic out of downtown, uptown, Deep Ellum, Oak Cliff or any other trendy hotspot.  Why?  Because people want to go there, that's sort of how these places get trendy.  The neighborhood residents in Deep Ellum aren't going to be able to support the number of restaurants and shops and bars there; you need people from far flung parts of the city and the suburbs to come there too.  If you get rid of traffic, you're getting rid of people, you're getting rid of income.  DART does not have the capacity or the routes currently to bring people from outside into the trendy areas efficiently, nor does it seem inclined to do so.

another thing cyclists need to adjust their thinking on is pedestrians.  Pedestrians always, always have the right of way over autos, bicycles, skateboards and rollerbladers (do people still do this?).  Yet the 'Bike Friendly' crowd I run into (no pun intended) at White Rock while running seems to think I owe them the trail.  I take up a tiny slice of one side of the trail.  If they can't pass me using the other 5 feet of trail width, they have no business on a bike.  Also, Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not cyclists trying to get around a traffic backup.

Certain parts of Dallas could become bike friendly.  But you're going to have to change more than just the attitudes of the City and Drivers; you're going to have to change the mindset of cyclists as well.

Warren Johnson
Warren Johnson

Bikers need to be more friendly. On the katy Trail they are very dangerous.

downtownworker
downtownworker

The helmet law definitely has to go, because it's unfair that some people get ticketed and some don't.


sleepyhead420
sleepyhead420

@Blake Wilson You forgot $400 a month car payments and $200 a month insurance payments. That covers a lot of upscale beer and tacos. 

sleepyhead420
sleepyhead420

@s.aten true....jam your wheel in a crack, over you go. Been there, done that, had my helmet on for it.

kduble
kduble

@Americano  I rode home from work yesterday, when it was 102, and it was a day like any other. The wind cools you; try it, it's not that bad. I did shower, though.

doublecheese
doublecheese

@Americano It's really only unbearably hot a short part of the year.  The rest of the year is very pleasant to cold on a bike.  We actually have decent cycling weather.

doublecheese
doublecheese

@mavdog I'm not sure infill will make that much difference.  The problem is, your average job lasts 5 years these days.  In DFW, your next job is just as likely to be in a suburb like Plano, Richardson, or Irving as it is in Dallas.  Even then, Dallas itself is huge, so it could still be really far.  Unless you can afford to move every time your change jobs, moving close to your employer only works the first time.

kduble
kduble

@Montemalone  You should travel more. In countries with good cycling infrastructure, cycling is a healthy option for old people. As for old people, I speak with some authority....

MikeDunlap
MikeDunlap

It was 95 degrees and humid in NYC two days ago with thousands and thousands of cars ripping around on major avenues.

CitiBike alone had over 30,000 trips that day. No dome or air-conditioning needed.

MikeDunlap
MikeDunlap

I'm glad you and every other driver never go over the speed limit. You never break those or any other driving laws.

Also, that whole thing where drivers badly injure a few thousand people in DFW every year? Cyclists don't do that.

Your concern with laws and damage being done is badly misplaced.

doublecheese
doublecheese

@RTGolden1 The White Rock spandex warriors are not representative of people who use, or would like to use, bicycles as transportation.  Otherwise, they wouldn't be looping around White Rock.  There are a fair number of douches on $5-10K bikes out there who would never take their bikes 1 mile away from a protected area like that.

doublecheese
doublecheese

@Warren Johnson The Katy Trail was built with a transportation grant for the purpose of helping cyclists move through the city.  The walkers and joggers are the ones who are clogging it up making it dangerous.  Not that they don't have the right to be there, and yes, cyclists should be more friendly to pedestrians anyway.  Pedestrians just need to be aware that they are essentially walking in middle of a road,

MikeDunlap
MikeDunlap

If you don't want them on the trails, support investments in on-street infrastructure.

Also, drivers need to be more friendly. Every single day in DFW at least some of them are smashing into others, badly injuring or killing people. That too is very rude.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

@Warren Johnson yes just like the dog folk who are runnin zip leashes on the trail.

russp
russp

@downtownworker 

I find it funny I can ride a 700 pound motorcycle at 70 mph and no helmet but a 12 pound bike at 12 mph...

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

@doublecheese @mavdog And, don't forget that some locations are to expensive for most of the employees to live there. Neither my wife, nor I could afford to live closer to either one of our jobs. Then, you throw in the fact that our work locations are about 20 miles apart, and there is no way we could live close to both jobs. Instead, we chose a home location that makes it easy for me to drop her off at her work while I'm driving to mine.

kduble
kduble

@doublecheese @mavdog The trend for millennials: They are their jobs. They work from home, and their income is socially derived.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@MikeDunlap I might take you seriously if you ever, once, acknowledged the point being made.  You never do.  You and your opinions are thus, irrelevant.

doublecheese
doublecheese

@MikeDunlap He does have a point, especially coming from the POV of watching cyclists around White Rock.   Most cyclists would also break the speed limit if they were capable of doing so.  The vast majority of drivers on the other hand, actually do stop at stop signs and stop lights.

I took a quick 30 mile ride this morning around White Rock Lake and connected trails this morning before it got too hot.  I was the only cyclist I saw who stopped at any stop signs on Lawther, and there were a LOT of cyclists out there.  They were a menace.  I'm glad that most drivers near WRL have developed a lot of tolerance for that kind of thing, because they were having to wait, head back and forth on a swivel, looking for a safe time to start moving with bikes whizzing by them at the stop signs.

kduble
kduble

@doublecheese  The Katy could have been done better. Newer parts have separate soft tracks for pedestrians, but they aren't wide enough to accommodate many people.

ActuallyRidesInDFW
ActuallyRidesInDFW

@russp @downtownworker That's true, but to go without a helmet on a motorcycle,  you have to carry proof of health insurance in an amount of at least $10,000 for injury before being exempted.  Not that it matters, people should be free to choose regardless.

kduble
kduble

@barnes.ann  I've seen it. The streets were laid out just in time for the recession.

barnes.ann
barnes.ann

There's a roundabout in one of those new Mid Town developments where they have roads and no buildings between Royal and Walnut Hill.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@kduble @doublecheese @MikeDunlap We can barely pay for sharrows, and you think we're going to find the money for roundabouts?  I agree, they would help immensely, but we're not getting them in Dallas anytime soon.

kduble
kduble

@doublecheese @MikeDunlap  Agreed, but we don't need all of these stop signs. The Europeans use roundabouts instead. They calm traffic, reduce the excess motor vehicle emissions associated with jackrabbit starts and idling, and they encourage more people to cycle.

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