Max Kalhammer, the Architect of Dallas' Bike Plan, Is Leaving City Hall [Updated]
Max Kalhammer seems like he was a much chattier guy when he first arrived at City Hall in 2009 as the city's first-ever bike coordinator who didn't think cyclists should be forced to fight traffic. He talked frequently with the media and worked closely with advocacy groups like Bike Friendly Oak Cliff.
Something's happened since then to shut Kalhammer up. Maybe one of his higher-ups told him to cut it out. Maybe he lost the power of speech after ramming his progressive bike ideas into an all but immovable City Manager Mary Suhm. We're not sure.
In any case, by the time I started this job a year ago, he wasn't returning phone calls, at least not mine. I wrote him off as a ghost, but he was, I was assured, plugging away behind the scenes and doing what he could to make cycling in Dallas suck less.
No longer. The city just posted Kalhammer's position on its jobs page. And Kalhammer has updated his LinkedIn account to list his job with the city as past employment. Several people have confirmed his departure.
Why he's leaving or where he's going, isn't clear. We've messaged Kalhammer to see if he'll explain. Maybe now that he no longer works at City Hall, he'll give us a call back.
Update at 3:38 p.m.: Kalhammer tells us that he's actually been gone since June 14 with lots of prospects but no definite plans for the immediate future. "It was a planned process that started sometime last year after almost every type of bicycle facility on-street had been implemented and demonstrated," he says. So now, the city has experience doing a two-way cycle track and buffered bike lanes as well as the shared lanes that now crisscross downtown.
Kalhammer was cautious when discussing his decision to step down, but his frustration was evident. "It was a combination of things, and I can't deny that the conditions under which i was performing my job was a factor when making my decision," he says.
In general, city staff and elected officials weren't keen on making the types of changes necessary to establish cycling as a means of transportation rather than just a hobby. His pleas to roll bike infrastructure into the city's master plan for transportation, thereby avoiding the type foot-dragging that has slowed the bike plan, fell on deaf ears. The departments charged with implementing the bike plan were under-resourced. His insistence that the newly revamped Continental Bridge, as well as pretty much every other span across the Trinity, should have dedicated cycling facilities went basically nowhere. Basically, very few people of his bosses seem to fully realize the potential of cycling. "I think there's a little bit of disparity between the willingness of people to ride and how much advocacy there is...and how much support there is now at the city."
That's not to say it's been all frustration. There's the cycle track on Jefferson Boulevard and the pedestrian and bike improvements that will be added to the Calatrava bridge planned for I-30. Things are a lot further along than they were when Kalhammer started four years ago. They're just not quite where they need to be.
Kalhammer is cautiously optimistic that the city will remain committed to the bike plan and will eventually get there.
"It would be a benefit to our neighborhoods and businesses, which will prove to be the case once what I'm talking about is actually done," he says. "Right now, you can't really see the demand for it just because of the lack of it being a ubiquitous or fairly regular sight or reality on the streets. You need to have that familiarity from all road users for it to work. We haven't reached that critical mass yet but i'm sure that if the city is committed to it, once we reach critical mass, the city will look at this as just as valid as other [form of transportation].
"At the point when there is a critical mass of bicycle lanes and other connected facilities, it's also likely that most would-be bicycle commuters and the majority of the traveling public will see bicycling as a valid form of transportation, too."