Before we become a bike-savvy city, we have a lot to learn.
• Catch up on our coverage of the Dallas Bike Plan.
• Scroll down this article for cycling rules, information on bike lessons and an update on Northaven Trail.
It’s evening rush hour in Preston Hollow. On Royal Lane, 4,000-pound cars whiz by ready to devour any piece of two-wheeled aluminum that gets in their way.
Emerging from the quiet Hillcrest Forest neighborhood, Waco Moore pedals up to the mouth of the beast and waits for his opportunity.
After several seconds, the cars thin out to reveal an open road. He takes a lane, rides almost all the way to the left and breezily makes his way to the coffee shop at Preston Royal Village. Cars approach from behind, slow down and pass.
Moore, a neighborhood resident and CyclingSavvy DFW instructor, is among a handful of expert riders who integrate themselves with traffic, sharing the road harmoniously with cars.
Still, the Alliance for Biking and Walkingrecently ranked Dallas 49th out of the country’s 51 largest cities for its number of residents who commute to work by bike — a measly 0.1 percent. It placed 47th for the 1.8 percent who walk. The 2011 Dallas Bike Plan aims to change that, constructing more than 1,000 miles of bicycle facilities over the next 10 years.
The city’s ambitious strategy to get more butts on bikes isn’t just about safety, fitness and clean air. City officials say it’s about bringing neighborhoods closer together: The day may come when we can walk outside and see people and faces instead of just cars and buildings.
On any given day, neighbors often end their commutes by driving down a narrow alley, pulling into their garages and heading inside their homes, rarely stopping to look out the front door. That’s how much of Preston Hollow’s infrastructure was originally designed.
“I think we need to erode that fortress mentality. Bike lanes and bike trails do some of that,” says Lee Kleinman, North Dallas’ District 11 Park Board member who also sat on the steering committee for the Bike Plan. “I think people are frustrated in this urban sprawl that we live in — that you have to get in a car to go to the grocery store. People are starting to look closer in, more local.”
The city council in June unanimously approved the Bike Plan, which in the long term includes 840 miles of on-street bike facilities and 460 off-street facilities designed to make less-experienced cyclists feel more comfortable riding in traffic. Right now, 75 percent of cyclists in the city ride recreationally, sticking to the trails.
As car-centric as Dallas might seem, the city is well-suited for bikes, says city bike coordinator Max Kalhammer, who moved here in 2009 from Washington, D.C.
“Dallas has the advantage of having built a lot of roadway — 7,000 miles of roads, lots of capacity,” Kalhammer says. “We want to take advantage of that past investment of our roadways.”
Rather than copying bike-friendly pioneers such as New York City and Portland, Dallas can do it better, Kalhammer says.
“We have the advantage of going last, so we can learn from the mistakes of everybody else. If you go to Portland or Boston or New York City … there’s a tremendous variation in the quality of their facilities and the consistency of them.
“So we’re looking to do it right and maintain a standard width for bicycle lanes, for example, and to know we can maintain these facilities.”
It’s not as if Dallas is just now trying to accommodate cyclists in the transportation network. The first bikeway plan came in 1975, calling for bike facilities to be part of new construction, both residential and commercial. In 1985, the city revised the plan, identifying more bike routes on low-volume streets. They are marked by blue Pegasus signs with numbers indicating north, south, east and west.
The city’s traffic patterns have changed quite a bit during the past 25 years.
“A lot of those routes had grown out of date because of the way traffic volumes have changed along certain streets in the city,” Kalhammer says.
“A lot of these routes could be intimidating to a lot of interested-but-cautious bicycle riders. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to use the routes that are marked now. When you introduce [bike lanes] even with the perception of safety, then ridership will go up. When ridership goes up, safety typically increases.”
Much of the plan is still being hammered out, but early implementation projects include a North Central route that would connect near NorthPark Center and to the Northaven Trail, which finishes its first phase of construction this month.
Kleinman says bike facilities could help slow down traffic in key areas of the neighborhood. Riding down Boedecker behind the mall can be treacherous for cyclists since cars often use that street for shortcuts, speeding and turning the un-striped, two-lane road into a four-lane thoroughfare.
“I think that drivers will adapt,” Kleinman says. “Most are reasonable. Drivers will start recognizing bikes on the road and that they’re vehicles.”
But a vocal minority of cyclists believes creating a bike-friendly city can come from education and less drastic improvements to the existing infrastructure.
Moore is like Bigfoot. Even if you catch a glimpse of him cycling down Preston in rush-hour traffic, no one would believe you.
“I’m just a guy that rides a bike,” he says. “It’s not about speed. It’s about being predictable. I get honked at maybe three times a year. It’s really uneventful and really pleasant.”
Every day, Moore travels from his home in the Hockaday neighborhood to work Downtown.
He follows the same general rules as cars but doesn’t prefer the label “vehicular cyclist.” He says it carries a negative tone, divides bicycle riders as being for or against bike lanes and ignores an important gray area.
“The city is focused on planning, and the main focus is on transportation and infrastructure and to rebuild more functional neighborhoods. I agree with about 99 percent of that. The issue is the way in which they view cyclists.”
He says that a bike-lane separation downgrades a cyclist to simply a pedestrian on wheels.
“They are much more a vehicle.”
Moore served on the bicycle advisory committee, a group of 21 citizens with interest and expertise who provided input on the new Bike Plan as it was being drafted. He supported a more conservative approach, incorporating shared lane markings, updated signage and education, which could help motorists understand that cyclists do belong on the road. Moore suggests decreasing speed limits and enforcing them instead of relying on the possible traffic-slowing effect of bike lanes.
“If every one of these streets was clearly marked with good wayfinding signs, and there was actual enforcement, Dallas would be the most bike-friendly city in America.”
He says segregated lanes can work in some areas such as the Jefferson Viaduct, where Dallas Torres of Oak Cliff was seriously injured after a car hit him from behind.
|“Bridges are some of the best places for bike lanes because there are no intersections,” Moore says. “Use segregated facilities like bike lanes and buffered bike lanes where they provide the greatest benefits and the least added risk.”While Moore views himself as moderate on the issue, Richard Wharton, who runs the Cycling Center of Dallasat the Jewish Community Center, brings more heat to bike-friendly groups, outlining all of the ways in which segregated lanes don’t work and even pose dangers.For example, he says, a hazard appears at stoplights when a motorist wants to turn right while a cyclist is approaching in the bike lane. That could result in a collision.
“It makes intersections much more complicated,” Wharton says. “What we believe is that with more attention paid to the education of cyclists, we can further enhance safety and livability today. Cyclists are sold a bike and sent out the door. You might get a pamphlet or something.
“I’m not against the Bike Plan. I’m against the placement of education at the bottom of the list. It’s cheap, it’s efficient and it’s quick.”
Despite their efforts to encourage all cyclists to rise to the same skill level through programs such as Cycling Savvy, vehicular cyclists are sorely outnumbered when it comes to creating a more bike-friendly Dallas. City planners believe their philosophy is just too idealistic.
“This may sound strange, but I admire what [vehicular cyclists] do,” Kalhammer says. “I admire how many riders they’ve converted [from car to bike], and they’ve got a lot to offer. I just want them to understand that their way of riding is not for everyone. We’re never going to have a significant number of riders using bikes for work or recreation if we don’t provide these other types of facilities.”
Kalhammer says that even the perceived safety of bike lanes can change behavior. Moore fears that this approach will come at a high cost in both dollars and lives.
“It’s all too easy and common to confuse the means with the end,” he says. “I would love to ride in a Netherlands-style environment. Nobody wants to mix in with cars and trucks, but that’s the reality of Dallas.”
Now, the city faces the reality of a sparse bond program in November and a best-case-scenario budget deficit of $50 million. The Bike Plan itself might be just as idealistic as the mantra of vehicular cyclists.
Eight months ago, the city council approved the grandiose plan to transform our auto-centric neighborhoods into communal spaces for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. After the vote, what more clearly emerged was the $16 million price tag to be paid out over 10 years, implementing $1.6-$1.8 million worth of on-street bike facilities per year.
“I think much of the council was surprised by that,” says North Dallas council member Linda Koop, who was an early supporter of updating the bikeway system. She and East Dallas council member Angela Hunt traveled to Portland about four years ago to study the network. They met with the bike coordinator there to learn strategies they could implement in Dallas.
Those dreams received a dose of reality after a Street Services briefing in December, which revealed that in addition to the original expense, maintenance for the completed system would cost up to $3.2 million annually. That raises questions about priorities since the city already struggles to maintain roads, sidewalks and alleys.
One possible solution is to bundle city services to cut costs. When crews re-stripe a road, they add a bike lane while they’re at it.
“We’re still hopeful we’ll get some early wind through the bond program,” Koop adds.
Despite the council’s surprise, the cost for striping and signage is pretty typical of other cities’ successful on-street bike facilities.
“That’s a big difference between what we have today and what could be in the future,” Kalhammer says.
The city’s Sustainable Development and Construction office is seeking grants, including one that would pay for a fundraising position to help raise money in the private sector. Advocacy groups also are trying to raise their own money to get the plan moving.
“The funding for the infrastructure is the biggest obstacle,” Kalhammer says.
• A bicycle is subject to the same traffic laws as cars.
• Riding a bike on highways is illegal.
• It is legal to ride on sidewalks, except for in Downtown, and cyclists must yield to pedestrians on sidewalks.
• A cyclist must touch a foot to the ground at stop signs and can be ticketed for running red lights.
• Helmets are required under a Dallas city ordinance.
• Cyclists may ride “two abreast,” meaning two side-by-side.
• Cyclists may take up as much of a lane as they feel they require.
• Always use hand signals to communicate with others on the road.
• When riding in heavy traffic, it usually is safest to ride in the center of the lane so drivers won’t be tempted to pass you within your lane.
• When riding at night, consider yourself invisible. Employ a rear light and a strong headlight when it’s dark out. Even with lights, motorists might not see you, so take extra precautions.
• When possible, ride in groups.
• Never ride against traffic.
• Always follow the rules of the road. This makes you a good ambassador for cyclists. When motorists see cyclists breaking the rules or behaving dangerously, it makes them angry.
• Try not to slow drivers down in situations where it can be avoided, for example: Wave cars through an intersection before you reach it.
• When riding on trails, call out to pedestrians to warn them you’re passing.
• Don’t race on the trails. Very fast riding is best kept to the streets.
• Never bully a cyclist. In a fight, a car will win every time. Give cyclists space and be patient when they are ahead of you.
• Lay off the cell phone. It is not illegal to text while driving, except in school zones, but it is extremely dangerous.
Sources: Dallas city ordinances, cycling advocates
For now, cyclists will have to make the best of what they have.
“Drivers seem to give you a wider berth when you are riding in a blue blazer,” he says.
At 60 years old, Bryan is an easy-going, Zen-like cyclist. He’s not trying to save the planet. He just enjoys the elements, as unfriendly as they might be.
“I go in knowing each day that at least one driver will make a mistake, or take a shot at me. I have used all of my voice at times.”
He always wears a helmet, takes less populated roads and respects motorists, allowing them to pass when possible.
“If I have to get on a busy street, I sometimes swallow my pride and use the sidewalk.”
During harsh weather, he takes advantage of transit opportunities such as the DART trains, which now have bicycle storage.
Commuting by bike is also a personal decision for Bryan, son of Dallas barbecue entrepreneur Sonny Bryan, who cycled hundreds of miles around Oak Cliff while battling cancer. The routine improved his quality of life before he died in 1989.
“Doctors marveled at how strong his heart and lungs were.”
In that spirit, Bryan continues to cruise on two wheels, hoping for a better system in the Bike Plan some day.
“It does require a cultural change with neighbors and neighborhoods,” Kleinman says. “People definitely love their cars in Preston Hollow.”
Kleinman, a recreational cyclist, rides in tandem with his wife around Dallas, training for cross-country road trips in which they explore other cities by bike — from the Texas Hill Country to Paris streetscapes.
The cultural change doesn’t necessarily mean people should try to commute 20 miles to work every day. But they could bike to the grocery store or to dinner at a nearby restaurant.
“Everything within a 3-mile radius, any casual cyclist can bike to within 20 minutes at the most,” Kleinman says. “Dallas is very big. In order to make a more livable city, we have to break it down into smaller components. That’s the only way to cope with a city this size.
“I don’t think we’re going to live in a Danish utopia where 40 percent or so of the population goes everywhere on their bike … but I don’t think it takes a lot of bikes to make a difference.”
Northaven Trail update
Neighbors started using the Northaven Trail as soon as the concrete dried, and phase one wraps up this month, stretching west from Valleydale near the Jewish Community Center to Preston just north of Royal.
La Terra Studio designed the 12-foot-wide hike and bike trail, which is stocked with amenities such as bike racks, solar-powered trash compactors, mile markers, a water bottle filling station and a bike repair station.
The $2.6 million project is part of a master plan, extending to Denton Drive with a connection to Irving’s Campion Trail on the west.
The next phase aims to link the Northaven Trail to the White Rock Creek Trail, for which Dallas County has committed $2.5 million in matching funds. The connection is being dubbed the “Low Five” in contrast to North Dallas’ High Five freeway connector because it will provide five trail directions for walkers and cyclists. They can go north or south on the White Rock Creek Trail, north on the Cottonwood Trail, south on the Veloway Trail or west on the Northaven Trail.
It’s all in the planning phase right now, but construction is scheduled to begin in 2013.
Richardson Bike Mart offers free bicycling safety workshops. Visit bikemart.com.