Dallas is not a bike-friendly city.
Over the last two years, the city has been taking baby steps to change that: We completed a new bike plan last year, put several millions of dollars into the upcoming bond package for hike and bike trails as well as several “complete streets” projects, painted bike lanes and “sharrows” on a handful of city streets, and proposed a vulnerable road user law that will protect bicyclists from cars.
But this isn’t nearly enough. Even fully implemented, these projects will barely pull Dallas into the latter half of the 20th century. And it’s not just the lack of urgency that’s dooming our attempt at bike friendliness. It’s the half-hearted infrastructure that’s being implemented.
In Downtown Dallas, the city has painted shared lane markings on Main Street to emphasize that bikes can share the road with cars. In reality, these markings do nothing to create a safer, more inviting environment for bicyclists. And encouraging bikes to use a major, narrow street through Downtown just further aggravates drivers who can’t pass slower cyclists.
Instead, we need to create protected bike lanes with actual barriers separating cyclists from traffic. Physically separated lanes are significantly safer: a recent study shows they reduce injuries by 90%. ) And protected bike lanes are more compatible with Dallas’ existing car culture, allowing bikes and cars to coexist safely.
Many Dallas streets are wider than they need to be for the level of car traffic they carry. We can take a traffic lane or parking lane from these streets, put up some bollards, and create bike infrastructure that will actually encourage people to get on their bikes. The change will be dramatic. We need to commit to building 10 miles of physically separated bike lanes every year for the next ten years.
The lack of connections of Dallas’ bike infrastructure is also ensuring its failure. Throughout our city, there are plans to put in short spans of bike lanes connecting nothing. No cyclist is going to use bike lanes that go nowhere and suddenly end. Instead, we need to connect neighborhoods, off-street trails, light rail, work centers, schools, shopping, and locations of interest. No “lanes to nowhere.”
Lastly, we need to repeal the mandatory helmet law for adults. In cities that have eliminated helmet laws, ridership has increased significantly and safety has actually improved. (NY Times article “To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets.”)
Dallas’ current, half-hearted approach to making our city bike friendly is going to doom it to failure. In a couple of years, the city will determine that bike ridership hasn’t increased in Downtown or on the bike lanes to nowhere (surprise!). This will then be cited as proof that there is no bike culture in Dallas, that we can’t transition to a bike-friendly city, and that bike infrastructure is a waste of money. The city will paint over the “sharrows” and wash its hands of this silly experiment.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can go all-in on bike infrastructure and get it done. We can dramatically increase bike ridership in our city. We’ve seen what can Dallas can do when it sets its heart on Big Ideas. That’s why Dallas’ remarkably meek approach to bike infrastructure is so frustrating. We pride ourselves for taking on extravagant, bold initiatives — the Calatrava Bridge, a park over a freeway, a city-owned convention center hotel, a massive toll road in a floodway. Let’s apply that same laser-like focus to making Dallas the best bicycling city in the country.