I’m back! I have returned from maternity leave and attended my first City Council meeting last week. We’ve got a lot coming up on the agenda, not the least of which is a very challenging city budget and the Love Field concessions contract. More on these and other issues in the coming weeks.
Audrey Belle is doing great, though sleep has been hard to come by. THANK YOU to everyone who has sent us so many well-wishes!
The city is updating its quarter-century old bike plan, and Councilmember Sheffie Kadane and I are co-chairing the committee overseeing the revamp. We held our first public meeting about the plan last week, and the turnout was amazing. The council chambers were overflowing as the bike plan consultant presented dozens of options for bicycle infrastructure.
I had met the lead consultant, Peter Lagerwey of Toole Design Group, last year when he was getting close to retiring as the bicycle program director for Seattle, where he oversaw the successful planning and implementation of their bike plan.
What impressed me most about Peter’s presentation last week was that he didn’t come to the first public meeting with an almost-finished bike plan for Dallas — one that the masses would be permitted to slightly tweak around the edges, allowing him to claim public input in a process rigged from the start. I’ve seen that type of Kabuki theater play out too often in government-sponsored projects where public input is supposedly invited but in reality given short shrift.
And apparently Peter has, too, since by way of contrast, he asked the audience if they’d ever been to meetings where they felt like the plan had already been written ahead of time ( lots of hands went up, including mine). Peter explained he wasn’t there to offer a plan at this point, but to show different infrastructure types that could be considered for our bike plan, and then get feedback from the public. He was very clear that this bike plan will be built from the ground up, with a focus on providing Dallasites with an infrastructure that meets our needs.
If you couldn’t be at the meeting last week, you’re in luck: Patrick Kennedy from Pegasus News was there and did an excellent summary. As he points out, the biggest challenge is whether the city will actually change our car-centered culture or just talk a good game. It’s fine to laud the concept of complete streets, but what happens when that means reducing car lanes to expand bicycle paths and the pedestrian realm? Do policy-makers and city staff have the courage to follow through?
Patrick hits the nail on the head when he warns self-congratulatory city leaders, “[L]et’s not count our chickens before the[y’re] hatched. Will [policymakers] stand up to transpo or DOT when they shrilly scream, ‘OMG, we won’t hit level of service A if you remove that lane of traffic! We have arbitrary formulas that prove it!!!!'”
Policymakers and city staff will only be persuaded to create real complete streets with real bicycle infrastructure in Dallas (and not a failed, faux version) if they (1) learn how other cities have successfully made the transition from car-centric streets to ones that are bike- and ped-friendly, (2) understand how important complete streets are to our city’s future economic development (attacting the “creative class” and thus the companies that want to hire them), and (3) hear the public express a real interest in redefining our city to make it more liveable. On the last point, if a progressive bike plan and complete streets are important to you, please attend the next public meeting and make your voice heard (when we have a date, I’ll post it).
In the meantime, you can give your input via the Dallas Bike Plan website, which includes an interactive map and questionnaire (Peter’s presentation will be posted soon). And check out another great meeting recap by Daniel Rodrigue over at Unfair Park.
I was humbled to have received two awards right before I went on leave. First, Dallas Voice readers selected me as Dallas’ “Best City Council Person” for the third year in a row. Second, the League of Women Voters of Dallas honored me with the Virginia Macdonald Leadership Award, which is “given to a League member who has exhibited courage in working for change and who inspired leadership in others.”
Thank you so much to both Dallas Voice readers and Dallas’ League of Women Voters! I am deeply honored to have received these awards and will do my very best to continue to earn your support.