In June, the Dallas City Council approved a sweeping bike plan update that envisions hundreds of miles of on-street bike lanes that will link neighborhoods with off-street trails, DART light rail, schools, the downtown business district, public parks, and major city venues. Bike ridership has spiked in cities that have invested in bicycle infrastructure, and the hundreds of people who turned out to the dozens of city meetings in anticipation of Dallas’ bike plan were a testament to the pent up demand for such options.
At more than one of these meetings, after the bold vision of new bike lanes, buffered bike paths, and cycle tracks were laid out, an audience member would invariably (and reasonably) ask, “So, all this is great, but how do you propose to pay for it?”
Our consultant team responded: Future bond funds. Grants. And a little something called “routine accommodation.”
“Routine accommodation,” the lead consultant explained at the May 2010 public meeting, would allow much of the bike plan to be implemented as part of our city’s regular street re-paving and re-striping process. By piggy-backing on Dallas’ already-scheduled (and -budgeted) street maintenance, we would see the bike plan implemented quickly at negligible cost, then implement the rest of the plan as future funding allowed.
Fast forward to today, and a different tune is playing at Dallas City Hall. Now we learn that “routine accommodation” ain’t so routine, or cheap. Or accommodating. In fact, it’s going to cost millions if we want to piggy-back onto regular street re-striping. According to city staff, it costs $871 per mile to stripe a typical four lane street. To paint a bike lane on that same street would cost$24,500. Yes, you did read that right.
I’m at a loss to understand why this is being explained months after the city council approved the bike plan. I mean, city staff attended every one of the bike plan meetings. Never once, when the consultants assured the audience that “routine accommodation” would allow us to quickly and cheaply implement the bike plan, never once did city staff jump up and say, “That’s not feasible, Mr. Consultant. By our estimates it’ll cost about 30 times more to put in bike lanes as we restripe, and we don’t have the funding so don’t give anyone false hope.”
Not once did any staff member pull me or my co-chair Sheffie Kadane aside and say, “Look, this ‘routine accommodation’ business is much more costly than is being explained here. We’ll get you the actual figures but the bottom line is, striping new bike lanes costs a lot of money even if we’re already restriping the road.”
Never during the city council approval process earlier this year did staff interject that “routine accommodation” was a farce. Nor did staff shed any light on the matter during this year’s budget process.
It wasn’t until Fort Worth Avenue was about to be restriped without its planned bike lanes — and several of us councilmembers questioned why — that staff explained how incredibly expensive and onerous it is to put in bike lanes as part of regular street maintenance.
Now, I’m being somewhat facetious here because I still don’t buy that bike lanes are quite as expensive as staff is claiming. But putting that aside, what really troubles me is the utter silence from city staff as we went through the motions of approving a robust and exciting bike plan, if they knew that they would ultimately object to “routine accommodation” as impractical.”
When I asked why no one spoke up during the bike plan process, the silence was deafening.
It seems to me, the city loves to plan, plan, and plan some more. It’s implementing we’ve got a problem with.