They’re everywhere. And bright. They’re maybe not the color you’d pick for your own, but that’s the whole point of these bike-share rentals in Dallas. They stick out on streets and sidewalks like highlighted text, perhaps imploring the city to improve its biking infrastructure through sheer critical mass—or they’re litter. It depends on your perspective.
The influx of more than 2,500 rental bikes in the summer—an amount that has ballooned to more than 8,000 with the arrival of more companies—coupled with the passage of the Nov. 7 bond election has bike advocates hoping that they’ll be the necessary gears to mobilize plans for more bike lanes in Dallas. The rosiest of perspectives have the pro-cycling folks arguing that they’ll help ease traffic congestion if bike commuting takes off.
Bike-shares and strategically connected bike lanes are exciting to area cyclists who have long lamented the city’s lack of progress in creating equitable, safe infrastructure for two-wheelers. They remain cautious, however, continuously citing safety concerns in a city that lacks adequate bike lanes and is full of motorists unaccustomed to accommodating bicycles in traffic flow. In downtown, with its rush of shared bikes, you’re more likely to see cyclists on the sidewalk than in the streets. Drivers still struggle to coexist with bicycles.
Dallas is 20 to 30 years behind peer cities, with 75 percent of Dallas’ bike lanes shared with cars, accounting for 45.5 miles of bike lanes. Another eight miles are under development. Think Main Street downtown, where the shared lane is notated by a bike symbol and double chevron. Confused drivers shift an even bigger safety burden to cyclists. Conversely, the city only has 15 miles of dedicated bike lanes, where riders are in a separated lane, buffered from cars. Another 31.5 miles of dedicated bike lanes are in development, and some lament that the existing protected space doesn’t connect with many destinations.
“I find it aggravating there are no safe routes to take after American Airlines Center into downtown Dallas,” said cyclist Sara Weaver, who lives off the Katy Trail and works downtown. “And then when I get to work, there aren’t any bike racks. So where am I supposed to put my bike that I paid a lot of money for?”
After living in Seattle, where biking is a part of the culture, Weaver wants to see the city step up its efforts by taking advantage of local events to promote biking awareness and safety.
Jared White is responsible for all alternative transportation in the city of Dallas, including biking. He says current plans to address safety include placing displays at city libraries and relying on advocacy groups to help. While a budget for outreach materials or safety courses has been discussed, the current focus is on adding more bike lanes.
“Dallas is a little bit behind everywhere else and biking on city streets is a new thing for everyone,” said White. “Since we’ve been having some difficulty getting these major bike lane projects on the ground, my thinking is to work with these big capital projects that are already planned, to supplement them and extend the limits of the bike lanes, either by extending them further or making them better.”
Much of the city’s path forward focuses on adding bike lanes where there is the least resistance. The real kicker—aside from funding and civic support—is space, which has to come from somewhere, either by reducing the number of traffic lanes for cars or removing on-street parking. And in some areas of the city, that’s simply not an acceptable solution.
“Dallas is a little bit behind everywhere else and biking on city streets is a new thing for everyone.”Jared White, city of Dallas.
Elsewhere, residents are anxious for better access to the city’s off-road trails, which cover 150 miles. Instead of driving their bike to a local trail, they want to ride from their home, through neighborhoods, and onto trails. Another 70 miles are funded or in development, and are a key element to transforming Dallas into more of a biking community.
Dallas’ 2011 bike plan calls for more than 800 miles of bike infrastructure throughout the city. For comparison, let’s consider Portland, which, at 7.2 percent, has the largest percentage of bike commuters in the nation. That city has 350 miles of bikeways with plans for an additional 50 miles in the next few years, according to the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
Instead of sheer mileage, the current focus for Dallas is a system of interconnected bike networks, White said. As each piece is completed and connected to the rest, it’s aimed at enabling a bicyclist to ride from one area of the city to another.
The bond package approved by voters in November includes $533 million in road work bonds, some of which is earmarked for opportunities to create bike-friendly infrastructure along Dallas streets. There are six “Complete Street” projects that include narrowing driving lanes to use the extra space for sidewalks, pedestrians, and bikers. An example is Columbia Avenue, which turns into Main Street as it enters downtown from Old East Dallas. Plans call for narrowing the roadway from six lanes to four, expanding the sidewalks, and making room for bikes.
The bold-faced item in the bond proposition for trails and parks comprise what’s known as The Loop, a 50-mile network that would connect all of the city’s major trails. When it’s completed, cyclists can go from White Rock Lake all the way to the McCommas Bluff in the Trinity Forest. The trails would connect Lakewood to Uptown to the Cedars.
It’s a way for the city to stretch its limited bike dollars—$500,000 annually, an amount hardly noticeable in the city’s $3.1 billion annual budget. On its own, the money is only enough to paint 10 miles of bike lanes. Additional dollars have come from the bonds and from federal transportation money, which helps pay for bike trails.
In Oak Cliff, for example, both Tyler and Polk streets will be converted to two-way streets, which will allow for bike lanes to be added on Polk. Davis Street will be narrowed from six lanes to four, which will allow for wider sidewalks and the addition of bike lanes.
Dallas and its peer cities—places like Minneapolis and Denver and Chicago—are becoming denser in their urban cores and looking for alternative means of transportation to ease car congestion. All four cities are seeing urban redevelopment and increased interest in cycling as a means of transportation. In Chicago, a solution there integrates bus stops with bike lanes. A similar approach is being planned on Fort Worth Avenue, where a DART stop and bike lane will be developed. In maps of the proposed Loop, DART stops are noted near the trails.
This growth is why Kristie Holt moved back to Dallas in 2014 with a plan to open a shop catering to bike commuters, which is what she became while living in New York City.
“People move to Dallas from bigger cities and they want to bike, like they’re used to,” said Holt, who opened Local Hub Bicycle Company in Deep Ellum. The store is celebrating its second anniversary this month and has sold more than 800 commuter bikes.
“Even though people have been riding, the overall population hasn’t been paying attention. Now, there are a lot more people out there and it’s pretty hard to ignore.”
Some of Holt’s customers are folks who started off on a bike-share, became comfortable, and decided to buy their own wheels, she said. Dallas now is home to four different companies offering rental, dockless bike-share programs, assuming you have a credit card and a mobile phone to download the app.
Dallas was the nation’s largest municipality without a bike share program. Unlike other cities, which regulate such businesses, a company can arrive in Dallas and drop off bikes, much to the chagrin of realtor Bill Williams. He’s dubbed bike-shares “urban litter” and believes bike projects are taking away funding required for the city’s basic needs.
“They promise to pick these random bikes up and relocate them, but they end up laying in people’s yards for days. I’ve seen them in creeks, drainage ditches and parking lots in Richardson,” said Williams, a Junius Heights resident who is a cyclist himself. “If we want to build a biking infrastructure that is safe, it would require millions of dollars. We need to take care of our fundamentals and take care of salaries for our police and firefighters instead.”
Since the bike-share services began, the city has received calls and emails from about 70 people. More than half have been positive, White said. Complaints are routed directly to the company associated with the offending bike. The city intends to let the free market competition play itself out initially. Councilman Philip Kingston says city staff is gathering nine months worth of data to determine recommendations for potential regulations on the bike share companies.
Yet the question remains: With all of the new biking infrastructure coming into play, will safety concerns be adequately addressed? Even for long-time road cyclists like Jonathan Braddick of Oak Cliff, it’s a concern. He was involved in getting bike racks added to DART buses in 2008—Dallas was the last metro in the country to do so.
“Safety in Dallas is a day-to-day evolution as streets are repaired and improved,” said Braddick, who takes his two-year-old daughter to school via bike. “I feel a lot safer now riding in the road, and it’s gotten better. But it’s certainly not at the level that I could compare it with other cities. Yet.”