Earlier this year, Councilman Philip Kingston proposed the city earmark upwards of $2 million each year to create new cycling infrastructure. The move comes in the wake of Dallas’ great bike-share experiment, during which numerous start-up companies flooded Dallas streets with tens of thousands of rentable, dockless bikes, to decidedly mixed reviews. Those bikes—which some see as an eyesore, while others see as a glaring indicator of the lack of adequate infrastructure for bikes—have raised the question of whether Dallas is a city that can support or embrace a bike commuting culture.
There are obvious challenges. Dallas is a big, spread-out, post-auto city whose streets are designed for cars and whose neighborhoods prize the easy convenience of low-density, single-family home neighborhoods over the dense, mixed-use communities that best support pedestrian and bicycle mobility. But that doesn’t mean that Dallas can’t become more amenable to bicycles. Copenhagen was transformed in a decade from a car-commuter city to the poster child for bikeable urban living. All it took was some vision, ardent grass-roots support and activism, and some smart public investment. And while Dallas can’t—and shouldn’t—become Copenhagen, the example shows that dramatic changes in behavior around transportation are possible in a relatively short period of time.
Certainly, plenty of people already use their bikes to get to work or get around town. If you head to White Rock Lake on any given Saturday, you’ll notice an avid cycling community. And the anecdotal evidence of the early days of the bike share onslaught suggest that more people would cycle if they had the opportunity. Dallas may not be as far off as it might seem from fully embracing bikes as a practical means of transit.
Getting to a place where more people see bicycles as a viable way to get around will require better infrastructure, and a $2 million investment in bike lanes and other connective tissue is the right response to some of the problems introduced by the bike share companies. Would the bikes be such an eyesore to some if there were enough places to park them? What would happen if bicyclists felt safe on roadways, protected from vehicles? But the $2 million should be a first step toward a wider embrace of the two-wheeler as a viable (not to mention environmentally, healthily, and civically beneficial) means of transit—even in sprawling Dallas.
Here are a few ways Dallas can better adopt to bikes.
Better bike infrastructure
Bike infrastructure doesn’t just mean bike lanes, though expanding Dallas’ network of bike lanes—and protected bike lanes in particular—should be a top mobility priority for the city. There are other public investments that can be made, including increased signage, signals, and more bicycle stands. Dallas has a backlog of street maintenance, and there is a glaring need to invest in street improvements over the coming decade. These renovations should be made with bicycles in mind. Taper rounded corners and narrow streets to slow traffic. Move on-street parking out from the curb to provide a buffer for new bike lanes in between parked cars and sidewalks. Quieted urban streets move auto traffic slowly, but efficiently, while better accommodating bikes and pedestrians. All street improvements should strive to meet that level of service.
Improve information Sharing Among Bike Share Companies
It is too early in the bike sharing experiment to over-regulate their operations. The market will eventually thin the field, and improvements in infrastructure will go longer in the effort to clarify their operations. But information about bike share usage should be shared with the city to help direct investments in infrastructure.
Think of it this way: the venture capital-funded bike-share glut is essentially a massive research project in potential bike usage in Dallas. The ways in which those two-wheelers are being used will help show where bikes are most useful, what kinds of trips they are being used for, and what areas of town will respond best to early investments in new infrastructure. For example, if the bike share companies know that lots of riders take bikes from downtown into specific parts of nearby neighborhoods—South Dallas, Cedars, Uptown, Deep Ellum—then allocating funds to create lanes to those neighborhoods is a way to respond to behavior.
Expand Bike Ownership
Some people say they don’t see anyone using the bike share bikes. It may be merely anecdotal, but I see a lot of people using them. I see children riding on them. I see them left in parks. I see them being used by people after a bus ride. I see homeless people riding them. This kind of usage suggests that there are people in Dallas who would use bikes and would benefit from having access to bicycles who may not be able to afford one.
Perhaps a local charity or community organization could partner with a bicycle manufacturer and/or a local bike shop to create a way to expand bicycle ownership to those who may not be able to afford a bike. One of the best ways to make streets safer for bicycles is to help get more people out on streets on bikes. Alex Macon explored this very thing a few weeks ago.
Activate the Bike Advocates
Oak Cliff has been the incubator of Dallas’ bike advocacy movement. The Oak Cliff bikers organize group rides, like the annual tweed rides; push for more infrastructure; and have helped raise the volume of the conversation around cycling in Dallas. But bike advocacy doesn’t need to be limited to those who harbor a bizarre affinity for expressive facial hair or affected antiquated fashion tropes.
Organized group rides are a great way to get more people on bikes on the streets, and more people on bikes on the streets help make streets safer for bicyclists. One-off events can also help promote and expand bicycle usage. Neighborhood organizations can organize community rides, bike-to-school days, community events that incorporate cycling, or bicycle safety patrols. Businesses can also get in on the action, promoting bike-to-work days and perhaps relaxing dress code on certain days to accommodate bike commuters.
Some of these things are already happening, but there could be a lot more of it. And the most die-hard bike-lovers need not limit their efforts to their own neighborhoods, like Oak Cliff. Get out of your hood and help bike-activate adjacent neighborhoods. The best way to make streets safe for bikes is to get more bikes out on the streets.
Improve Dallas Area Rapid Transit Bus Routing
One of the largest challenges to making Dallas more bikeable is the scale of the city. In Dallas, destinations are really far apart, and biking can be an impractical way to get around both in terms of speed and sweat. One way to shrink the distance between bikeable areas is to better integrate public transit.
Right now, DART’s bus routes are convoluted, unintelligible, and often redundant. Introducing a more regular, legible, and reliable DART bus system could go a long way toward making bicycle commuting more possible for more people. Bikes can also play a large role in solving the “last mile” challenge with most public transit commutes. Improving mobility shouldn’t be approached in silos—making Dallas more bikeable also means making it more accessible through transit.
Identify Bikeable Zones and Focus Investment and Attention on Them
Not everywhere in Dallas is going to be a bicycle Shangri-La. It doesn’t need to be. The city is too big, diverse, and dynamic for that. But there are areas in the city that should be more bikeable and are underrealized. Early investments in new infrastructure should be directed to where they will be most productive, particularly in denser neighborhoods or communities that retain the older street grid, which tends to better link residential and commercial districts. Oak Cliff showed that a few active and ardent bike supporters can help push for improvements like bike lanes and increased bike racks.
There are plenty of other neighborhoods around Dallas that could benefit from similar improvements and activism. And just as mobility will only be improved by addressing bicycling infrastructure alongside public transit, street improvements, pedestrian safety, and a more-integrated street network, making Dallas more amenable to bicycles will also require long-range planning objectives like promoting the development of denser neighborhoods defined by a diversity of uses and incomes.