Tuesday, April 16, 2024 Apr 16, 2024
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Local Government

Dallas Bike Lane Infrastructure Overhaul Gains Momentum, But Will It Be Enough?

On Wednesday, the City Council votes on hiring a consultant to update its decade-old bike plan. And a new committee will be established to keep the process on track.
Sheryl Lanzel

The city of Dallas will enter 2022 with grand plans to update its now decade-old bike plan, which had similarly grand ambitions that never manifested. Since its completion in 2011, the city has opened more trails and a nonprofit is leading an effort to create a 50-mile loop around the city, including new routes throughout east and southern Dallas. But what hasn’t changed much since 2011 is how poor our urban cycling infrastructure is, something Peter Simek wrote about a few months ago.

A memo sent on Friday to the Dallas City Council announced a new advisory committee that will be charged with steering the update to the plan. Each council member and the mayor will appoint someone to the committee. That is now the second transit-related committee made up of members of the public; council already had to appoint constituents to a micro-mobility committee, which is first charged with determining how to safely get scooters back onto the streets.

(Mayor Pro Tem Chad West, of North Oak Cliff, tells me he plans to appoint the same member from that committee to this cycling one, an effort to avoid “duplicating efforts” between the two bodies. It will be interesting if his colleagues follow his lead.)

The City Council will vote on Wednesday whether to award a five-year, $450,000 contract to the global architecture and design firm Gresham Smith, which would update the plan. Establishing an oversight committee was a cornerstone of the 2011 bike plan, a way for the public to hold the city accountable as it implemented its goal. But that never happened. Now, the committee will start by monitoring the consultant as it develops yet another plan to make it safer to cycle in Dallas.

The new plan was born out of yet another plan: this year’s wide-ranging mobility planning document, called Connect Dallas, which found that the 2011 Bike Plan “no longer reflected existing conditions, needs, and preferences.”

The plan from a decade ago was the city’s first effort to plot a series of on- and off-street facilities for cyclists, even hiring staff to help implement it. The goals were ambitious, even targeted at lowering emissions by increasing cyclists; the Environmental Protection Agency had classified Dallas County in non-attainment status for the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. (It remains so, 11 years later.)

But it wasn’t safe to ride a bike then and it still isn’t. Five years after the plan was implemented, the League of American Bicyclists found that bicycle commutes in Dallas actually dropped by 20 percent.

Eleven years after the bike plan envisioned a “fully interconnected, seamless, and safe Dallas Bikeway System that connects all areas of the City and adjacent jurisdictions,” there are only 5.3 miles of on-street protected bike lanes, where cyclists are physically separated from vehicles.

When you remove the trails, that means the vast majority of the city’s 74 miles of bike infrastructure is shared lanes, often separated by little more than paint. The 2011 plan called for 840 miles of cycling facilities, but the city didn’t pony up the money it would need.

For years, the city’s bike budget was $500,000. In 2018, the city’s budget allocated $1 million toward the initiative and the 2022 budget doubles that to $2 million. When the city passed its last bond package, in 2017, bike lanes were tied to specific projects like Complete Streets. It carved out $20 million to help build out the 50-mile LOOP trail, which will connect existing trails across the city. But it will take more a lot more money to install dedicated facilities on streets so that it’s actually safe to ride your bike to work.

As a reference point, let’s look south to Austin. In 2014, the capital city set a goal to build a 400-mile network of bike lanes through the city. Earlier this year, Austin announced that 215 miles had been installed, buoyed largely by $220 million in bond funding set aside for sidewalk, cycling, and urban trail projects. (Austin also allocated money from its general fund to the effort in 2016 and 2018.)

Dallas’ 2011 Bike Plan calls for the city to prioritize cycling infrastructure within transportation projects, a la how the bond package funded Complete Street elements that incorporated other modes of transportation alongside driving lanes. And, indeed, packaged within a memo earlier this year announcing the update to the plan were a few projects in Oak Cliff, downtown, and southwest Dallas that will bring dedicated bike infrastructure near public transit.

That includes Zang Boulevard to Bishop Avenue as well as along Vernon Avenue near the Illinois DART stop. Corinth Road from 8th Street at DART’s Corinth Station is also slated to get new cycling infrastructure. In South Dallas, existing bike lanes on Lagow Street near Fair Park will connect with existing infrastructure on Bexar Street, near Bonton. The city also wants to implement bike lanes along Akard Street that will connect downtown into South Dallas as well as a “cycle track” connecting Deep Ellum and AT&T Plaza along Jackson Street.

The official word is that this is all good news, and it is. The Dallas Morning News editorial board heralded the new money as proof that “Dallas is getting serious about being a biking city,” while doing a little bit of doublespeak—$2 million is “full funding” that “in infrastructure terms, isn’t a lot of money.”

West told us in October that he believes “there has been a cultural shift” at City Hall about prioritizing cycling infrastructure. And, yes, City Hall now has a bicycle mobility manager in Jessica Scott and Chief Transportation Planner Kathryn Rush often logs onto city meetings with her bike hanging on the wall in the background.

It feels a bit like 2014, when the city hired a “bike czar”—who promptly left the city the next year, leaving just a single staffer charged with implementing the plan on a meager half million dollars annually.

And this will be Dallas’ challenge, which seems to always be a challenge with implementing plans such as these. Keep the momentum, keep the funding, keep the people. In 2011, urban planner (and now DART board member) Patrick Kennedy wrote a piece for us about the then-fresh bike plan.

“[W]e did this already, in 1975, when Dallas passed its first bike plan. Then another one passed in 1985. Which was revised in 1996. And revised again, in 2002. Given that history and, having had a hard look at our latest plan, I bet we’re not done yet.”

We aren’t. And West notes that the new plan will lay out new routes “because of traffic flow changes over the last 10 years.”

In some ways, we are back where we started. But at least we’ll have a committee of presumably passionate cyclists to keep the city on track—one of the easiest and most basic declarations from the last time we drummed up a plan. Let’s make a goal to meet back here in 10 years and reflect on the progress we’ve made rather than just restarting the planning process.

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