Why doesn’t Dallas have bike lanes?

November 13, 2008 § 26 Comments


Image from Gunnisal on Flickr

So you’ve probably been on vacation in some uber-cool city like Portland or Boulder, and/or overseas to Amsterdam or London, and noticed hundreds of residents, young and old, on bicycles meandering slowly around bike lanes built through the heart of their respective downtown’s. Then you hopped on a plane, landed in Dallas and sat in rush hour traffic, while thinking, “Where the hell are our bike lanes?”. Good question…and a complex one. This is a topic that I began researching several months ago in my efforts to work with the city to bring a more walkable environment. My studies have taken me to all of the cities listed above, and on each occasion, I came back to our home in Oak Cliff and wondered, “Why?”. When I spoke to representatives in the cities I researched, they all cited the same reason for their progressive bicycle initiatives: An elected official, be it a mayor, or city councilperson, took a stand to champion the bicycling cause, and refused to take “No” for an answer. That’s all. Nothing more.

The Split in the Advocacy

The one thing I never anticipated when beginning my dedicated bike lane research was that the opposition was from within. Those new to the world of cycling, or even those of you who are leisure riders (which is by far the majority of riders), would assume that it would be obvious that all people promoting bicycling as a major mode of transportation would be for bike lanes. Not so.

An article released earlier this year by BikePorland.org summed up the opposition to bike lanes as “a persistent and vocal group (commonly referred to as vehicular cyclists or “VC’s”) who favor equal integration of cars and bikes (instead of finding ways to separate the two modes) and think anyone who throws a leg over a bike should be highly trained to play on a level playing field with motor vehicles.” When meeting with Portland’s transportation adviser, Rick Gustafson, in late August, he shook his head and sighed, “Oh yeah…we had those guys here too…we called them the ‘Invincibles’. They’re the die hard riders that cycle every single day rain/sleet/or hail, expect all drivers to obey the laws and don’t want anyone confining them to a lane.” A lane advocating blog commenter noted, “I prefer to follow the 8 and 80 rule…if you wouldn’t feel comfortable putting an 8 year old or an 80 year old in the lane, then it needs to be reworked”.

Attend a local Dallas bike advocacy meeting, and you’ll immediately see the divide. People passionate on both sides of the equation, will speak at length as to why their point of view is correct, and the other is faulty. It’s a partisan battle that rivals any political division you can imagine. To the point where lane advocates will fire off salvos noting the recent swath of bicycle accidents due to lack of separated lanes, while VC advocates will forward pictures of cities attempting to install bike lanes, and critique in dismay why the work is doomed to colossal failure. And in some cases the attempts are failures. “We constantly had to tweak our programs in the beginning…sometimes we’d make lanes too small, or they’d pose a danger that hadn’t been anticipated,” stated a Portland official we spoke to, “but we remained undeterred. If something didn’t work, we learned from our mistakes and tried again…and eventually, we got it right.” The largest point of contention for those opposed to lanes is the “placebo” effect created by riders who are lulled into a false sense of security, and get hit while riding in lanes through intersections. Intersections are by far the most common areas for all transportation accidents, whether it be bicycles, cars, or pedestrians. Portland has recently adopted Bike Boxes, which has proven to dramatically improve visibility and safety to riders.

Dallas city bicycle coordinator, PM Summers, is a VC advocate, and Dallas is prime example of a VC city. In a recent Dallas Morning News article, PM stated his objection to striped lanes and the false sense of security they create by noting , “I haven’t seen the paint that will stop a car”. Dedicated lane advocate, Zac Lytle, returned with “I haven’t seen the traffic light that will physically stop a car either, but VC riders expect drivers to obey the existing laws…we do too, we just want them to adapt to laws with lanes…they’re doing it in Boulder and Portland as we speak”.

While the debate on safety rages on, one thing is undeniably clear: bike lanes increase ridership. In an email to Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, Portland’s lead bike coordinator, Roger Geller, stated “Bike lanes and other bicycle facilities have been absolutely instrumental to the success we’ve had in increasing ridership. Our city auditor now reports that 8% of Portlanders identify the bicycle as their primary commute vehicle and another 10% identify it as their secondary commute vehicle. That’s up from 6% and 10%, respectively last year.” Anyone who visited Portland 10 years ago, and returned recently, will note the change. “It’s astonishing”, said Oak Cliff resident Robert Ramirez, “I’m planning on going back every year now, and have no need to rent a car.” Imagine saying that in Dallas. Conversely, a recent study released by Portland notes the percentage of accident rates has dramatically dropped.

In a phone interview, Adam Gross, a bicycle lane advocate in Indianapolis said, “We had a lot of old guard city staff members, who would bristle when we’d bring up these new ideas about creating lanes and say things like ‘”Don’t question us, we’ve been doing this for 30 years…”‘, we’d fire back ‘”That’s the problem!…you’re building the city infrastructure the same way we did in the 1970’s!”‘, he went on, “It got pretty heated at times…we were really wanting some fresh blood in there that wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo.”

Other challenges include keeping lanes clear of debris, and finding areas where lane or parking reductions can be made to adopt the systems. “No business in Dallas likes to lose parking”, states Oak Cliff Chamber Board member Rob Shearer. The former issue has been resolved in many cities by the creation of non-profit “Friends of Lanes” groups, that hold fundraisers to help maintain their city’s bicycle facilities.

So the question remains, why, if these are such major failures as many VC proponents suggest, are cities throughout the world implementing them? And if these lanes truly lead to rashes of accidents, wouldn’t places like Portland be removing them, and not adding more each year? and Boulder? Also, why is Dallas rating at the bottom of government census lists for bicycle ridership? And why are major bicycle periodicals consitently rating our city as the worst for cyclists? You can immediately see why some local officials might be on the defensive when being compared to city’s that rate higher, and begin to nitpick their progressive programs.

Copenhagen, the indisputable Bicycle Capitol of the World, has seen bike accidents drop to decimal point levels. This is quite an accomplishment considering the number of cyclists overlapping with cars. As time goes on, more data can be gathered to show a true representation of the success or failure of North America’s young systems.

The Will

Annie Melton, a Dallas transportation consultant, noted the problem being that some cities attempt putting in bike lanes, but do it halfway, and end up causing more problems than they solve. According to Melton, if you’re going to implement a successful lane strategy, it has to be a wholesale approach, and not piecemealed. She went on to say that lanes aren’t always the solution, though they can be used effectively. “In the end”, notes Annie, “Your city has to have the will to change.”

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§ 26 Responses to Why doesn’t Dallas have bike lanes?

  • David Robison says:

    Great article–very thorough and balanced coverage of both sides of the issue! It’s great to see citizens showing an interest in making Dallas an even better place to live. (Please contact me about joining you in your efforts.)

  • Daniel says:

    “Other challenges include keeping lanes clear of debris, and finding areas where lane or parking reductions can be made to adopt the systems.”

    I would say those are the primary challenges. Most bike lanes I have experienced are full of debris, forcing me back out into the street, where drivers are even more pissed at me because I’m not in the bike lane.

    And you are correct that you have to do it full-bore or not at all, but what can we expect in Dallas given its infrastructure? This is a post-car city. Those who do get around via bike are either the die-hard in-traffic types you mention, or they figure out the least-trafficked routes between any given point A and B.

    Oak Cliff is a great example. It is really easy to get around Oak Cliff by bike. Where would a bike lane go? Jefferson? Davis? _Maybe_ east of Zang. Or 12th for the 8 blocks it’s a little busier, since 12th is a good E-W artery. But a lane on Jefferson (and extend this example to any other street or town) only brings bikes into more contact with vehicles, and that within potential piles of stone, glass and trash, and behind a lot of parked cars, each one potentially backing out of their space directly into the cyclists’ path (and who could blame them–it’s hard enough to see cars in that scenario).

    Personally I have been threatened a lot more by terrible road surface and loose dogs in Oak Cliff than by cars. I’d prefer the money go into just plain old street maintenance.

    Not a “VC” just “DA”,

    Daniel

  • Myles/ rattrappress says:

    Really good article. I didn’t realize until recently that there were cyclists fervently opposed to bike lanes. I can definitely see the V.C. point of view and I’ve tried to hone my traffic skills but I agree that bike lanes would encourage more people to ride.

  • Lauren says:

    I’ve always worried about PM’s impartiality. You can tell that he’s deadset against bike lanes before the conversation even begins. A visit to his blog tells you pretty much everything you want to know about his position. Every other story is a condemnation of bike lanes, and how Portland or New York is actually doing it wrong.

    Honestly, if someone took a poll of people in my position, and I ranked at the bottom nationally, I’d be out of a job in no time flat.

  • Amanda says:

    I’m all for bike lanes, but they can be dangerous and a legal liability if not well-planned and implemented properly.

    Two links of note from PM Summer’s blog: one highlighting some of the pitfalls of bike lanes as illustrated by crappy bike lanes in austin and another about riding as a vehicle with an equal right to the road.

    oh, and this entry about inferiority complexes with a picture of dear ol’ dave.

  • mannytmoto says:

    One thing is obvious, this is a highly charged debate. I mention in the article that the arguments rival those seen in political divides. PM is not going to change Zac’s mind, and vice versa. For better, or for worse, they’re set in their ways, and will continue to cite examples why the other is wrong, then refute the others claims with the generic, “yeah, but that study is flawed because…”.

    That’s why I posed the simple questions:

    If bike lanes are such major failures as many VC proponents suggest, why are cities throughout the world continuing to implement them?

    And if bike lanes truly lead to rashes of accidents, wouldn’t places like Portland be removing them, and not adding more each year? and Boulder?

    Also, why is Dallas rating at the bottom of government census lists for bicycle ridership?

    And why are major bicycle periodicals consistently rating our city as the worst for cyclists?

  • Grover N. says:

    My concern isn’t the bike lane or VC debate…it’s the fact that only 0.2% of Dallas transit commutes are via bicycle, yet we maintain an unneeded government job with someone holding the title “Bicycle Coordinator”. What next, Buggy Whip Inspector? This is typical waste, and frankly, highly offensive.

    I mean really, I can see why Portland needs one, or even New York, but Dallas? How much “work” is really involved here? What a joke.

  • [...] intends to mount a campaign to battle the misinformation promoted by Vehicular Cyclists, which we feel is doing great harm and perpetuating Dallas’ current ranking as “Worst [...]

  • [...] about the promotion of an outdated phiolosophy in regards to bicycle infrastructure, known as “Vehicular Cycling”. PM Summer is one of the leading voices in this movement, whose argument is to fight being [...]

  • erinamber says:

    I moved from Portland over a year ago (for a job!) and was surprised to find bike lanes aren’t inherent in city planning – it seems to be a matter of poor city planning ???. Anyway, I myself am now a part-time bike commuter and will regularly be checking your blog of advocacy updates. Thanks for all the info!

  • ccuellar says:

    Erin Amber, Welcome to Big D! The good news is that Dallas has many neighborhood streets that provide a safe alternative to major car thoroughfares for bicycle commuters like yourself. If you visit DallasCityHall.com you can follow the Find A Map link to see these routes. You can also look for the signs featuring a winged pegasus on wheels to mark your path.

  • opusthepoet says:

    I’m VC, but I’m also a realist. Bike lanes get more cyclists on the roads, more cyclists reduce the danger to each individual cyclist. I’m also somewhat crippled after being hit by a driver that decided I needed to not be on the same road with him while I was on my way home to Garland from Farmer’s Branch. As they say brain damage is a “female dog in heat”.

    The thing about bike lanes is they are frequently poorly implemented and poorly maintained, especially in TX. I’m sure you have been reading the bike blogs from Austin on some of their bike lanes that are located entirely in the door zone and almost never swept even when the rest of the street is swept.

    When I’m riding in Dallas County my biggest problem is drivers who are not aware of TX VC 551. I have lost count of the number of times I have been told to get on the sidewalk, which is ironically funny when there isn’t a sidewalk, either. Facilities for anything other than motor vehicle traffic are sadly lacking in most of Dallas County…

    Opus

  • bikerider says:

    opusthepoet, I agree that the biggest problem cyclists face here is a lack of awareness of 551.103

    The sad part is that in four short years all licensed drivers could easily, and for little money be made aware of it if our gov cared enough to do so. Once every 4 years most people go in to renew their licenses. What better time to give a refresher course to keep people aware of the Rights of all road users?

    However, the way it works now is as not much more than a revenue collection point.

    As cyclists, we should be working together to enhance our freedom and the Right to travel that we currently enjoy, not fighting against each other while we allow non-riders to relegate us to path in a trash strewn gutter that takes me miles out my way.
    The way it is now, I’ve got total freedom to go anywhere I want and the law backs me up when doing so.
    Add bike lanes to a car-centric town like Dallas and the next step will be laws requiring their use, followed by increased driver hostility towards any cyclists that are smart enough to not use them.

    As it is now, Oak Cliff is a wonderful place to ride a bike. Please don’t force un-needed change upon it. :(

  • mannytmoto says:

    Unfortunately, several BFOC members lost a good friend in Richardson due to a rear end collision that would have been avoided had a bike lane existed. What you’re seeing in the news now is drivers running over cyclists due to distractions like texting while driving, or sun in their eyes. Last year alone we read about it much more than right hooks. The texting while driving phenomenon is so common, that I’ve made a point to tally up daily on my commute how many I run across and it’s easily over 5. Watch for it yourself…you’ll be shocked. Of course, it’s against the law, but in our gadget hungry society, you just can’t stop people from distracting themselves. 10 years ago, I think the argument against lanes would have stood, but now with the improved technologies in intersection management, sharing a lane with distracted teenage driver is something that scares me much more than any single other potential injury. Also, Portland and its surrounding area had 0 deaths in 2008. Dallas and its surrounding area had 6. Considering the number of “inexperienced” riders in Portland commuting to work (1000x the number Dallas has), that’s phenomonal. Here are just a handful of stories on texting crashes last year:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/hampshire/7270751.stm

    http://article.wn.com/view/2008/12/21/Cellphone_ban_effort_fueled_by_bike_death/

    http://www.bikingbis.com/blog/_archives/2007/12/29/3436761.html

    Also, read Andy Thornley (SF’s Bike Project Planner) approach to bike lanes. He’s a VC advocate himself, but he tows a moderate view on lanes after seeing their success:

    Bike Commute Tips: I believe on-street infrastructural enhancements (bike lanes, sharrows, etc.) are important to improved bicycling conditions. What is your view of the importance of street design (“complete streets”) for encouraging a better bicycling environment?

    Thornley: As much as I’m a “take the lane” kind of guy, it’s relatively easy for me to be assertive and act like just another vehicle when I’m riding–I’m a noisy, 220 lb., 47-year-old male on a tall bike who’s been doing it continuously for many decades. For all the terrific growth in the everyday bicycling population in SF, that cycling segment is still made up mostly by young men–I’m always thrilled to see mothers and grandmothers and families biking in the city, but they’re still fairly exceptional among the bike traffic. If we’re ever going to get past about 5 percent of trips happening by bike (on our best days these days), we need to make serious room for bikes on our streets and help less adventurous people become comfortable with the experience. That means separated bikeways, not just bike lane stripes. That means car-free streets, not just traffic-calmed streets, or anyhow traffic calming that really calms, 20 MPH zones with real enforcement, true bike boulevards with traffic diverters, real stuff and not just paint.

    Bike lanes are kind of like training wheels for traffic. They’re a pretty primitive way to re-prioritize traffic movements and public space use, and have essentially no substance by themselves to provide safe and dignified bike space, but they sketch out the premise of bike space and to the extent that cyclists and motorists play along with that premise, bike lanes train traffic behavior towards the culture we desire. Of course when a motorist parks in a bike lane, or drives in a bike lane, the whole culture-training exercise falls apart and we’re left to improvise again.

    Now having said that, let me allow the pragmatic side of my mouth to take over and say that bike lanes are better than no bike lanes–however equivocated and frail the bike space is with a bike lane, it’s almost always a better cycling experience than the roadway without that bike lane. And the bicycling public is very supportive of bike lanes; certainly our members think bike lanes are important and they want more of them, more continuous bike lane routes across town–our latest member survey showed this again, and the Report Card of Bicycling in SF showed strong support for bike lanes among SF cyclists generally.

    So yes, let’s keep striping bike lanes and building out a network of bike lanes, as well as educating and enforcing and encouraging. And let’s push for and implement separated bikeways and bike boulevards ad car-free roadway at the same time.

    One last thought on the “facilities” topic: With the growing use of the shared-lane “sharrow”, we’re living with the odd child of the Vehicularists (bikes “drive” like motor traffic, no need for special bike lanes or paths) and the Facilitators (bikes get their own lanes and paths and signals and signs) here in San Francisco. Developed as a pavement marking symbol here (with inspirational precedents from elsewhere), the sharrow is intended to be used as an indicator of bicycle routing where a conventional bike lane would not fit (for physical or political reasons).

    The official plan now is to lay down a string of sharrows on every street in the official Bicycle Route Network which doesn’t already have bike lanes or is expected to have bike lanes striped in the next few years, which is wonderful to the extent that the dotted lines on the map become dotted lines on the ground, and the bike route network gets a little less hypothetical. And for those streets where motor traffic is slow and thin, this degree of bike facility is probably adequate, although it does impose a Vehicularist philosophy on the official bicycle circulation system for that part of the network — take the lane and ride with traffic.

    In other applications, such as the downtown 2.5 miles of Market Street, from the Ferry Building to 8th Street, sharrows are really not enough to make a difference for most cyclists in terms of safe, dignified bicycle space, and they’re definitely not enough to bring out new cyclists, to get potential cyclists actually riding and using the route. Sharrows are an interesting tool, useful within their limited scope, but we’ve got to be very careful not to let them be viewed as the ultimate treatment for any roadway where motor traffic is more than a slight menace.

  • Stuart says:

    I am certainly sympathetic to your loss of a friend. Several years ago, a friend of mine was killed while cycling by an inattentive driver. She was not “taking the lane”, she was riding in the wide shoulder that is typical of rural highways. Not exactly a bike lane but similar.

    However, cycling is still a very safe activity, whether you are riding VC style or in a bike lane. Perpetuating the myth that cycling is dangerous is damaging to the cycling community as a whole.

    I actually really like Andy Thornley’s perspective. Thank you for sharing that – I hadn’t read it before. Perhaps San Francisco could be a better model for Dallas. If we could put sharrows on the existing (and growing) Dallas Bike Plan routes while at the same time adding well designed bike lanes where appropriate and feasible, that would be a plan I think I could get behind. (Throw in some education campaigns and preservation of existing cyclist rights as well.)

  • bikerider says:

    I too feel deeply for your lose of a friend and all of our lose of a fellow cyclist. :(

    My question about that would be, are you guys fighting to get bike lanes on the type of streets that your friend was struck on?
    That was on Arapaho, right? Do the new bike lane plans put bike lanes on big streets like that?
    Or will these new bike lanes only be installed on WOL secondary streets that don’t need them?

    Why are details being kept so quiet? If construction is supposed to start in the Spring, that doesn’t leave much time to shoot down the parts of the plan that serve to increase our danger.

  • [...] bicycle facilities. There was little movement from city officials advocating bike infrastructure, VC’s were dictating all conversations and continuing their misguided and biased “Bike la…, and ridership levels were the same that we see [...]

  • Marangelis says:

    I’ve always asked myself this! Why Dallas doesn’t have bike lanes?? How come small cities such as College Station have them and Dallas doesn’t!!

    I’ve being living in Dallas for the past 1.5 yrs, and recently I’ve being biking to work. Everyday I feel fear due to the non-educated drivers.

    The biggest problem of all is that people are not educated! That is what brings danger to all who try to bike to our destinations.

    I wish that there would be more bike lanes in Dallas, I would feel safer!

    GREAT ARTICLE!

  • Stuart says:

    Marangelis: I would feel safer if drivers were better educated and less distracted but I fear that is a lost cause.

  • Anita says:

    I came to Dallas from Davis, California, where I cycled as my primary form of transportation for 11 years. What a change (esp. in 1977)! I tried riding for a few years, but stopped because I was constantly at odds with cars. The best bike lane Davis had was one with a traffic separator, in that even parked cars were in the street, then came the separator, then the curb. Protected cyclists from traffic as well as car doors opening. I really would like to see some lanes marked for Oak Cliff – how about 7th Street as a parallel to Davis between Zang and Edgefield?

  • [...] Dallas, opponents of Bike Lanes will often cite “Rashes of Deaths” occuring when these facilities are put in place due [...]

  • [...] to come against strong opposition from drivers, but that simply hasn’t been the case. The most surprising opposition we’ve experienced has been from veteran cyclists. Typically, people who ride 30 miles a day [...]

  • [...] people-over-cars strategy for city planning. As noted in other BFOC articles, the number one worry Vehicular Cyclists have in regards to bike lane development is the lack of freedom to ride in any given lane with a [...]

  • [...] model, that kept people indoors, and children away from the dangerous streets…the same modelVehicular Cyclists prefer. But just like Portland did, we can and will return to a people-first model for our [...]

  • [...] and perceived risk of cycle facilities in Copenhagen”, is sometimes referenced by local Vehicular Cyclists as proof that cycling infrastructure poses a greater safety risk, though they typically avoid the [...]

  • [...] coordinator, had worked extensively on the region wide Veloweb plan, and was known as an ardent Vehicular Cyclist. He was steeped in the theories of John Forester, author of Effective Cycling, and the [...]

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