BFOC Interview with Fort Worth’s City Planner, Don Koski
June 15, 2009 § 11 Comments
As we noted in a recent article, Fort Worth has unveiled an incredibly progressive infrastructure plan based on a people-first model. 400+ miles of bike lanes, bus only lanes, streetcars, and “road diets” are being planned throughout the city with an ambitious timeline for implementation. To help pull the project together, the city hired Don Koski, an experienced planner from the Twin Cities area (ranked in the top 10 for North American bike friendly communities). BFOC was able to catch up with Don to find out more details about Fort Worth’s bold new initiatives in planning:
First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’m a native of Minnesota and spent all but the last 4 years of my life in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I’ve been in the transportation planning field for over 10 years, including stints with state and metropolitan governments in Wisconsin and Minnesota, with Dallas County Public Works, and now with Fort Worth for two and a half years. I have a lot of experience in the planning of bicycle and pedestrian transportation systems and the development of bicycle and pedestrian transportation projects. Bicycle and pedestrian planning has always just been one of the many duties that I have had, along with arterial street system planning, project identification and prioritization, capital program development, and others. I jumped at the opportunity in Fort Worth because of the tremendous challenges and opportunities the city has with its rapid pace of growth and evolving development strategies. I was intrigued by Fort Worth’s walkable downtown, investment in mixed-use urban villages, relatively unconstrained growth potential, and interest in improving its bicycle and pedestrian transportation systems.
We were very heartened to hear about Fort Worth’s recent announcement to adopt a major bicycle infrastructure city wide. What predicated this incredible shift?
Fort Worth has had some great recreational trails along the Trinity River and elsewhere for many years. What was lacking was a way to make connections for people interested in cycling for transportation purposes. In 1999, the city worked with the North Central Texas Council of Governments to develop an on-street bicycle route network plan that would create linkages between downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods. The City came across some difficulties implementing the plan and the bicycling advocates in Fort Worth became frustrated with the lack of progress. Finally, with support from the City Council, the initial phase of that network was completed in 2007, creating approximately 40 miles of on-street signed bike routes. When I came on board in December 2006, I was immediately approached by the late Dr. Byron de Sousa – a community leader who had been Chair of the Fort Worth Plan Commission and was an avid proponent of bicycle transportation infrastructure – to develop a truly comprehensive bicycle transportation system plan encompassing infrastructure, education, encouragement, city policies and programs, and law enforcement. That was when we kicked off the effort that led to the Bike Fort Worth plan.
Fort Worth has been very progressive with promoting a vibrant downtown and streetlife. The challenge we find most planners run into is balancing space for cars and for people. Since the majority of residents are in cars, is there a concern that implementing bicycle infrastructure at the cost of losing lanes and/or parking will diminish the ability for people to gain access to these areas?
There often are trade-offs when right-of-way space is limited. We are addressing the decision-making process dealing with these concerns in the Bike Fort Worth plan. With new construction, it is relatively easy to make the provisions for all of the likely users of the street as long as it is planned for from the beginning. The most difficulty is when trying to retrofit bicycle facilities into existing streets. On streets in downtown and in other areas where traffic speeds and volumes are relatively low, dedicated cycling space isn’t a high priority as most cyclists feel comfortable sharing the travel lanes in that environment. Elsewhere, in some cases, we may need to identify a parallel street as the preferred cycling route, or we may need to just sign the street as a bike route and install shared lane marking symbols. However, there are a number of streets that are oversized for the level of vehicular traffic that they experience today or are likely to have in the future. In some of those cases, a “road diet” may be possible that could provide dedicated space for cyclists. We look at these on a case-by-case basis to determine how best to accommodate cyclists, based on the criteria established in the plan. Another related challenge is the trade-off between space for cyclists and space for pedestrians, especially along some of the busy arterial streets that pass through Fort Worth’s urban villages.
Dallas will obviously be following closely the changes that Fort Worth adopts due to the similarities we share in density and temperature. How do you feel that this type of planning has merit given these challenges?
Regarding density, I can’t speak for Dallas, but in Fort Worth we are planning and developing more mixed-use centers and urban villages and redeveloping and infilling downtown and other neighborhoods near downtown. We are also planning for higher-density development along existing and future commuter rail stations and potential streetcar lines. Making these areas and the city as a whole more accessible by bicycle is consistent with these plans and visions. We have a lot of work to do in order to get there.
Regarding temperature, I don’t buy the argument that people won’t bike because it’s too hot/cold/wet/etc. Look at the cities that have the highest bicycle commute rates in the country: Portland (wet), Minneapolis (cold), Seattle (wet), and Tucson (hot). Certainly there are many cyclists who won’t bike for transportation purposes when it’s hot, but there are other ways to address that, like by promoting the provision of shower and change facilities at major employers. In fact, I would say Fort Worth has great potential as a bicycling city: relatively flat, decent street block pattern, great trail system to which to make connections, great cycling weather 8 months out of the year, etc.
Are you seeing a greater culture for bicycling developing in Fort Worth, and if so, what do you think is driving this?
While we don’t yet have quantitative data, we definitely feel that bicycling is beginning to take off as a mode of transportation in Fort Worth. When gas rose to $4 a gallon a year ago, bicycles began showing up all over, and even with the cost of gas relieved somewhat, anecdotally we believe the numbers are still higher than they’ve been in a long time. For a long time Fort Worth has had a number of substantial bike clubs primarily interested in cycling for recreation. We believe a good piece of that advocacy has crossed over into a call to make the city’s transportation network more accommodating of cyclists as well. From the city’s perspective, the impetus behind this effort today are many, but include making transit service (bus and rail) more accessible and attractive, making the city more attractive to the creative types who want to live and work in bicycle-friendly communities, helping residents lead more active and healthy lifestyles, and giving people more transportation options – especially those that help alleviate air quality problems and that are easy on the wallet during these tough economic times.
What is the big picture plan for Fort Worth’s future as related to alternative transportation (bicycle, ped, rail, etc.)?
In 2008, the City Council adopted a Mobility and Air Quality plan. It revealed that a balance of multimodal transportation improvements would provide a blueprint for transportation investments for the next 20 years. These improvements will help control the increase in future congestion levels, serve all users, improve mobility and air quality, and promote alternative modes of transportation.
Recommendations for transportation improvements include:
- more pedestrian and bicycle connections to improve accessibility
- regional roadways and arterials to support residential, commercial and industrial development
- a combination of roadway and transit projects to relieve congestion, provide a high quality of life and improve air quality
- prioritizing projects: immediate, critical midterm, midterm and long term needs
- implementing programs and policies to satisfy the guiding principles
- allocating funding for $8.12 billion from a wide variety of sources in transportation improvements