Riding the NETT

November 6, 2013 § 6 Comments

IMG_2430

The trail least traveled yields the most adventure!

written by Jonathan Braddick

I love rail corridors that are no longer in service, have been rail banked, or abandoned for private purchase.  They have layers of history that end up over lapping with new ones when rail trails are developed, like a palimpsest does.  They provide a glimpse into our past when this form of transportation dominated our country’s landscapes, our industries, and was the most often used form of transportation.  In our area of the nation’s prairie land, we have a fair share of these rail corridors.  However, one in particular is special and provides a unique adventure unlike no other can in North Texas.

Last Saturday, I rode 50 miles of the 130 mile long, North East Texas Trail, starting at the western trail head in Farmersville, TX.  Located approximately one hour from Dallas’ city center, it’s a complete escape and contrast to our urban trail environments.

First a brief history lesson…

The land for the NETT and other rail-trails was first made available by the National Trails System Act in 1983.  At no cost to the rail bank entities, it preserves established railroad right-of-ways for future reactivation of rail service, protects rail transportation corridors, and encourages energy efficient transportation use.  Trail advocates along the entire route have been developing plans and fighting court battles with some land owners since the 80s.  Now, quite a bit of the trail has been developed by several of the rail banking agencies that oversee it’s development.  The NETT is now a functioning, 501c3 non-profit able to accept donations to continue it’s development into the future.

Riding the NETT

I’d been hearing quite a bit about the NETT since growing up in Collin County, where Farmersville is located.  However, it wasn’t until I recently watched Dean Nix, a local cyclist and all around bad ass, talk about being the first to ride the entire distance from end to end and back, a total distance of 260 miles.  He did it in 3 days by the way!

Anyway, I heard through my Bearded Women Racing team members that Spinistry, a local race promoter, was organizing the first cycling event to ride the trail.  I have a full mountain bike racing season on my legs, so I took the challenge to ride the full 65 mile distance from Farmersville to Paris, one way, so I could be back in time for a mountain bike race the following day.

After a warm up start through Farmersville quaint and attractive downtown and onto local county roads, the ride put us on the first section called the Chaparral Trail .  The segment is owned by the city, and they’re very proud of their work to date on making it a true city trail.  They have lighting, benches, recently installed sod and other landscaping like you’d see on any local city trail.  The difference is that it’s not paved, a good thing for long term maintenance and use.  What make rail beds the ideal trail lies just at the surface.  Rails were built with rail ballast, tons of small portioned rock that drains very well and provides a solid foundation for the ties and steel rail.  When the ties and steel are removed, you can simply lay down layers of trail material to make it into a mult-use trail that everyone can enjoy!

Once we past through this section and out of the city owned section, the trail quickly showed it’s true grit. Think unimproved jeep trail in most sections, and that’s what the trail looks like.  We ran into a section where someone had removed a chunk of the rail ballast for some unknown reason.  This was the only section where standing water and mud was an issue.  A distance of probably 50 yards or so.  Most riders were either on mountain bikes or cross bikes.  All of the mountain bikers made it through this section with ease, however a few of the cyclecross riders did not ;).  Other than a bit of mud, the only other brief impediments are the multiple rail bridges.  We were instructed at the pre-ride meeting to not ride them, get off the bicycle and walk it.  Most of them are definitely NOT ride able, though a handful make for a fun, bumpy traverse.  You’ve got to be aware of the loose and brittle ties and the gaps between them.  They certainly made the trip more interesting, as your mind wanders back the over 150 years or so when they were first erected to ensure the train made it’s stops on time along the entire route.

I suspect that the NETT group will focus on repairing and making these bridges safe and ride able in the near future.  However, one in particular made me stop and remember that I’m afraid of heights, before I did a tight rope like walk across a 6 foot gaping hole.  This particular bridge crosses the Sulphur river, one of the main tributaries in North East Texas.  The bridge lies between Pecan Gap and Franklin, a designated un-passable section of the trail per the NETT group.  Anyway, the section you see in the following picture is the gap in the Sulphur bridge crossing.  IMG_2442

Here’s a look at the gap from another angle..  IMG_2444

Besides the adventure crossing these rail bridges, some of the most interesting sections of the trial came with the over growth.  We prepared ourselves like most riders would not that day by bring a few tools to help us make our way through anything we came upon.  I tied a machete to the side of my mountain bike and welded it like a soldier in the cavalry would have down.  While not necessary to traverse these sections, it was a blast to do.  Really, most of it can be bushwhacked by simply riding through it and avoiding the treacherous Honey Locust tree that have huge 3-4 inch thorns reaching out over the trail like spider webs ready to puncture any tubeless tire it comes across.  30 years or so since the National Trail Act leaves plenty of time for some gnarly over growth to leave it’s mark!  I definitely recommend having tubeless tires through most of this section of the trail, but not necessary.

Our adventure took us through some great, little slices of Texas’ beautiful country side.  Along the way we saw active farmers and ranches doing the same things they’ve been doing when the trail passed regularly, and kept the small towns economically viable and perfect places to raise a family and earn a living.  Now, the rail trial can pump new economic development back into them by adventure seekers ready to traverse the trail.  You can contribute by spending money in each town you pass through, filling up your car, eating at Pecan Gap’s all you can eat catfish buffet or another restaurant along the way or simply donate to the NETT.  Be apart of this resurgent effort to create a beautiful recreational resource for everyone to enjoy!

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2012 in Bike Friendly Oak Cliff blog review

January 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 92,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Angela Hunt Speaks Loudly About Bold Bike Plan Steps

October 29, 2012 § 4 Comments

Angela Hunt isn’t afraid of calling out city manger Mary Suhm and city staff for their “namby-pamby steps” to date on implementing the 2011 Dallas Bike Plan.  So far, we’ve got around 5 miles or so of on-street infrastructure in place, but much of that is shared bike lanes, not the buffered or barrier cycletracks Angela and Bike Friendly Oak Cliff is looking for.  Here’s her full post on her website, and the source page:

Dallas Should Take Bold Steps on Bike Plan
Monday, October 29th, 2012 at 11:29 AM

Dallas is not a bike-friendly city.

Over the last two years, the city has been taking baby steps to change that: We completed a new bike plan last year, put several millions of dollars into the upcoming bond package for hike and bike trails as well as several “complete streets” projects, painted bike lanes and “sharrows” on a handful of city streets, and proposed a vulnerable road user law that will protect bicyclists from cars.

But this isn’t nearly enough. Even fully implemented, these projects will barely pull Dallas into the latter half of the 20th century. And it’s not just the lack of urgency that’s dooming our attempt at bike friendliness. It’s the half-hearted infrastructure that’s being implemented.

In Downtown Dallas, the city has painted shared lane markings on Main Street to emphasize that bikes can share the road with cars. In reality, these markings do nothing to create a safer, more inviting environment for bicyclists. And encouraging bikes to use a major, narrow street through Downtown just further aggravates drivers who can’t pass slower cyclists.

Instead, we need to create protected bike lanes with actual barriers separating cyclists from traffic. Physically separated lanes are significantly safer: a recent study shows they reduce injuries by 90%. ) And protected bike lanes are more compatible with Dallas’ existing car culture, allowing bikes and cars to coexist safely.

Many Dallas streets are wider than they need to be for the level of car traffic they carry. We can take a traffic lane or parking lane from these streets, put up some bollards, and create bike infrastructure that will actually encourage people to get on their bikes. The change will be dramatic. We need to commit to building 10 miles of physically separated bike lanes every year for the next ten years.

The lack of connections of Dallas’ bike infrastructure is also ensuring its failure. Throughout our city, there are plans to put in short spans of bike lanes connecting nothing. No cyclist is going to use bike lanes that go nowhere and suddenly end. Instead, we need to connect neighborhoods, off-street trails, light rail, work centers, schools, shopping, and locations of interest. No “lanes to nowhere.”

Lastly, we need to repeal the mandatory helmet law for adults. In cities that have eliminated helmet laws, ridership has increased significantly and safety has actually improved. (NY Times article “To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets.”)

Dallas’ current, half-hearted approach to making our city bike friendly is going to doom it to failure. In a couple of years, the city will determine that bike ridership hasn’t increased in Downtown or on the bike lanes to nowhere (surprise!). This will then be cited as proof that there is no bike culture in Dallas, that we can’t transition to a bike-friendly city, and that bike infrastructure is a waste of money. The city will paint over the “sharrows” and wash its hands of this silly experiment.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can go all-in on bike infrastructure and get it done. We can dramatically increase bike ridership in our city. We’ve seen what can Dallas can do when it sets its heart on Big Ideas. That’s why Dallas’ remarkably meek approach to bike infrastructure is so frustrating. We pride ourselves for taking on extravagant, bold initiatives — the Calatrava Bridge, a park over a freeway, a city-owned convention center hotel, a massive toll road in a floodway. Let’s apply that same laser-like focus to making Dallas the best bicycling city in the country.

Making the Valley View area more livable, bikeable, and walkable

October 10, 2012 § 8 Comments

Quick, someone make a rendering!

Just saw the report from Robert Wilonsky at the Dallas Morning News regarding the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce’s hopes to develop a land use plan for the Vallew View Mall area which suffers from massive auto infrastructure, and low livability. They’re planning to spend $250K to reveal the area’s greatest potential. My fear is that the plan will inevitably lead to: Step 1, tear down everything; Step 2, develop small grid road system; Step 3, create bond package to incentivize development; Step 4, watch land speculators hold property in-perpetuity while they use the carrot of TIF dollars to try and cajole land developers…show public millions of water color renderings of the potential for the area (see above) so that we’ll continue to allow public dollars to pour into infrastructure improvements to help make speculators earlier, cheap land buy a more profitable venture…probably never develop; Step 5, sell land to Wal-Mart Mega Store development group and do what we’ve always done.

So in an attempt to help save some money on planning, I thought I’d illustrate a quick plan that would simply re-purpose the existing building (no full tear downs! yay, begin development at Step 1, not Step 5). If you look at Valley View Mall, it’s basically the West Village with a roof and no residents.

Generic US mall. Imagine no roof and turn the hallway into a small one-way street with wide sidewalks, similar to West Village. Develop on street parking at intervals, or make it pedestrian only.

Why on earth could that not look like the Rue de Mouffetard in Paris? Extremely narrow streets, retail everywhere, pedestrian oriented environment…only thing missing is the roof and residents:

Okay, first step…begin removing the roof along the hallways. Next step, slowly phase out the second floor retail and move it to ground floor in new buildings that are created in the existing (massive) parking lot.

Second step, develop an incredible public square. With the food court removed from the second floor of the old mall, line the public square with the food vendors all along the edges and allow small market vendors in the center. The best squares have food and plenty of movable seating and tables:

Union Square in New York City

Check out all of the tables and chairs! Great place to sit outside and eat…just add plants and shade.

Third step, develop second, third, and fourth floor live work spaces above existing mall structure. An area packed with retail should have large density for residents. Plus, it will create more eyes on the street and make the area feel safer:

These buildings are probably 200-300 years old and are still functioning well with the same pattern…retail on the bottom, residents and/or offices on the top. Why break it if it works?

Fourth step, this really could be considered early on in the process as well. Be mindful of parking. You don’t want to leave cars out of the equation, but hide the parking so it feels less intrusive and more pedestrian oriented. Again, West Village has done a good job with the “Dallas Doughnut”, where the parking is centralized, connected via small streets, and stacked.

Fifth step, take a page from the new deck park and consider decking the elevated portion of LBJ Freeway at Preston Road so that you create a more humane and walkable connection between the residents to the South and the commercial to the North.

Sixth Step, re-take the HOV lanes on 635 and convert to light rail. Elevate the stations and allow extremely walkable connections at each elevation. Long term goal, connect to the Red Line at the East and the Green Line at the West. This way you’re using existing Right-of-Way. Encourage mixed use development alongside the frontage roads so that the first thing you experience when exiting the trains is retail.

Seventh Step, connect to the trail system.

There, planning done. Now that we’ve saved $250K, let’s use those funds for seed money for construction.

You’re welcome.

Renaissance Man?

September 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Image

Even the Economist is taking note of the “Cycling Renaissance” taking place in the US.  The article highlights cities that are making bike infrastructure a priority including Chicago, Washington DC and Portland.  Not surprisingly, Dallas is not mentioned.

While we’re finally seeing some change it does not seem that the City has truly embraced the importance of bike infrastructure.  Yes, Sharrows, the Jordan Catalano of bike infrastructure, are popping around town.  We’re even seeing a few short blocks of beautiful buffered bike lanes. Unfortunately, overall the City is doing a poor job of making the streets safer for cycling.  No bridges have been altered to benefit cycling even after Dallas Torres’ near death incident earlier this year.  Crossing the Trinity by bike is still an roll of the dice.   While the Hunt Hill Bridge looks great from a distance its a pure travesty that it can only be crossed in a car. Santiago, what’s up with that?  To add insult to injury, the Continental Bridge stands in the White Elephant’s shadow still open to traffic.  While there are big plans sitting on a shelf to convert the bridge into our very own Highline, it sits unchanged. Come on Dallas, lets get some of this renaissance energy flowing! Close the Continental Bridge to cars and make it our first safe crossing for bikes.  This low hanging fruit needs to be picked!

What Makes a Bike Friendly City?

June 14, 2012 § 2 Comments

In the latest Bicycling Magazine issue, Dallas came out on top.  That’s the top of the Worst Bicycle Friendly city in the country.  We all know there’s great bicycle culture here.  It’s been here for years going back to 1973 when the Greater Dallas Bicyclists first organized.  We also have claim to Lance Armstrong, spending part of his time growing up in Plano, and winning 7 Tour de France titles.  Hopefully he can keep them…

Then there are all of the Bike Friendly groups, Bike DFW, Dallas Area Tandem Enthusiasts, countless bike shops and many other bicycle inspired groups and businesses.  It’s thriving yes, but according to what Bicycling Magazine uses to evaluate a city with populations of 95,000 or more, we’re not there…yet.  Here’s their list in the July 2012 issue, page 70 & the status of each in Dallas, TX:

  • Protected bike lanes on bridges

  • Free tune-up stations

    • StatusUnchecked, RisingBike Friendly Richardson hosted an event during Bike to Work Day event that provided free tune ups for those commuters stopping by.  Even though it wasn’t in Dallas, they set a pretty cool bar for other bicycle groups to shoot for, and opened up the possibility of something like happening next to your route.  Bicycle shops should be encouraged to open along routes and provide free air and other services to build their clientele.
  • Car-free hours in parks

    • StatusUnchecked, Neutral:  Not even people here have thought of it, but Kiest Park would be a great park to test this out.  So would White Rock Lake.
  • Elevated bike paths

    • StatusUnchecked, Falling:  The Sante Fe bridge is probably still considered just a bridge, but it’s “elevated”.  It’s also not yet officially open and behind schedule.  But, no we have nothing remotely like an elevated bike path
  • Striped bike lanes

  • Bike boxes at intersections

    • StatusUnchecked, Neutral:  Can’t say these are going to be used at intersections in Dallas, but another item we don’t have
  • Bicycle commuter stations

    • StatusUnchecked, Rising:  This idea was discussed during meetings held for the 2011 Bike Plan, but I don’t see the city taking it on.  It will have to come from the private sector most likely, much like the Dallas Bicycle Cafe provides lockers and storage for commuters & recreational cyclists in East Dallas.  We can’t place a Check for this one, because bicycle commuter stations like the one in Chicago aren’t in existence yet here.
  • Bike-share programs

    • Status:  Unchecked, Falling:  Costs associated with these programs and the lack of funds from the city foresee no city shared bicycle program
  • Bike-themed festivals

    • StatusCheck, RisingCyclesomatic was the first bicycle themed festival in Dallas when it started in October 2009 as a one week festival.  Since then it’s grown to a full month worth of bicycle related events and activities for all
  • Elementary-school bicycle trains

    • StatusHalf-Check, RisingiBike Rosemont is a week long event at Rosemont Elementary school in Oak Cliff that encourages children to ride a bicycle to school.  Because is happens twice a school year, and the kids don’t ride all together at once, we can’t call it a bike train, but the program has increased awareness amongst the school’s parents, teachers and administration.  They also host a kiddical mass group ride at the end of the week for root beer floats, which is awesome to be apart of!
  • Cyclist-friendly cafe’s

    • StatusCheck, Rising:  From Oddfellows’ bicycle parking and discount (yes, it’s more of a restaurant we know) to Pearl Cup ride meet ups, the aforementioned Dallas Bicycle Cafe and countless other bicycle friendly businesses, we can go ahead and say we’re doing pretty good in this department.  Businesses are recognizing the economic value of catering to bicycles through parking, discounts and overall theme.
  • Bicycle parking

    • Status: Half-check, Rising:  There are fine examples in Oak Cliff where a business has made extra space for bicycle parking.  Glorias added a rack to their new location on Bishop, there are racks along Jefferson, though some need to be replaced (Texas Theatre).  Furthermore the Parks Department has put in some very nice parking at their latest downtown parks, however we can’t fully check this one yet.  Big box developments and large retailers need to join the effort, too.  For instance, at Colorado and Beckley, the Walgreens is a frequent stop for people heading into downtown or west onto Bishop, but yet there is no bicycle parking there.  Furthermore, we’re seeing a trend in the design of bicycle parking that tends to lend more toward creative design over practical function.  It’s good businesses want parking that fits their aesthetic or theme, but bicyclists wont’ use it if it doesn’t properly secure their property.  And just to be fair, other bicycle friendly areas in Dallas are still not quite there yet when it comes to this area either.
  • Bike racks on buses

    • StatusCheck, Complete:  Back in 2006- 2007 I was lucky enough to be on the DART Bicycle Advisory Committee.  This was when DART was still the largest transportation system without bicycle racks on their buses.  With a NCTCOG grant, DART finally installed the racks on all of the buses by early 2009  and they get steady use.  DART also updated their bicycle rider policy back then to make it easier to transport your bicycle on DART Rail as well.
  • Closed-street cycling events

    • StatusHalf Check, Rising:  To date, we’ve had one closed street event or Ciclovia here in Dallas.  Back in October of 2011, BFOC hosted the cities first on the Houston St Viaduct with a grant provided by Bikes Belong.  We’re hoping that the city takes this event on in the future and makes it even bigger and better!

Mary Suhm: Why doesn’t the Continental pedestrian bridge have bicycle infrastructure?

June 11, 2012 § 4 Comments

Crazy clown thanks to Don Raines!

An opinion editorial from BFOC Board Member, Jonathan Braddick:

Last week, Robert Wilonsky at the DMN reported about the delays in converting the old Continental bridge into a pedestrian park.  Because I was curious about bicycle infrastructure, and hadn’t fully seen the design plans for the new park.  I wasn’t shocked to find there are no plans for separated bicycle infrastructure in the plans. Yes, you’ll be able to ride your bicycle over the bridge, but no dedicated bicycle lanes separating bicycle traffic and pedestrian traffic.  This certainly backs up why Bicycling Magazine voted us Worst city for Bicycling.  See the full planning document below:

TRC_ContinentalBridgeWestDallasGateway_010912

I quickly reviewed the 2011 Dallas Bike Plan, and noticed the bridge was designated as “Needs Further Review”.  Of course, I understood when I voted on the plan, that the plan for closing the bridge to traffic and making it into a park had already been made public, so that made sense to me.

But now that we’ve passed the plan, it turns out the City Council voted NOT to include bicycle infrastructure on the bridge.  I learned this from a quick email and quick reply from my council person, Scott Griggs.  He informed me that he was apart of a minority vote to include infrastructure, which the rest of the council voted against.

So, now we come to the purpose of this post’s headline:  “Mary Suhm, why doesn’t Continental pedestrian bridge have bicycle infrastructure?”  A simple question, deserves a simple answer.  Here are my many reasons why it should be included:

  1. The new bridge right next door doesn’t have bicycle infrastructure.  For good reason, it’s a highway. Period.
  2. Mixing commuting/recreational bicycle traffic with meandering pedestrians is not a good idea.  @KatyTrail, #Deaths
  3. Peter Laguerway, from Tool Design who helped the city put together our 2011 Dallas Bike Plan, spoke that we need to get our bridges right, because they are here for at least 50 years and in this case over a 100 years, in order to be a great bicycle friendly city
  4. The public didn’t get a vote on whether to include bicycle infrastructure or not.  If a route says, “Needs Further Review”, it means that “We’re not ready to make a decision right now on what type of infrastructure to include, not “We’re not going to include it at all”.  Since our council members also heard Peter say this about our bridge, I automatically assumed it was a no brainer.
  5. Because 8  and 80 year olds in West Dallas and Oak Cliff need safe connections across the Trinity too!
  6. Per the recent Ciclovia de Dallas and the Cedar Crest Better Bridge project, you can’t program the entire length of bridge, which this current design suggests with clowns and purple rainbows!  Creating nodes of activity throughout the bridge worked for Ciclovia de Dallas, with large sections open up to pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.  This would then open up space for bicycle infrastructure.

Here are examples  of demonstrations done on the Cedar Crest bridge and the Houston St. Viaduct where both park amenities, bicycles, and bicycle  infrastructure co-existed.  By the way, these events where partially  funded or supported by the City of Dallas and implemented by Team Better Block and BFOC:

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