Fact Check: Population Density

We noticed on the anti-bike lane website, Cycle Dallas, authored by Dallas bike coordinator PM Summer, a continual reference to the following:

“it’s important to remember that the Dallas area has the lowest population density of any statistical metropolitan area in the world.”

This is a point PM has made on multiple occasions to defend not developing bicycle infrastructure in Dallas. Knowing that Mr. Summer has played loose with the facts in the past, we decided to double check this little tidbit. A quick google search of population density by metropolitan area shows us that there are actually a number of large US cities whose population density (people per sq km), is less or equal to Dallas.

Most notably:

Atlanta (pop: 3.5M, 700 people per sq/km)
Boston (pop: 4M, 900 people per sq/km)
Houston (pop: 3.8M, 1,150 people per sq/km)
Minneapolis/St. Paul (pop: 2.3M, 1,050 people per sq/km)
Philadelphia (pop: 5.1M, 1,100 people per sq/km)
Seattle (pop: 2.7M, 1,100 people per sq/km)

Dallas/FW (pop: 4.1M, 1,100 people per sq/km)

This is also accounting for land mass…you can see the full values noted here.

The irony? Many of the cities listed with lower densities than Dallas (Philly, Minneapolis) are considered top rated bicycling communities, and have hundreds of miles of bike lanes….in point of fact, all of the above have bike lanes.


  1. Hey, I LOVE riding in Oak Cliff. You have the best hills. But, doesn’t Oak Cliff already have bike lanes?

    They’re called roads, and they work just fine.

  2. bikerider · ·

    The only reason they’re rated “top cities” is because those doing the rating put all the emphasis on whether on not the particular city in question has bike lanes.
    If not, they automaticly go to the bottom of the list.
    Quite a bias they’ve got going on.

    If you really want to know if a city is “friendly” or not, talk to the people who are currently out there riding, not the ones who are too afraid to do so.

    IMHO, Dallas isn’t a bad place at all to street ride. I take the lane all the time and very rarely do I ever get honked at. People just merge over and pull around. Same as they would for any other slower vehicle.

    If you want to make sure they see you, ride more to the left.

  3. A few point here:

    Portland had 0 fatalities in 2008. This is a city with hundreds of miles of bike lanes crossing hundreds of intersections, and an 8% modal share of bicyclists.

    The Dallas area has .2% ridership and 0 bike lanes. In 2008 we had 6 fatalities.

    I live in Oak Cliff, and do “Take the Lane”. It’s my only option…and it’s still dangerous. I’ve had three friends (experienced VC riders) hit by cars that resulted in serious accidents in the OC. They all “Took the lane”. When Frontburner posted a blog item regarding bicyclists rights recently, the first commenter who came on stated he hated bicyclists and that they better stay out of his way. That’s the reality here.

    Also, check out the podcast for KERA’s THINK from Dec. 15th of 2008 regarding Alternative Transit planning and bike lanes: http://www.kera.org/radio/think/details.php?id=5683&keywords=mia+birk

    Almost every single local caller that called in to the show either asked why there are no bike lanes here, or stated how much they dislike riding in our city. Listen for yourself.

    Here’s the simple facts:

    Bike Lanes increase ridership.
    Ridership increases awareness.
    Awareness increases safety.

  4. I finally had to remove PM Summer’s blog from my reader after reading that post. He’s condescending at best, crazy at worst. It just makes me nuts. I’ll stick to your thoughtful and reasonable Dallas bike blog instead.

  5. Your propaganda is based upon bad science. The proper methodology for calculating population density is not simply to take the population and divide it by the land area. There are complex formulas employed to better represent the density based upon zoning, residential centers and whether people live in the City, proper, or the suburbs.

    The correct numbers, as gleaned from the U.S. Census, are:

    Atlanta: 1,514/km2
    Boston: 4,815/km2
    Houston: 1,471/km2
    Minneapolis/St. Paul: 2,595/km2
    Philadelphia: 4,201.8/km2
    Seattle: 2,736/km2
    Dallas/FW: 1,391.9/km2

    In truth, though only modestly lower than Atlanta and Houston, Dallas **DOES** have the lowest population density of all the cities cited.
    source: http://www.census.gov/

  6. The interesting bit you clarified here was that Dallas **DOES** have the lowest population density of all the cities cited.

    What you conveniently wiggled around was this statement made by PM:

    True or False, the Dallas area has the lowest population density of any statistical metropolitan area in the world.

    Not the cities I cited, but the lowest statistical metropolitan area IN THE WORLD. His statement is not even accurate for the top 10 cities in the US. Using the census site you linked, San Antonio beats out Dallas for lowest population density.

    …and they have bike lanes.

  7. One last point I’d make here…the census.gov site lists 2000 figures. The Citymayors.com is citing 2006 numbers using the following methodology:

    “The 2006 population figures are based on censuses carried out between 2000 and 2005 and adjusted to take account of average annual population changes”.

    So if you’re right, you should probably drop them a line as well: info@citymayors.com

    I’ll warn you though, their About Us page and international credentials are pretty impressive:


  8. Ummm, no; you are incorrect.

    The numbers utilized for the density estimated are from 2007.

    “I’ll warn you though, their About Us page and international credentials are pretty impressive.”

    Science illiteracy knows no bounds. The calculations posted to the City Mayors website are based upon taking the population and dividing by the area – I know, I did this to test the results. You can do it, too.

    I make no accusation as to whether it is intentional; I simply note the results are not accurate.

  9. You are arguing specifics, when the issue is overall density, Jason. Also, it is disingenuous to cite data which were not available at the time of the original analysis. Nevertheless, even using the newly released numbers for 2008, the density ratios change very little between cities. Any suggestion of parity is simply incorrect.

    Facilities proponents in the South are running a dangerous and expensive game. Dallas is not Portland. The climate is very different; the demographics are very different; the population distribution is not comparable; in some ways, more importantly the culture is different.

    I have “wiggled around” nothing. The statement, “lowest population density of any statistical metropolitan area in the world” is hyperbole. Note I never argued against that. Anyway, are you not guilty of similar exaggerations on this site?

    The numbers in your original post were false and that was my point. You have repeatedly changed the subject by throwing in tangential minutia, rather than respond to the initial critique.

  10. Again, we’re going to have to agree to disagree. The data from cities across the nation already shows the “dangers” represented by VC’s are extremely overblown. You’d have to simply explain why, if bike lanes bring out nothing but inexperienced riders and heighten accidents, why is the data not reflecting that? Any increases in accidents you see stay within the ratios shown prior to bike lane implementation and are well within the realm of what is seen when an increase in ridership occurs. It’s no different than widening a street and allowing more cars onto a road.

    The climate issue is one that is clung to by people opposed to this, but the reality is every city has its issue with weather. Portland shows a 40% drop out of the year in the winter, and a large portion of the spring and fall is given up to rain. A city like New Orleans is more humid than Dallas and still has a thriving, walking community on the streets. Sure, many restaurants there close down in August, but that doesn’t mean they throw out the notion of embracing an active, livable street based on two or three hot months.

    I’d agree that the culture may be different, but all studies you see coming out now are showing a change of demographic for Dallas (notice the recent change from Red to Blue politically), and a tidal change in quality of life expectations and culture from Gen Xer’s and Millenials. If you aren’t seeing the change in density for First Suburbs (Uptown, Oak Cliff, the Cedars area) and the Downtown Core, then you’re simply not paying attention.

    You and other VC’s embrace an ideology, and as PM has shown, will twist information in order to maintain the model you hold dear. We’ve proven this after showing PM fictionalizing testing methods, and making false statements like “Dallas has the lowest population density of any statistical metropolitan area in the world”. I’d agree that he was only using “hyperbole”, if he didn’t use the word “statistical”.

    The other problem with your argument is you have to deny the obvious success of cities like Portland, Austin, Boston, and Minneapolis, in building ridership and creating a booming cycling community and industry. The only argument left is to claim that the facilities are “death traps leading to a rash of fatalities”. But that’s not happening, and you refuse to admit it.

    If Portland has an 8% ridership (they were at 0.4% 1992 according to Mia Birk, the former bike coordinator), then the assumption you’d have to make is that they have brought out a giant population of inexperienced riders (a VC claim) crossing hundreds of dangerous intersections, and deaths are at cataclysmic levels. The data simply doesn’t show this. It’s actually showing the opposite.

    My final point here is you are pessimistic for Dallas’ ability to change. I’m optimistic that not only can it change…but it is in the process of doing so now. We heard the exact same arguments you’re citing from people fighting the DART rail implementation and Katy Trail buildout, like “Dallas has a culture of driving, and won’t use light rail”, and “It’s too hot in Dallas….noone will walk on a bike/ped trail here”. The reality is we’ve shown that if you build it, they will come. Development is dense all along these transit corridors, and studies are showing across the nation, that urbanism trends are only going to increase. I realize that seems far fetched to you, but realize, you live 15+ miles from the core, in a third tear suburb, and have embraced the “suburban nation” model.

    We now have multiple sushi restaurants, brew bars, coffee shops, and award winning restaurants that have sprouted up in Oak Cliff in only 5 years. This was completely unthinkable in 2000. Young families are moving here in droves, and we’re no longer accepting the status quo handed down to us from Northern Sector suburbanites like yourself. I realize it’s not your fault, but we’ve had the foot of the North placed firmly upon our necks for 50 years now, and we’re not going to take being dictated on by people who simply don’t understand our culture.

    I grew up in the Camelot subdivision right across Arapaho, from where you live. I’m extremely familiar with your community and the lack of social interaction and connection that takes place there. Oak Cliff is night and day from your reality. We don’t expect you to understand.

  11. I realize this posting is somewhat old, but if it still matters to anyone, a couple of points. To preface, I grew up in Austin and after 30 years have moved to Portland, OR to experience life without a car. I’ve been her about one year now. So if I may…

    Herman – I’m not certain your exact stance, if you are a bike-hater or simply lack hope. And really, I’m not going to refute anything you have to say. What I would suggest however is taking a trip up to Portland. Spend some time (several days) without a car. You’d be amazed how easy it is to navigate the city quickly and safely on bike alone (or with a bike / lightrail combination). You’d also learn very quickly a few observable facts about what makes it so safe and easy here.

    #1 – Bike lanes (and bike paths) are highly abundant, so much so that motorist and bikes rarely need to share the road — they each have their own space. Naturally, good planning makes intersections relatively safe for the passage of cyclists as well. Even outside the main city centers, where population is quite sparse, flat out rural in many cases, bike lanes (or wide shoulders) are still quite common. This fact is critical for the safety of cyclists traveling longer distances (often commuting) and it helps alleviate stress on driver’s as well.

    #2 – Respect for cyclist rights. The most dangerous aspect of Texas drivers is their attitude that “might makes right.” In my opinion, penalties for traffic crimes (involving cyclists or not) are terribly low in Texas and enforcement even lower. Texan culture encourages reckless negligence for the sake of speed and personal gain. That’s not how things work in Portland. Liberals, Conservatives – doesn’t matter – people here respect that a human inside a car is no more important than one outside of a car. It’s that simple. Pretty ironic the number of right-to-lifer’s in Texas who will gladly run over their own neighbors to arrive a few seconds early.

    #3 – Traffic density. In Portland, traffic density is amazingly low. Having lived most of my life in Austin, I’m still baffled that Portland has a higher population when there are so few vehicles on the road (relative to Austin). The difference is clearly a result of longterm city planning and the philosophical approaches chosen — either plan for humans or plan for cars. Portland chose the human route and it’s really paid off. Bike lanes are merely a single element of an overall smarter system.

    The big question I have – and the only one that makes me doubt if any place in Texas can be safe for cycling ever – is whether or not cities created for cars can be transformed into ones that function more safely for humans (and bikes in particular). It’s an open question, but I hope the answer is yes. I hope Texas can become more livable without the absurdity of its present road systems. The only way to find out is to try.

    Mike D.

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