A Tale of Two Planners


(Portland, Oregon)

Dallas’ former bike coordinator is on another tirade against Alta-Planning, the award winning bicycle planning firm based in Portland, Oregon. We felt it would be good to provide everyone with a bit of the history here, as it’s a fascinating story.

If you do a search on CycleDallas’ site for “Alta”, you pull up one angry post after another. Here’s some choice selections:

“I heard the Principal of Alta+Design (and former Portland Bicycle Coordinator) flat out lie about cycling statistics in her town, but then Alta+Design has seldom been accused of being “reality based”.”

“…or perhaps they suffer from “Alta+Envy”.”

“I suppose she’s [Mia Birk, Principal for Alta Planning] become the new Benny Hinn of Bicycling.”

From a 59 year old man that claims to be a gentle soul, and has even provided links to how friends call him a “teddy bear”, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect with his posts, many of which show bicycle infrastructure proponents alongside pictues of sheep, or with labels of “fascists”. This self-annointed kind-soul set the tone for our debates with a post he made labeling us as merely “neo-urban hipsters”, and belittling our efforts to improve bicycle infrastructure in Dallas. At the time, we were taken completely by surprise, as we’d held meetings with Summer, sitting across conference room tables with other advocates, but as soon as we left the room, posts would fly from his site with disparaging comments, and personal swipes against us. Professionalism and tact were disregarded in favor of teenage rants, and pendantic ramblings. Fortunately, he’s no longer the bicycle coordinator for our city, but he still is a city planner. Our tax dollars still employ the man who publicly berates you and I.

The history is pretty enlightening and is about two bicycle coordinators that both hailed from Dallas.

A Tale of Two Planners

Mia Birk was raised in Dallas, and went to Graduate School in Washington DC. While there, she fell in love with bicycling, later moved to Portland and became the city’s Bicycle Program Manager. This was the early 90’s, and a pivotal time in the development of the city’s new infrastructure.

At this same time, PM Summer, Dallas’ bike 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 nations’ foremost detractor of bicycle infrastructure.

During the 1990’s, the planning of Birk and Summer were at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Birk, after visiting European cities, and the US bicycle haven of Davis, California, returned to Portland and began the massive bicycle lane planning work that has made the town the “Mecca for Cycling” we all know and see today. Within years, ridership levels exploded, which was unthought of in an area that was not known for heavy outdoor activity due to its average 156 days of rain.

Summer’s held the opposing view point, and ridiculed planning and ideas that came out of Portland throughout this time. As years went by, other US cities like Boulder, Austin, Chicago, and New York, began following Portland’s lead, and have since become bicycle havens, with exponential growth in ridership and noted changes of culture that have economically revitalized their cores, and taken people out of cars and brought them back to the street on two wheels. Holding the “take the lane” mantra and the “the car lane is the bike lane” only attitude became more and more difficult as statistics poured in showing the decrease in accident rates, and increases in ridership in cities with bicycle facilities. By the end of Summer’s tenure, Portland was labeled a “Platinum City for Bicycling” by the League of American Bicyclists, while Dallas became known as “The Worst City for Bicycling in the US”.

PM’s latest post shows a clip from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, with another dig at Atla Planning. In Oak Cliff, he actively puts down planning our organizations develop to turn the Houston Street Viaduct into a multi-modal bike/ped link to the Southern Sector. Fortunately, the city isn’t listening anymore.

Meanwhile, Mia Birk recently won Professional of the Year by the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, has created an internationally acclaimed consulting/planning firm, was hired by the Friends of the Katy trail to develop a cycle-track plan connecting the trail to Downtown, and is in the midst of authoring a book on her work. Summer, like an old boxer, continues to swing wildly and miss, but his angry posts have merely become sad swipes from someone who lost a philosophical argument on a nationwide scale.

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