Bicycles have been a major part of our transportation system for over a hundred years. There are more than a billion bicycles in the world and they outnumber the automobile 2:1. Yet in Dallas, we have been very slow to take steps that would make them an integral part of our transportation system. Bike lanes and the lack of them are an excellent example. Texans have always prided themselves on their wide open spaces and have long had a love affair with their cars. This may partially explain why Dallas has not made a priority of alternative means of getting around town.
However, with changes in the economy and the environment, the city would be well served to start looking at all options for commuting. Dependence on foreign oil has made gas-guzzling cars both an economic and a foreign policy matter. And the pollution that these cars generate affects not only us, but the world as a whole. Bike lanes are a way to encourage people to be less dependent on their cars. First, where are we starting from? Since 1980, while other cities added hundreds of miles of bike lanes, Dallas chose to sit idly by.
According to Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, “by the 2000s, Dallas had one of the lowest bike-commuting percentages in the nation, and one of the highest accident rates. The publication twice gave Dallas the ignominious title of worst cycling city in the United States, in 2008 and 2012” (Roberts). Opponents of bike lanes point to our current traffic congestion and wonder how taking lanes away from cars can possibly improve the situation. First, a bike lane frequently does not require the removal of an automobile lane.
It can be accomplished by narrowing existing auto lanes, using median space, and other techniques. Second, while some auto lanes are inevitably lost, this is offset by the fact that there are fewer automobiles on the roads, because their former occupants are now on bicycles using the bike lanes. A model for urban planning and traffic management that was popular in the 1950’s through the 1980’s was to simply build more freeways and build more parking in the central business district.
Dallas was a poster child for this model. This was the thinking behind the construction of the Dallas North Tollway and the Central Expressway expansion. It was thought that if we added enough freeway capacity and parking capacity that traffic problems would be a thing of the past. But what is seen in Dallas today is what has been discovered everywhere else. By building more capacity, more cars simply come in to take up that space and the system is overwhelmed again.
But we continue to pursue that same model, as evidenced by the current LBJ/635 expansion and the “Horseshoe” project slated to begin later this year and go through 2017 to expand the “canyon” in downtown Dallas. While freeway expansions are inevitable and to some degree necessary, what is needed is a fundamental change in the way we approach getting around town. Bicycles, walking, public transportation, shared rides are all things that citizens should consider when it is available as an option.
The city has a responsibility to make alternatives to automobile travel available to us. And they have done a fairly good job with Dart and Dart rail, and are aggressively expanding the hike and bike trails. But the first bike lane was not painted until September, 2012. The city is grudgingly making progress. They unveiled CentraLink, a network of bike lanes in the central business district designed to connect the downtown area hike/bike trails with Union Station and the Jefferson Cycle Track.
The city has announced plans to add 70 miles of bike lanes by the end of 2014, but after that, according to the Dallas Observer, “things get murky” (Nicholson). Bicycle commuting is great for a person’s health, the environment, and saves the commuter money. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average US household spent 15. 7 percent of their total income on automotive expenses in 2011 (USDL). Contrary to popular belief, bike lanes are not necessarily expensive to implement. It can usually be accomplished when a street is undergoing its regularly scheduled repairing and restriping.
Bike Friendly Oak Cliff indicates that there are a variety of funding methods used when there is a need for build out, including Tax Increment Financing Districts, Federal Grants, and “Friends of” organizations (Roberts). They go on to point out that the return on investment for streets with bike lanes and businesses surrounding these streets has proven to far offset any cost. It is important to remember that the purpose of building roads is not to move people as quickly as possible (as is the case with highways), it is to promote interaction between individuals and businesses, as well as ransport. Commuting by bicycle is an option that more and more people are choosing every year for a variety of reasons. Bike lanes are a reasonable way that the city can accommodate these citizens and provide a safe way for them to exercise this choice. It is incumbent on the leaders of this city to think beyond the initial cost of the project and allow Dallas to realize the benefits that this will bring to the city and its citizens.