By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
They consider Boston a prime example of what they see as the league's wrong-headedness. For many years, a vehicular cyclist was the bicycle coordinator there until Bicycling magazine rated Boston as the nation's worst city for cycling. The old bike coordinator was replaced in 2007, and the city immediately installed five miles of bicycle lanes and pledged to build more. Boston moved off the worst list, and Dallas took its place in 2008. Summer, likewise, was soon replaced as a new group of local bicycling advocates rose up and began to demand the city do more for them.
More, in this case, will likely mean the addition of some bike lanes in the future, though many of the utilitarian cyclists in Dallas aren't completely sold on the idea. At October's "Critical Mass" ride, for example, most of the cyclists thought bike lanes were helpful if only for the awareness they brought with them. Critical Mass is a national bicycle awareness project in which cyclists meet the last Friday of every month and ride the streets, deliberately disregarding traffic lights and inconveniencing cars.
Colin Clarke, who founded the Facebook page for Critical Mass Dallas, says awareness is what Dallas really needs right now. While it's true that during group rides like Critical Mass traffic laws are disobeyed, Clarke says the good outweighs the bad taste left in the mouth of drivers who have to wait for somewhere between 40 to 100 cyclists to clear an intersection.
"My thought is this," Clarke says. "For five minutes, drivers can slow down and wait for us to cross an intersection. I want to teach them that it's not the end of the world to slow down. It doesn't have to be rush, rush, rush."
Clarke, 29, has been a cycling advocate since he quit driving a car in 1999, but has never seen so many other supporters joining the cause as today. "It's blown up considerably in the last year and a half," Clarke says.
These new cycling advocates are not necessarily united behind a drive for new bike lanes. Clarke, for instance, would like to see more street signs—a yellow diamond with a bike inside—all over the city, on every street. "Just beat it into the driver's head. We're here. Watch out!"
Jake Kazmirski, whose job during October's ride was to stop the flow of traffic while the Critical Mass riders passed through intersections, has nearly been hit twice by cars in Dallas. He wants bike lanes. "If there's nothing to the roads but signs, what's a car supposed to do? 'Uh-oh, this is a bike route, better watch out?' No way."
But not even Paul Hakes Jr., the Dallas-Fort Worth Ghost Bikes coordinator, sees bicycle infrastructure as a critical safety tool. Ghost Bikes is a group founded in New York City to promote awareness of bicycles by locking a white bicycle to a sign post near every spot where a cyclist died from a collision with a motorist. "We need more awareness," Hakes says. "I'm not opposed to bicycle lanes, because it gives new riders a sense of security. However, experience-wise and statistic-wise, they're actually more dangerous than not having them. There's more people struck in them than out of them in cities that have them." (Bicycle infrastructure advocates disagree.)
The problem with the vehicular cycling advocates, says Hakes, is that they fail to account for the reality that new riders are scared of riding in the street with cars: "Their fears of getting out in traffic overwhelm their desire to ride."
One reason Clarke has seen such a dramatic increase in local bicycle supporters lately is largely thanks to the emergence of a fresh-faced advocate, Jason Roberts. The 34-year-old Oak Cliff resident leads the city's new corps of bike advocates, who follow his blog, Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, for bicycle news and group rides. The rides put on by BFOC often draw more than a hundred cyclists.
Roberts is less focused on the best conditions for cycling. What he cares about is the best conditions for getting more people to bicycle.
What's driving him, Roberts says, is his own mortality. Life's short, and if he has to live here, why not make Dallas the kind of city he'd like it to be? Having traveled to Boulder, Colorado, and Portland, Oregon, with his indie-rock band, and other cities and European countries on his own, he wants Dallas to shake off the car stranglehold and become a more "livable" and "walkable" city. A bicycle-friendly infrastructure, including bicycle lanes, is critical to his plan.
"My angle was more about what kind of street do I want," Roberts says. "It wasn't so much as wanting bicyclists but that I want to have the street that was active and alive and engaged, like you have in Manhattan, Copenhagen, with vendors out on the streets, people out of their cars, walking."
To this end, Roberts cites study after study that notes a significant increase in the number of cyclists after bicycle lanes are created. According to the New York Department of Transportation, after New York City installed some 200 miles of bicycling facilities, ridership increased 66 percent over two years. In July, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that said more bicycle infrastructure leads to more cyclists, which leads to weight loss and better health.