By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Roberts decided to become the go-to guy in Dallas for the advocacy of bicycle infrastructure after clashing with Summer in spring 2008.
Inside City Hall, Roberts sat down with Summer for the first time. Roberts then knew nothing about the historic rift between vehicular cycling advocates and everybody else, nor that Summer himself was a vehicular cycling advocate. "I'm naïve," Roberts says. "I go in and say, 'We want to have bike lanes put in over in Oak Cliff.'"
Summer told him no way, that bicycle lanes are a bad idea and would never work in Dallas. After the meeting, Roberts entertained the possibility that he could be mistaken about the benefits of bike lanes. After all, what did he know? The only reason he wanted them was because he saw them in other cities. Roberts spoke to others in the cycling advocacy community in Dallas and visited Portland. He learned that Summer "was a Forester."
Around the same time, Dallas City Council members were in Portland and Vancouver learning how those city governments built walkable cities. While city council member Angela Hunt tweeted from Portland how amazing the city was and how much she was learning, on Summer's blog, he was busy teasing her efforts.
On November 1, 2008, Summer wrote that city leaders were blown away by the "number of young neo-urban hipsters hanging out in coffee shops, bookstores and brewpubs" in Portland. The officials, Summer wrote, wanted to know how to emulate that in Dallas and soon found their answer. A planning and design firm in Portland, credited with helping cities across the country build bicycle infrastructure and win bicycle-friendly awards, explained the need for bike paths. Once Portland installed bike lanes, wrote Summer, "the coffee shops, bookstores and brewpubs sprang up, [and] the young (and not so young) neo-urban hipsters soon followed in droves. Portland was revitalized, the Metro and streetcars were running, the coffee and ale flowed, and the streets hummed to the sound of post-modern literature being discussed and to The Decemberists."
That was the final straw for Roberts.
In early November 2008, he launched a blog for Bike Friendly Oak Cliff. In one of his first posts, Roberts decided to call out the divide in the cycling community. In a post titled "Why doesn't Dallas have bike lanes?" Roberts asked readers to reflect on their experiences in other cities, and then he explained why Dallas is different.
Writes Roberts: "So you've probably been on vacation in some über-cool city like Portland or Boulder, and/or overseas to Amsterdam or London, and noticed hundreds of residents, young and old, on bicycles meandering slowly around bike lanes built through the heart of their respective downtowns. Then you hopped on a plane, landed in Dallas and sat in rush-hour traffic, while thinking, 'Where the hell are our bike lanes?' Good question...and a complex one."
Roberts, in the post, goes on to explain how he got involved in bicycle advocacy over the last few months and how much he has learned about that world. Primarily, in every city that has recently installed bike lanes, there's been opposition from this group referred to as vehicular cyclists.
That same day, Summer responded on his own personal blog in a post titled "They want bike lanes in Oak Cliff." Although never referring to the group by name, it was clear who he was talking about, especially when he linked to the BFOC Web site in his post.
Summer accused the "new-urban hipsters" of Oak Cliff of wanting their community to resemble Portland, "the new 'Disneyland's Magic Kingdom' of American communities (where the poor are shipped out of town, and federal subsidized housing is provided for liberal arts majors working at Starbucks... I'm not making this up)." And later in the post: "We have entered the time of the 'pernicious fad' (as John Schubert puts it), where people think you can't ride your bike without first having a bike lane. That's rightly called the Cyclist Inferiority Complex."
Summer was removed that month from his position. Many point to Angela Hunt, who has taken a leading role in bringing the city bicycle lanes, as the person who lobbied the city manager to remove Summer. While she wouldn't admit as much, Hunt didn't deny that she strongly disagreed with Summer.
"All I could tell that the bike plan was," Hunt says, "was a map of on-street bike routes. I couldn't see that it was very visionary or suited to most of the cyclists I know.
"We have to respond to the larger community, and that's going to be to create bicycle infrastructure. The last couple of decades that have been philosophically opposed to any change or improvement to bicycle infrastructure to separate bicycle lanes have proven to be a complete and utter failure," Hunt says, citing the rarity of seeing cyclists on the roads in Dallas.
Hunt says she saw Summer's blog late last year and "found it very condescending of options and antagonistic to bike lanes."
The following month after Summer was removed, the Regional Transportation Council approved $300,000 in funding to update the city's bike plan, which had been largely untouched since 1985. The project would be administered by the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and the city of Dallas would oversee the selected consultant, who would design the new plan, which is expected to be completed in 2010.