Griggs and Hunt: Why Weren't We Told Bike Plan Would Be Hard, Expensive to Carry Out?

Dallas' bike lanes will be painted in gold. OK, maybe not, but they could be quite expensive.
Dallas' bike lanes will be painted in gold. OK, maybe not, but they could be quite expensive.

Turns out, the city's new bike plan, unanimously approved by council in June, is far more complex than drawing lines along the street in patterns deemed good ideas by city consultants. Before we get into the meat of the issue, here are some basic stats to catch you up to speed:

General reactions when council approved the plan: "Cool." "Rad." "We're kinda like Portland, in a good way."

Miles of the plan that have been implemented to date: Zero

Best recent metaphor used to describe the plan: As hopeful and ambitious as the Christmas list of director of Sustainable Development and Construction Theresa O'Donnell's daughter.

How much it'll cost: Exponentially more than expected.

Sources of funding: Um, er.

The 840 miles of on-street bike routes included in the city's Bike Plan would cost nearly $16 million for signage and markings. Granted, it would be implemented gradually, Assistant Director of Street Services Elizabeth Ramirez, said this morning during a presentation to the city's Quality of Life Committee.

Maintenance and upkeep of the entire plan's bike lanes would cost another $3.2 million annually. If that doesn't widen your eyes, consider that the street services budget was $728,000 this year, and that annually fluctuating amount determines how much maintenance is done on all street markings -- which is why some highly trodden crosswalks exist more as theories than real things. Currently, Ramirez said, the city doesn't have enough money to even maintain them and must prioritize crosswalks near schools.

To look at it another way, this is the cost-per-mile of street markings: $871 for run-of-the-mill striping versus $17,400 to add the most basic bike lanes.

But even if Dallas had the money, the city couldn't just go wild painting bike lanes. Lanes along thoroughfares require a public hearing process similar to zoning.

So, bike lanes --- not that cheap, not that easy. But also not impossible.

There are 18 reconstruction projects that either partially or fully include bike lane striping in their costs. Council member Scott Griggs requested that city staff provide a list and timeline detailing these projects. Yep, committee chair Angela Hunt agreed -- and have it by this week.

Hunt was neither pleased nor amused by much that was presented to her today. When the council approved the plan in June, "no staff member jumped up and said, 'Wait, wait, wait, we don't have the funding for that,'" she said.

"Why weren't we told that?" she asked after a second presentation by O'Donnell. Back then, the council had been under the impression that the costs would be small, almost negligible additions to regular maintenance and reconstructions. Basically: If the road painting truck is already rolling around town, what's it matter if it slaps a couple bike graphics and arrows up and down the streets?

As of today's presentation, it's clear that it matters quite a bit.

"There was not funding identified," O'Donnell said. "This was the ideal plan. This was my daughter's Santa Claus list."

Hunt called out to Lee Kleinman, the Park Board member who had been closely involved with the bike plan and who happened to be in the audience. He had her back, agreeing that yes, this was never made clear. Kleinman also made the point that a sizable portion of the bike plan is not located on thoroughfares, and therefore would not need a public approval process for implementation.

O'Donnell presented four implementation options of varying design and permanency.

Griggs questioned why there wasn't a streamlined process developed before the bike plan got to the point of planning both around and despite other coinciding plans. O'Donnell said that's why the bike plan is now being folded into the Complete Streets project to make the streets of Dallas more accessible to pedestrians and bikers.

"I don't want us to go from plan to plan to plan and never implement," Hunt said. "We want to make sure that were breaking down as many barriers for this as possible."

After the meeting, Kleinman told Unfair Park he couldn't understand why there were suddenly so many obstacles. "Why are we not getting a 'we can do this' approach?" he asked. He speculated that since this plan is less glamorous and more practical than things like the Calatrava Bridge and the Trinity plan, perhaps it's more easily overlooked.

No matter, he said, "I think the plan's moving forward." It's just taking much more time than expected.

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