Schutze

Bicycle Advocates Win a Game of Chicken

City Hall starts off last week giving one of its typical bureaucratic blow-offs to plans for bike lanes throughout the city. At a briefing before a city council committee, staff experts tell the council members that bike lanes would be hugely expensive. Sorta can't be done. Big legal headache. Maybe just forget about it.

By the end of the week — barely days later — City Hall is already backing down. Now they're saying it can be done and, by God, they're gonna do it. Maybe.

Hey, that may not sound like major action to you, and I'm not calling it an earthquake, but it's definitely a tremor. It's a very interesting tremor.

The bike plan now is the emblematic, frontline, eyeball-to-eyeball standoff between the old Big-Hair Tail-Fins Dallas and the new Gen X Thirtysomething Back-to-the-City Dallas.

Don't look now, but Big-Hair just blinked.

It's a blink demonstrating something very exciting. It means this city is getting smarter. It will be cooler. Dallas will become a much better place to live, and this is all about how it's happening.

Dallas now is almost alone among major American cities for having zero miles of marked bike lanes. Last June, the council unanimously adopted a plan calling for 840 miles of bike lanes all over the city, but last week a top city official told the council committee that painting bike lanes on city streets would cost $16 million, would take many years and involve endless public hearings and neighborhood battles.

Theresa O'Donnell, director of the Department of Helping Developers (not its real name) told the council's Quality of Life Committee (its real name) that City Hall has no money to pay for the plan. In so saying she sort of made fun of them all.

"There was not funding identified [when the plan was adopted six months ago]," she said. "It was not a fiscally constrained plan."

So it was what? A fiscally just-flopping-around-out-there-loose plan? That's kind of what she said. "This was the ideal plan," she said. "This was my daughter's Santa Claus list."

Oh, ouch! That's kind of like telling the committee to grow up. But, listen, the PowerPoint presentation she gave them was an even worse beat-down.

The committee had been especially interested in bike lanes for Fort Worth Avenue in Oak Cliff, particularly the end of the street nearest the river, because a lot of hip new-urban redevelopment is happening there. If we're tearing up Fort Worth Avenue, rebuilding and restriping it anyway, why not paint on some bike lanes?

According to O'Donnell's PowerPoint, painting bike lanes on that 1.29-mile stretch of Fort Worth Avenue would cost $32,000. But then, because of various legal issues involving the city's thoroughfare plan, you'd have to scrape all of that off 180 days later and repaint. Really. The scraping off and repainting would cost another $30,000.

Then you'd have to hold a series of public hearings and legal reviews to see if you could paint the bike lanes back on again permanently. Really. Unsure how much the hearings would cost, but not free.

Then, if the hearings went OK, you could paint the bike lane stuff back on for another $32,000, but it might be more, because of course you'd have to pay to scrape off the other new paint you just put on, really.

The PowerPoint said you'd have to redo the bike stripes every four years at a cost of $29,000, and you might have to do special sweeping and maintenance on an ongoing basis.

So anyway, you'd be up around $100,000 right off the bat, more money not too much later and who knows how many years it would take to get it all done? And who knows what outcome you would find yourself stuck with after opening the whole thing up to neighborhood politics on a block-by-block basis? Seems less like a bike plan than a communist plot to give the city a nervous breakdown.

I did a little quick jotting. According to the Fort Worth Avenue scenario painted by O'Donnell, the total tab for 840 miles would come out somewhere between $65 million and a kabillion dollars, and the plan wouldn't be completed until after our planet has been invaded by alien life-forms who need our hair and toenail clippings to power their starships, so who needs a bike plan then anyway?

Wow. That's just terrible! Terrible! No wonder there are no bike lanes anywhere in America! No wonder no one has ever even heard of a bike lane in America! Oh, wait! That's not true, is it?

New York City has doubled its bike lanes to 400 miles in the last five years. Boulder, Colorado, has rendered 95 percent of the streets in the whole city "bike-friendly." Chicago has 12,000 public bike racks and 141 miles of bike lanes.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze