Bicycle Advocates Win a Game of Chicken

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Are they all just fools? Are they spending themselves into the grave? I got on the horn and called some of these bizzaro places that have bike lanes and asked them: Are you just a bunch of lunatics? What is it costing you to put in all these zany bike lanes, and don't you have to hold endless public hearings ad nauseum until the alien life-forms come to harvest your toenails for their starships?

Mike Cynecki, a recently retired traffic engineering supervisor for the city of Phoenix, who was over their bike plan for years, said he estimated the cost of bike lanes somewhere in the neighborhood of zero.

Zip. Goose egg.

Phoenix has 187 miles of marked bike routes, 55 miles of paved and unpaved paths and 222 miles of on-street bike lanes. Obviously the city has to pay to build the separate bike paths, but not the bike lanes, he said.

Cynecki told me Phoenix simply requires by policy that any time a new street is built or an old street is resurfaced, it has to be painted with bike stripes.

Hmm. True, you have to paint it with some kind of stripes. Why not bike lane stripes? Cynecki said in Phoenix painting the bike stripes is just considered part of the cost of building and maintaining the street anyway.

"All of the standard [design requirements] for our surface streets now include on-street bike lanes for new streets, so a developer coming in would build that."

Of course, at first that would produce a patchwork, but urban streets need to be resurfaced every four years. "At some time in the future the city would come by and build the matching section," Cynecki told me.

He said you also have to maintain the street anyway. So how much more does it cost to maintain the street because there are bikes on it? Do bikes wear out the street more than cars do? Cynecki said no.

"We never had a separate budget item that was meant for bike-lane maintenance," Cynecki told me.

I talked to another Arizona guy, Reed Kempton, a senior traffic planner for the city of Scottsdale, who gave me some detail on how they have created their 124 miles of marked bike lanes. Basically they did what Phoenix did: They just wrote bike lanes into the street design.

"If you are not moving any curbs, it really is not very expensive," he said. "You still have a centerline. You still have your travel lane markings, and typically you will put down an edge-line, so that people can see the white line before they hit the curb and gutter.

"So it's simply a matter of how far that outside line goes away from the curb and gutter. We put it four and a half feet out, so it becomes a bike lane."

Voila! Free bike lane. Almost. You still have to put little bike symbols in the pavement and some signs along the curb. According to my own research, the Dallas bike plan seems to call for way more bike symbols and signs than what's currently required in the standards of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and also seems to price the bike symbols at almost five times the going rate. But even at that, Kempton said, little bike-symbol pavement markings shouldn't stop you cold.

"If you do a two or three million dollar project," he said, "the cost of pavement markings is pretty insignificant."

Now, that's in America. What about here in Texas? I talked to Preston Tyree, a retired chemical engineer and former education director for the League of American Bicyclists. The league is in Washington, D.C., but Tyree lives in Austin, a city that has completed almost a third of a 750-mile bike lane plan.

Tyree told me Austin has done it the same way the Arizona cities did, by writing bike lanes into the required city street design.

"You don't have to spend all that money," he said. "You say, 'I'm not going to do anything unless I'm already repaving that road.' And, yes, you wind up with funny little pieces, but eventually it all gets together, and over time it works."

By the way, one thing struck me as he was speaking. O'Donnell told the Dallas council committee any new bike lanes would require public hearings because they would conflict with the city's thoroughfare plan, and any time something conflicts with the thoroughfare plan you have to hold a hearing.

So what about changing the thoroughfare plan? You know, putting bike lanes into street designs in the thoroughfare plan like all these other cities have done? Then there's no conflict. Problem solved? Just a thought.

But here's the great thing. All this stuff I was finding out for the first time by doing my reporting was already well known to people like Jason Roberts of Bike Friendly Dallas, city council member Scott Griggs of Oak Cliff and council member Angela Hunt of East Dallas.

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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