Ten minutes before the 5 o'clock kick-off of last night's 2011 Dallas Bike Plan Open House, there were already some 100 folks milling about City Hall's 6th Floor Flag Room. And by the time officials busted out the PowerPoint at 6, all but a handful of the seats in the 265-max-capacity council chambers were filled. But given the constant debate surrounding the subject of cycling 'round town, the turnout was no surprise. Cyclists and motorists alike want to know what the city -- not to mention North Central Texas Council of Governments and Toole Design Group -- intend to do about making all of their lives easier, better, safer.
To which Toole's senior designer, Peter Lagerwey -- who lead the presentation and Q&A portion of the event -- responded, more or less: Well, what do you want? A simple question with no easy answers, as you'll soon see.
The sprawling project will be fueled by a cocktail of local, state and federal dollars, as well as some cash from donors. And last night Dallas taxpayers -- cyclists and motorists alike -- had the chance to give all sorts of feedback on where their tax dollars would go as Dallas pedals forward on a path toward becoming more "bike-friendly."
Everyone seemed to be pleased and encouraged by the turnout. "That's an easy one," Mayor Tom Leppert said when Unfair Park asked him about the standing-room-only crowd. "I think it's terrific." Council member Angela Hunt said she was "pleased and encouraged" by the showing, as were all of the cycling enthusiasts with whom we spoke. Max Kalhammer, the city's bike coordinator, told us at night's end that he was rejuvenated by the turnout. Even said it had "moved him."
"It's not like I didn't have a lot of motivation before," he said. "But, personally, I'm more inspired now -- even more than yesterday."
As cyclists started filling up the special parking set up for the event, the first hour of the event was pretty standard open-house kinda stuff -- only much more interactive and intuitive as attendees walked through the various "listening stations."
On tables and easels scattered at various stations in the Flag Room, attendees were given the chance to submit written and verbal questions and comments on a wide range of cycle-centered topics.
At the "Tinker Streets" station, folks had the chance to use magnetic cars, pedestrians, trolleys and cyclists on a game board to create their "ideal street." Then, as the instructions handed out by the city of Dallas and the NCTCG explained: "We'll take a picture to capture your vision." One station was devoted to education materials, like safety, fitness, etc., and another had a transit map, where folks could sound off about where new access is needed.
And, in the center of the room, for the "Map of Dallas" station there were five tables with maps and plenty of pens and highlighters (the city was divided into four quadrants, with another map devoted to downtown). Attendees were invited to write directly on the maps, providing feedback on everything from where they'd like to see bike lanes or bike boulevards to where there are barriers to cycling.
Then at 6, it was time for the presentation portion of the festivities. The whole first 15 minutes were spent as Kalhammer and others introduced, and thanked, the folks who'd already been working on the plan over "the last few months." Then they took a minute to introduce some of the government officials in attendance, including Hunt and Sheffie Kadane, both co-chairs on Bike Plan committees. (Linda Koop, Ann Margolin and Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway were given shout-outs as well.)
Next, it was time for the presentation conducted by Toole's senior designer, Peter Lagerwey. According to Toole's Web site, Lagerwey has spent 25 years managing "high profile pedestrian and bicycle projects and programs with the City of Seattle and as a private consultant." He's the guy behind the much-lauded Seattle Bicycle Master Plan.
He told the crowd that the plans that Toole puts together "get implemented." Why so? "Because we listen!" Lagerwey said enthusiastically, stressing that the whole reason for the open house was to listen to Dallas. "We invited you here because we want to listen before we put pen to paper."
The general idea behind Dallas rewriting its dusty 1985 Bike Plan is that, today, safety concerns and things like route restrictions and barriers keep many folks from cycling, and, say, commuting to work everyday. The thought is that bike lanes and these other "bike friendly" measures reduce traffic -- and help fight obesity -- as the lane designations create safer environment that encourages people to ride to work, school and play.
But all those and the environmental reasons aside, Lagerwey said the main reason to bike was because it was "fun." As in: "When it all comes down to it, it's just a lot of fun."
And Lagerwey certainly seemed to be having fun as he clicked through dozens of photos illustrating various improvements and possible options such as bike lanes, signs and boulevards, with photographic examples from areas as diverse as Seattle and Holland. Lagerwey pointed out that the examples were from all over the world, because, well, no one city has it all right. Yet.
He stressed the importance of getting bridges right. ("If you get a bridge wrong, it's a mistake that will last two or three generations.") Lagerwey also said that mass bike events and rides (like the Tweed Rides and others that Bike Friendly Oak Cliff put on) are "absolutely critical."
Why the June 30 cut-off? Well, Toole explained to the crowd, he and city staff will then start putting that information together with the feedback received from last night's open house. The next step, Lagerwey, said will be to examine some 400 miles of Dallas's streets and then come up with the "Draft Plan." At that point, there will be another open house with similar listening stations. Then, he said, they'll examine the new round of feedback before coming up with the "Final Plan."
After the presentation, Lagerwey opened the floor up for a brief Q&A. Attendees asked questions about everything from motorist and cyclist education to speed limit issues on congested streets. (But since these people weren't handed microphones, it was all but impossible for the audience to hear the questions.)
After the Q&A, Lagerwey told Unfair Park that he was "very impressed" with Dallas's cycling community. "What's really telling about a city is the questions you get," he told us. "They knew the topic, and there was a depth to the questions that you don't always find."
And, as impressed as he was with Dallas cyclists and attendees, many in the cycling community said they liked Lagerwey and his ideas.
Mike Walker said he thought the presentation marked "a good start" in the process. Walker biked (and road DART) on his way to the open house. He stood in front of the "Goals and Objectives" station armed with his sticker sheet of four red dots. He uses one sticker for Complete Streets and another for access to transit. He left pleased, saying, "We heard a lot of good ideas tonight."
Jason Roberts, founder of Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, agreed. "[Lagerwey] brought up some really good parts of what other cities are already doing," he told us after the presentation. Roberts also said he liked that the open house was more interactive and easier to give feedback than typical town hall-style meetings.
And, just before the 8, when the event was scheduled to end, based on the inked-up maps and those red dots sit was clear that Dallas's top concerns were: connectivity (defined as a "plan [that] creates a baseline for a regionally interconnected bikeway system (seamless system)")];education for both motorists and cyclists; better routes to major destinations; and, you guessed it, Complete Streets. Specifically, the poster said: "Institute a Complete streets policy to ensure that projects and programs accommodate bicyclists, transit, motor vehicles and pedestrians of all ages and abilities, as appropriate."
Jonathan Braddick, a vocal Cliffdweller and cycling advocate, said, "I really like [Lagerwey], I think he gets it." And after hearing the presentation, and the way Lagerwey handled the Q-and-A portion, Braddick said he'd gone "from hopeful to excited" about the new plan.
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