Volunteers Add Some Pizzazz to Pioneering Downtown Bike Lane

Dallas came out to paint the streets.
Dallas came out to paint the streets. Lucas Manfield

On Friday, organizers from the city and several nonprofits met with a dozen volunteers outside the Dallas Farmers Market. They were there to inaugurate the city's newest civic enhancement: its "first-ever protected micro-mobility facility," as it's been referred to by planners.

In other words, a bike lane — which now needed a coat of paint. Everyone grabbed rollers, donned utility vests and got to work.

To be fair, this is no ordinary bike lane. This was obvious even before the crew began laying painters tape down in appealing geometric patterns on the faded pavement. Parking spaces have been shifted into the roadway, and the bike lane is shielded by bollards. It is the first protected bike lane in downtown Dallas, and its planners hope it will transform how residents use the street.

It's also a major milestone in a years-long campaign by local nonprofits and city officials to reimagine the mile-long section of roadway, beginning on Harwood Street and eventually stretching all the way to Klyde Warren Park.

"We got plants coming in — those are like the cherry on top — but to me this was the icing on the cake," said Sherman Livingston, a transportation engineer for the city who designed the lanes and was now rolling up his sleeves to come help out. "This is my baby."

Organizers couldn't have picked a better day.

"It's been fun. The weather's been perfect. I guess we got lucky today; people showed up," said one of the street painters, Taylor Blessing.

"For me, it was just kind of a frustration of, Why aren't we doing the things that you see around the world?" — Jason Roberts, Better Block

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The design — adjoining triangles in alternating hues of green — was chosen to evoke nature, said Jason Roberts, the founder of Better Block, a nonprofit that helps cities revamp their public spaces. He took a break from paint rolling to share his enthusiasm for the project. Roberts grew up in Garland. He founded Better Block over a decade ago after traveling the world.

"For me, it was just kind of a frustration of, Why aren't we doing the things that you see around the world?" he said.

When Roberts came back to Dallas, he began replicating what he saw in Europe and Mexico. Like urban planners everywhere, he thinks replacing traffic lanes with protected bike lanes, greenery and pedestrian plazas will encourage more people to ditch their cars and ultimately be happier.

"There's a lot of psychological things that we're doing wrong here that makes it less compelling to actually want to traverse through this space," he said.

When he first started, Roberts launched his attacks on poor urban design using guerrilla techniques.

"Our early projects were all illegal," he said. "And then we printed off the laws and rules we were breaking and put them in the windows and invited the city staff out and said, 'Come out to a better block!'"

Since then, he's worked with cities across the country, including Detroit and Charlotte, North Carolina. And now, thanks to enthusiastic support from top city officials, Dallas.

That support has not always been consistent. The city hasn't been focused on bike infrastructure, he said. But now he feels like he's making progress. Roberts pointed to the bike lane's "neck down," a striped section of roadway that extended the sidewalk out, past a line of parked cars, into the street. He walked out, crossed the street, and, in a quick game of Frogger, came back.

"I only had to cross 22 feet. Now, before this bike lane existed, you crossed, curb to curb, 50 feet of traffic," he said.

The Bike Harwood Project, with support from Downtown Dallas Inc., is reaching the end of its first phase. The second phase, an extension onward to Klyde Warren Park, is in the works.

As the afternoon waned, the crew reflected on their accomplishment.

"This portion, from I-30 to Marilla, is like the gateway to the downtown," Livingston said. "Once you come in, you get this nice vibe, you feel welcome."
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Lucas Manfield is an editorial fellow at the Observer. He's a former software developer and a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
Contact: Lucas Manfield