Aug 29, 2008

An Open Letter to Andy Clarke, LAB, and LCIs.

August 28, 2008

Andy Clarke

Executive Director

League of American Bicyclists

Dear Andy, et al,

I couldn’t help but read your rather uninformed and misleading comments about cycling in Dallas on the LCI forum. What I believe you meant to say was that Dallas doesn’t employ bike lanes, and is therefore bicycle unfriendly (by your criteria). A point-by-point refutation of your comments would be pointless (I already did that with the fact-deprived Bicycling Magazine piece I now suspect you may have contributed to), but I will endeavor to counter your uninformed opinions with facts.

Our trip mode share for bicycle/pedestrians is as high as 12% in the core of the city (not just the downtown area with its high ped rates, but in the close-in residential areas). The mode share for the suburban communities north of Dallas is closer to 1%. Not much Dallas can do about that… these towns seem to resent us trying to tell them what to do.

For the city proper, our trip mode share for bicycles and pedestrians equals or exceeds that of our light rail and bus public transportation system (neither as high as I’d like to see, but with the lowest population density of any MSA in the nation, I’m pleased we’ve had some success).

Did I fail to mention the lack of a major public or private university in my fair city, and the automatic bump of 10,000 – 75,000 potential part-time cyclists that a university automatically brings? Take Oregon State University out of Corvallis, and tell me what you’d see. Take the University of Wisconsin out of Madison and look at the results. Unmentioned by anyone is the dismal rate of continuing cycling activity of college and university students nursed on bike-lane systems once they enter the mainstream, either because it never “takes”, or because they take the “cyclist inferiority complex” bike-lane systems engender to heart.

The “June of Death” horror stories that garnered so much attention for Dallas cover a 12 county region the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined (plus some), with almost 5 million people, over roughly an eight week period. Two cyclists’ deaths were on a rural road when a speeding SUV driven by a DUI hit them early on a Sunday morning. Another teenage cyclist died in a suburb of unclear causes (beyond being hit by a car). Another “cyclist’ died in another county when her mother backed over her in the driveway of their home. That was it. No cyclist deaths in the City of Dallas, btw. There were a few non-fatal collisions as well (including one very serious on within the city), as there always are in the late spring, and always will be. Rumors, exaggerations, and (quite frankly) fear-mongering spread like wildfire, in large part because of Bike DFW innocently basking in the always anti-cycling media’s warm glow (“if it bleeds, it leads”) in what I feel was their misguided attempt to draw attention to the needs of cyclists.

Statistically, there was no outbreak of deaths or injuries outside of the national norm, just as the rate of cycling is consistent with the land use patterns. Some of the cyclists you must have talked to in this area, the loudest complainers, are the very ones responsible for several bike bans in rural communities due to their Saturday and Sunday morning mass training rides that flagrantly break traffic laws, and block intersections, causing all cyclists to suffer due to their selfish and boorish behaviors. And then they complain.

Is everything perfect here? Hardly, especially not in the far northern suburbs. But neither is it anyplace else, either. Is Dallas “bicycle unfriendly, with no place to ride, and no one riding” as you said? Absolutely untrue.

The City of Dallas has:

The nation’s largest bicycle commuter system based upon the principals of Vehicular Cycling, guided in its conception by Effective Cycling adherents, and EC Certified Instructors.

800 lane miles of signed, cyclist selected bike routes -- 700 miles of which are on low volume local streets -- that will easily convey a competent cyclist anywhere in town.

30 lane miles of thoroughfares with wide outside lanes.

All parallel drain grates removed on over 3500 miles of city streets and replaced with bicycle friendly grate designs (a seemingly small, yet very expensive, and very important, project solely for the benefit of bicycle transportation).

Special attention paid to adjusting signal detectors to find the “sweet spot” that allows bicycles to be detected without false triggers of passing perpendicular traffic.

50 lanes miles of streets on the inventory needs list to get WOLs when the streets are reconstructed (ever try widening a street in an historic district? Or taking away a business or homeowners parking?).

If MUPs are your thing, Dallas has 100 miles of paved trails, 35 of which serve a viable transportation function. Another 75 miles of 12’ wide concrete trails are either under construction, in design, or fully funded waiting for funds availability (tied to budget years).

You may view the commuter route system here, in operation since 1985.

Frankly, I’m very disappointed in both you and LAB. Your comments aren’t just directed at the City of Dallas. Ultimately, your comments are directed at the very concept of Vehicular Cycling, and the core principals that the League was founded upon.

Sincerely yours,

PM Summer

ECI (and former LCI) #349