Thursday, June 28, 2012

Great Cycling Cities of the World-And What Dallas can Learn

Great Cycling Cities
Because Bikes are taking over the world!

I recently joined a local online discussion regarding the use of bicycle lanes in the city of Dallas. Although there is much deserved support for this measure in my area, there is another group of cyclists within the cycling community (and I won't mention any names) who think it's best that everyone ride on the streets without the benefit of a bicycle lane. They feel that it is in the best interests of local tax payers to not have bicycle lanes around. They feel that the best answer to the bicycle commuter/motorist dilemma is to educate the cyclist and or motorist about road safety. In my discussions with some of them they have made it a point even to call out most cyclists for being at fault when there is a bicycle related injury or death on the road. They have been present in the same city hall meetings with pro bicycle lane advocates acting as the naysayers, the filibusters and the opposing party even though they should be part of the same team. They too are cyclists and they too would benefit from any measure that would allow more people to want to ride their bicycles on the roads.

I visited Berlin in 2009. Brandenburg Gates at night

The truth is, most if not all great cities are bicycle friendly. Where people yearn to live, there are bicycles present. Mentions of cities such as Paris, Rome,  Berlin, Amsterdam, conjure up romantic backdrops, but in many cases, might also bring to mind a scene of an old building with a bicycle leaned up against it. One can make the argument that most of these cities are hundreds of years old, and the small roads can accommodate bicycles much better than cars. That's one theory. Yet in the U.S, much newer cities are starting to follow the same example and are having excellent results. They have been able to reduce obesity rates in their populations, enjoy a better quality of life, and have become magnets for young professionals as well as the industries that hire them. Their down-towns and city centers provide a vibrant scene after work hours and the city becomes a community rather than a zoned area for business. In total, when a bicycle lane goes through a town or a city, everybody wins. Some of these cities are so well talked about that they are often used as adjectives to describe something's bicycle friendliness.

Cyclist in Portland,  photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Take for example, Portland. The bicycle initiative in Portland has been around for probably less than 20 years. It actually started in the 1990's as a result of the city hitting bottom and being considered one of the worst places to get around if you weren't driving a car during that time. Now Portland has undergone a 360 turn. If a city has bicycle friendly measures, you may now hear the term "Portlandia" when people talk about it. Bicycle fatalities have gone down considerably and cyclists are considered a part of the road rather than a group that doesn't belong.

New York City is another city I wanted to mention. Bloomberg's New York, not Giuliani's. Mayor Bloomberg has done more for the health of New York City than any other mayor in history.  He took New York out of being a city with dark alleys and halted traffic that went nowhere. He has been revitalizing it with bicycle lanes and much safer districts. The Times Square where I was nearly mugged over ten years ago is not the same one today. New York has also enjoyed  having transplants from other states coming in to live there because of it's health initiatives. There is actually a large growing number of Texans moving to New York, can you believe that? Bloomberg has also outlawed the sale of large two liter soda beverages within city limits. Rather than wanting to profit from the beverage giants by imposing a heftier sales tax on them, Bloomberg said "no" altogether to the over consumption of high fructose corn syrup, a chemical ingredient found in almost all processed foods in the United States, which is one of the leading causes of obesity in the nation. Kudos to Mayor Bloomberg, there's a spot waiting for you in Dallas if you get bored of New York.

Mayor Bloomberg oversaw the construction of many bicycle lanes throughout NYC. Courtesy of Ecovelo

Courtesy of New York Daily News.

Like New York, I can mention other cities that have benefited from bicycle lane infrastructure. Seattle, San Diego, San Fransisco, Chicago, and even Asheville in North Carolina which I just wrote my last article about just to name a few.

Now back to Texas. Our neighboring cities to the south of the state are starting to turn heads in dramatic fashion. Austin is leading the path as the most bike friendly city in Texas, with San Antonio taking a strong second place for it's bike sharing program initiative. Let's talk about Austin for one moment. A city with a little bit of everything in it, Austin is known for taking pride in it's uniqueness. "Keep Austin Weird" is the city's slogan which has become internationally recognized. Not only does this city boast miles of bike lanes with more in the works, it is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery Texas has to offer. The Colorado River that runs through the city is a big destination for kayaks and canoes and is known for it's summertime bat watching parties when tens of thousands of bats come out to hunt at dusk. Lake Travis as well as about a hundred miles of mountain bike trails are other outdoor attractions you can find in Austin. It is also the home to professional employers like Apple and Activision. In Austin you will find more small business owners and more entrepreneurs than anywhere else in Texas. It is also home to seven time Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong, who has personally put in a lot of his own efforts to make Austin even more bike friendly.

Lance Armstrong,  cycling advocate for the city of Austin, at his bike shop Mellow Johnny's. Originally posted by Bike Commute Tips Blog.

Now that we've discussed some bicycle friendly cities of the world, let's go back to, ahem, Dallas. Voted worst city for cycling by Bicycle Magazine and The League of American Cyclists. What can Dallas learn from all this? First it needs to get along. There are cyclists of all types in Dallas. There are those who wear spandex and those who don't. Those who ride for sport or recreation need to take a look at those who ride to get their groceries. The age and fitness levels of people who ride bicycles are all over the spectrum. We would like to see a city where 12 years old's as well as 70 year old people are able to get around by bicycle. For that, you need bike lanes. Education is important for bicyclists to be accepted and respected on the roads, but needs to go hand in hand with infrastructure in order to be successful in the end. Once everybody can get along, the Dallas Bike Plan  as well as a statewide safe passing law have got to be taken seriously and given more attention than lip service. These measures need to be aggressive and changes need to start happening soon. This, unlike popular belief, does not have to be financed by tax payer money alone. Dallas has it's own self financing transportation piggy bank called Interstate 90 and the Dallas North Tollway, as well as federal grants available that are designed to encourage this sort of development. It also has millions that have been given to the city by private donors and non-profits alike. Dallas, to put it bluntly, is losing it's educated young people to other states and cities around the world. Some might come back to Dallas for personal reasons or financial hardship, but most will not look back at this place reminiscing if Dallas does not step up it's game soon. I can't and won't at this time walk the Downtown of Dallas at night unless it's to see a Maverick's game, when most police are present. Otherwise it's just an invitation to get mugged or worse in a city that's too quiet for anything good to be happening. Bring in the bicycle lanes, transit oriented development, give Dallas more neighborhood businesses at are open late and maybe I'll change my mind.


  1. Never underestimate the importance of bicycle infrastructure. I couldn't ride my bike to work until bike lanes went in on the major roads in my neighborhood. The traffic was just too heavy. Especially for getting kids and new commuters out there, bike lanes and paths are really important.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. Around the U.S that is the case for most people. Motorists will simply not share the road in most cases until they are told to do so by law or until the road is divided to allow for bicycles.