“Pedal power for Dallas bicyclists”

June 1st, 2009

Eric Van Steenburg, executive director of the Friends of the Katy Trail, is a sometime contributor to the Dallas Morning News as part of its Community Voices program. His contributions to date have been relatively inane and innocuous. On Friday, however, he crossed the line by penning a disparaging diatribe against bicycle accommodations in the City of Dallas. Almost without exception, his facts were blatant fabrications or misrepresentations of the truth.

Van Steenburg begins his petulance with a glaring misrepresentation

Fort Worth has beaten Dallas to the punch again.

Dallas has had a functioning Bike Plan for over twenty years. With over 600 lane-miles of designated, on-street bike routes, the city is far ahead of Fort Worth in both planning and implementation.

Most, if not all, of the information upon which Van Steenburg bases his commentary originates from articles appearing in the Fort Worth Press. On 13 May, Fort Worth Weekly posted a 1400 word analysis of the “Bike Fort Worth” plan.  A little under two weeks later, the Fort Worth Business Press published a more modest 650 essay on the plan. Given that Fort Worth has stated they will not publicly release details of the plan until later this summer at the earliest, these media reports can be the only source for his information.

[Fort Worth is] starting on a six-year mission to become an official ‘Bicycle Friendly Community.’

Interesting choice of words. The term “Bicycle Friendly Community” refers to an award presented by the League of American Bicyclists to basically reward communities for the installation of bike lanes. There has been legitimate criticism of this program primarily due to its emphasis upon facilities at the expense of education and, more importantly, safety. While they do mention the Fort Worth plan as being “bike-friendly”, nowhere do either publication refer to this LAB program.

It’s time for Dallas to wake up and smell the carbon monoxide.

I guess Van Steenburg missed that day in chemistry. Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas.

The “Bike Fort Worth” plan would triple the amount of bicycle transportation, cut down on the number of bicycle-related accidents by a quarter, and earn the Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists.

This information appears nowhere in either of the Fort Worth publications. The article in Fort Worth Weekly does mention that the “Bike Fort Worth” plan will result in triple the mileage of bike trails. Of course, it also mentions that bike routes would increase six-fold – even so remaining at less than half that of Dallas – and bike lanes would swell 60x. Finally, those are all facilities predictions. No mention is made of the predicted increase in transportation share.

The problem is that cyclists don’t feel safe [with Dallas’] approach [of having cyclists share the streets with motor vehicles], and drivers never accept bikes on “their” roads.

Interesting. That approach has served me well for nearly twenty years. I only encounter occasional instances of non-acceptance. Use of anecdotal hyperbole does little to strengthen Van Steenburg’s argument. It does serve to make him look foolish. In truth, only novice and inexperienced cyclists do not feel safe when operating as a vehicle, due largely to unenlightened exaggerations like these.

Van Steenburg then proceeds to counsel the mayor of Dallas by suggesting he appoint a committee to spearhead a renewal of the Dallas Bike Plan. Three individuals of questionable merit are submitted for consideration. To my knowledge, none are qualified.

Craig Miller is identified as a local morning radio host who apparently lectures both cyclists and motorists on proper operation on the roadways. Offering advice and having real knowledge of the issue involved are two entirely disparate subjects. Pay a visit to the website of his show and one is regaled of his qualification for “hot sports opinions”. It is not opinions which are needed – there are more than enough of those to go around; we need experience and expertise.

Next Van Steenburg offers David Feherty as a prospective member. The only qualification Feherty brings is ineptitude as a bicycle commuter. Again, Van Steenburg’s facts are muddled in his exuberance. Feherty was not “hit while riding around White Rock Lake in 2008.” He was run off the road while riding in the gutter on Park Lane, between Greenville and US75. The trouble is, he appeared on the KERA program THINK (02 October 2008) and as much as admitted he was at faul, because he was riding too far to the right in the mistaken belief he had to share a sub-standard width lane. Obviously, he is not qualified to lead such a committee.

To end the nominations, Van Steenburg trots out George W. Bush. One need look no further than the standing of our country in the eyes of the world and the state of our economy to see this is an irresponsible proposal. Though he may have acquired an enthusiasm for off-road cycling during the past decade, he has no expertise or experience with transportation cycling issues. One can only imagine the damage Bush would do to cycling in North Texas.

Besides, if Fort Worth can do it, why can’t Dallas?

Not only does this interrogative conclude his commentary, it does an excellent job of summarizing his whole argument. The “Bike Fort Worth” plan is just that. It is unfunded, unproven and currently unapproved. There is no guarantee any of it will either see the light of day, much less result in the overly optimistic increases in bicycle ride share proposed. Most importantly, Dallas has already done it. Many of us continue to prove it every day! Visitors compliment both the city and its drivers.

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