BPAC Meeting, 200906

June 18th, 2009

As noted a week ago, the inaugural meeting of the restructured, regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee convened for the first time, yesterday. For those desiring an overview of the history and additional comments, please read my earlier summary or visit this link at Cycle*Dallas.

Prior to the beginning of the meeting proper, COG staff arranged for those interested to participate in a web-based seminar (note: I refuse to use the idiotic term webinar) on developing a Bicycle Master Plan. Initiation was delayed due to technical difficulties and, once resolved, we joined the session in progress.

The featured speaker was Peter Lagerwey, instructor with the National Center for Bicycling and Walking. Sponsored by the Association for Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, “Bicycle Master Plans” provided an overview of what municipalities and transportation districts should consider when creating a BMP. Without going into to much detail, here are some interesting points to mention.

  • Under the section entitled “Create a BAC” in part I, special note is made that any Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) should include a wide variety of cyclists with varying degrees of experience. Evidently, COG did not participate in this seminar prior to restructuring the BPTTF, as they have all but excluded the beneficiaries of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure from the BPAC (see below and earlier commentary.
  • Under the section entitled “Objectives to support goals”, the presenter suggested the installation of at least twenty (20) miles of bike lanes, per year, for ten years will show the general public the project is progressing as desired.
  • Under a section entitled “A Bicycle Facility Network for Everyone” and admittedly added in hindsight, the inclusiveness principle highlighted above was reiterated with a comment the audience should be identified and representatives included at all stages of the process.
  • Toward the end of the presentation mention was made that “paint is your friend … put some of that down and there you go”; followed by “always be putting product on the ground …to show you are successful.” With comments like this, engineers will be laying something on the ground, alright.

A series of resources from this seminar is included with meeting documents at the NCTCOG website.

The BPAC meeting commenced pretty much on time, but immediately got off track when the agenda was modified. Introductions were initially scheduled to consume five minutes. However, the moderator, Karla Weaver, decided she wanted everyone in the room to introduce themselves and identify their affiliation. The additional seven to ten minutes lost were never recouped.

Attendance was among the most bountiful I have seen for a BPTTF/BPAC meeting in quite some time. While the room was not packed, it was more than three-fifths filled. There were a few familiar faces and a bevy of new ones. Notably missing were representatives from some regional advocacy groups. Present were two individuals from BikeDFW, one from DORBA, one from Lockheed Martin Recreation Association and one from Pegasus Flyers. Meanwhile, Greater Dallas Bicyclists, Friends of the Katy Trail, Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, Texas Trails Network and Texas Bicycle Coalition were all MIA.

A decent summary of meeting activity can be found in a post over at Cycle*Dallas. Thus I will not repeat that information here. Instead I will offer some comments and observations.

Several revisions to the committee composition have taken place since distribution of the last draft in January. The number of “potential members” has been shaved from 55 members to 49 members. That seems like a good change.  The seven “transportation providers” has been reduced to six; the thirty-six STTC Cities have been reduced to thirty-four (sorry Euless and North Richland Hills); and the number of STTC Counties remained unchanged at nine. Perhaps most notable was the fact the four Regional Focus Groups had been sliced from the committee structure altogether; removing any and all advocacy groups from official representation. They have now all been reclassified as “interested parties”. Don’t despair, though; “Interested Parties” are now “partners” and are “no less important”. Yeah, they just can’t vote and have no permanent seat at the table.

During the Regional Veloweb Update, the group was provided an update regarding progress of this recreational boondoggle. Following over a decade of work, only 200 of a planned 644 miles have been built or funded. The design speed is rated at 25mph. (I guess no one has ever attempted to use The Katy Trail as a commute route) Comments from earlier public meetings have been compiled and evaluated; additional public meetings for comments leading to final plan approval will take place this summer.

I will skip comment on the 2009 Sustainable Development Call For Projects (CFP), as this does not apply directly to bicycle transportation directly. The existing roadways are entirely sufficient for any support of vehicular cycling. Anything else is simply recreation or segregation.

The balance of the meeting was consumed with three show-and-tell presentations by the newly minted Chair and Vice-Chair.

Don Koski kicked things off with an overview of “Sidewalk Survey and ADA Pedestrian Curb Ramp Study”. Results indicated there is a need for 457 miles of sidewalks and 330 ADA ramp installations at estimated costs of $41,856,210 and $1,014,500, respectively. Despite Steve’s interpretation that “[Fort Worth] now considers 5 feet the minimum width for a sidewalk along an arterial/collector road”, that is only a recommendation and is unfunded according to the survey. Their “next steps” are to “develop a work plan” and “seek partnership and funding opportunities”. Basically, don’t look for anything anytime soon.

Koski next provided an overview of “A Comprehensive Bicycle Transportation Plan [for the] City of Fort Worth”. Several photos throughout the presentation illustrated egregious examples of poorly implemented bike planning. One showed a door zone bike lane; another a cyclist riding between the fog line and the curb face. Actually, it could very well have been an eighteen inch bike lane. All but one or two appeared to be stock photos. One would think Fort Worth would make an effort to at least stage photos from around the city to promote their plan. Steve mentioned “the bullet about 295 miles of bike lanes by 2020 flashed out” at him. That did not strike me as jumping out so much as the notations that a) all of their funding is based upon 2008 dollars and b) maintenance costs are not included in the estimated financial burden. One final disappointment was Koski’s emphasis on the importance of “complete streets”.

It bears reiteration that all this talk of the Bike Fort Worth plan is both unfunded and unapproved. Many changes may exist down the road and there is no guarantee any of this will come to light – especially under the current economic climate. ‘Tis all much ado about nothing until approved  by the City Council and funded.

A comment from Paul Hakes (DORBA) after the presentation highlighted the propensity for bike lanes to become filled with debris and hazards. He then asked what would be done to ensure clear lanes. Koski simply stated his department had been conversing with Streets to ensure that would not be the case.

Another question came from Gordon Sander (Pegasus Flyers). He wanted to know how ordinances would be changed to legally accommodate inline skaters’ use of bike lanes, since they are now classified as toy vehicles. The response from the moderators was that this subject had never been considered. (This is actually a state issue. He will need to lobby the Legislature to revise the Transportation Code.)

Renée Burke-Jordan followed Koski and provided an overview of the “Plano Bicycle Transportation System”. Hers was at once slightly more encouraging and disappointing. Encouragement came from the standpoint that bike lanes were not mentioned at all. She illustrated plans to make use of sharrows to help guide cyclists with proper positioning on the roadway and educate motorists about the presence of these alternative vehicles.

The primary disappointment was the glacial pace at which Plano appears to be implementing its plan. Burke-Jordan showed three revisions through time. The first was dated 1985, another 2001 and the last 2009. I am not sure she intended this impression, but, in commenting on the final plan, she suggested there were still five revisions to the map in store. If it has taken twenty-four years to get through three revisions, one can only imagine how long the remaining five will take. She also mentioned that, of all the designated bike routes which exist on paper, only three of them have actually had signage installed. No explanation was offered as to why, but she indicated her group was working on resolving that deficit.

Overall, the presentations by the Chair and Vice-Chair left much to be desired. There was little in the way of inspiration conveyed to the audience. As Steve stated, it was pretty sterile and ho-hum. Status quo, unfortunately, in terms of BPTTF meetings of the past.

Following the presentations, Bill Hammond (BikeDFW) asked about resources the COG or BPAC might generate to help novice cyclists determine routes to commute between home and work. Furtive glances ensued among COG staff and the executive officers. Ultimately, no satisfactory response was forthcoming. Burke-Jordan quipped that following the five remaining revisions something would be available on the Plano website. Deborah Humphreys suggested using “BikeMap” (though there was no designation as to .org, .net or their own internal resource) to derive possible routes.

Of course the best resource for those residing in Dallas is the online version of the Dallas Bike Plan.

One Yahoo (whose name and affiliation I did not catch) wanted to know if ordinances would be changed to allow cyclists to perform rolling stops at traffic control devices so as to maintain momentum. The moderators responded, correctly, that all vehicles would be required to follow the rules of the road.

The final presentation ran right up to the designated 16:30 end of the meeting. Various individuals began leaving as soon as 16:25 and fully half had skipped out by 16:35. (This is a pet peeve of mine. It is especially aggravating at the opera and symphony. If you come, be prepared to stay until the end or do not come at all.) In keeping with past committee practice, the overpacked agenda left little time for questions or discussion; the belabored introductions did not help with this shortcoming. Karla Weaver mused with respect to the tight agenda, “maybe there will be a little more time on the agenda [in the future]; there was so much this time.”

Yeah, maybe.

The future of the BPAC is an open book. There was similar enthusiasm in the early years of the BPTTF. As time went on, meeting attendance diminished considerably. Unless COG staff can create a compelling agenda for each meeting and an overall, longterm plan of relevance, I see this group following the same path. Representatives will attend only when it serves their best interests to do so. Pedestrian and bicycle transportation issues are simply not a high priority for most governments in North Texas. They will certainly give it lip service, but little more.

Stay tuned for more information. Future meetings in 2009 have been slated for 14:00- 15:30 on 19 August and 21 October.

Carnage

June 16th, 2009

Around a week ago, a local news item appeared on the website of NBC-DFW publicizing the traits of “Safe Passing” legislation awaiting the Texas Governor’s signature. Within this blurb, a statement was made suggesting this Bill would “curb the increasing number of bicycle injuries on North Texas streets.” This seemed an odd comment given the fact that, to my knowledge, no recently publicized reports or studies had come to this conclusion. I criticized this and other aspects of the post and, given the apparent authority in the context, I decided to do a little investigation.

Much to my surprise, I discovered there is no readily available source for information regarding injury rates. An inquiry to the county injury prevention center at the Dallas County Hospital District revealed there had never been a request to produce a summary such as this. That perplexed me, since, in order to come to the conclusion reached by the NBC-DFW reporter, Holly Lafon, one would have to request this information. Being the ever curious scientist, I initiated a request for the data required to derive these numbers and will post the results, should they be forthcoming, at a later date.

In the meantime, I thought I would take a look at a somewhat more critical data set: fatality rates.

The primary repository is the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) Encyclopedia of the NHTSA. FARS is a freely available resource containing data on all vehicle crashes that occur on a public roadway and involve a fatality in the US. Though far from perfect in its accounting methodology, this database is a useful tool for gaining insight into the numbers of vehicle deaths.

Methodology

Data for this analysis is derived from the FARS database. For the purposes of this overview, no attempt was made to carve out only those numbers relevant only to adult cyclists riding a bicycle for utility or transportation. Therefore, both children and fatalities falling under the somewhat ambiguous designation of “Other Cyclists” are also included. Since this practice was preserved across all surveyed data sets, not refining the focus should have little bearing on the overall point of the discussion.

The primary focus of research was the greater DFW metropolitan region. Since the majority of transportation cyclists live in either Dallas or Tarrant County, surveys were restricted to those geographic data subsets, rather than all of North Texas – which, according to NCTCOG, comprises a sixteen county region.

Much is made of the safety benefits of bike lanes and other protectionist facilities. Accordingly, surveys were also made of three other large cities in Texas: Austin, Houston and San Antonio. Austin and Houston are often cited as exemplary for their encouragement of bicycle commuting through installation of bike lanes. Though more fragmented and sometimes criticized, San Antonio also makes use of the s facilities to promote safe cycling.

Finally, fatality and injury figures were surveyed for Portland, Oregon. Though differing greatly in climate, population, population density and cultural philosophy, this city is often held up as the goal to which all other cities should aspire.

Results

The FARS data, at the time of this survey, spans the years 1994 through 2007. Fatality totals were mined for the entire state of Texas and each of the target municipalities during each of these fourteen years. The statewide total was used as the base by which to compare the numbers for each of the cities analyzed.

fatalities, Dallas

fatalities, Dallas

Though the total number of fatalities in the state fluctuates widely, traffic related deaths in Dallas County are relatively stable. With the exceptions of 1997 and 2004, rates hover between one and three fatal interactions per year.

fatality rates, DFW

fatality rates, DFW

Again, with few exceptions, the numbers of fatalities are just about equal between both Dallas and Fort Worth. A couple of anomalies exist in 1995 and 1997, when Fort Worth and Dallas, respectively, had higher than average numbers of deaths.

Despite the assertions by some Fort Worth bicycle advocates, Dallas’ neighbor to the west affords little advantage in terms of safety to transportation cyclists.

fatality rates in major Texas cities

fatality rates in major Texas cities

Interesting results begin to appear when Austin, Houston and San Antonio are added to the mix. Most apparent is the high volume of deaths in Houston as compared to the other cities. With the exception of 2004 and 2006, Houston weighs in with fatality numbers equal to or exceeding all other surveyed municipalities combined.

fatality rate comparison

fatality rate comparison

Despite numerous arguments from cyclists from the state capitol, the numbers do not lie: Dallas and Austin have almost identical fatality rates. Exceptions oscillate back and forth. In 2001 and 2002, Austin had significantly higher rates of cyclist deaths than Dallas. Conversely, 1997, 2003 and 2004 were bad years for North Texas. Notable is the lack of any reported fatalities for Austin in ether 1997 or 2003.

Twelve years of bike lanes in Austin has apparently made little difference when it comes to fatality rates.

fatality rate comparison

fatality rate comparison

Facilities proponents like to point to Portland as a bicycling nirvana. Their liberal use of segregated facilities and experimental enhancements certainly keep them in the limelight. Though they flaunt a high bicycle ride share rate, which they attribute to their infrastructure, this has done little to lower the rate of fatalities.

Apologists like to highlight the decreasing proportion of fatalities to overall ridership numbers. However, they fail to produce anything other than anecdotal evidence to support their totals and the fatalities speak for themselves. Germane to this discussion is the fact that average fatality rates for Dallas and Portland are almost equal at 3.00 and 3.07, respectively.

Note: The totals for 2008 are unverified. Bike Portland has claimed there were zero fatalities for 2008. Meanwhile, the six deaths indicated for Dallas derive from published news items appearing in the Dallas Morning News. Confirmation will require awaiting the release of 2008 FARS data later in the year.

graph_06-FARS

In terms of fatality rates, the data presented in this survey has proven there is no trend, up or down, in any of the municipal areas surveyed. Averaging the numbers from all years reveals, with the exception of Houston, there is very little difference in bicycle transportation related deaths within any of the cities. This is important to note, since many facilities advocates suggest that segregated bike lanes enhance safety. These data prove otherwise.

Discussion

A few will argue that this information compares apples to oranges in terms of refuting the NBC-DFW piece. That author cited increasing injury rates, while I compared fatality rates. One could argue that the one is reflective of the other, if, all things being equal, fatality rates are a consistent subset of overall rates of injury. However, in the absence of empirical evidence to corroborate that belief, it would be disingenuous to draw such a conclusion.

By focusing on fatality rates, this survey has succeeded in refuting one aspect of the safety argument. If one assumes mortality to be an equal gauge of safety as injury rates, then the presence or absence of bike lanes has little effect on survivability. Annual death rates attributable to bicycle/motor vehicle collisions are relatively consistent within a given region through time. Though one can certainly appreciate occasional fluctuations, the overall rates remain the same.

Facilities proponents need to understand that it does nothing to further their cause when resorting to the use of hyperbole and hearsay to justify their beliefs. If the arguments in favor of bike lanes and paternalistic legislation must rely upon innuendo then there is a flaw in the premise.

revision log:
20090619 – added a paragraph to the section on Methodology better explaining the scope of the Person Types surveyed and the reasoning behind the decision.

“Is it too hot to ride a bike in Dallas?”

June 15th, 2009

The Transportation ‘blog at the Dallas Morning News posted an open query this morning, seeking input on whether it is too hot to ride a bike in Dallas. Though this question frames the context of the ‘blog post, much of the article promotes marginally relevant content at two other sites – DC Streetsblog and BFOC. Let me first add my response to the inquiry, then offer a couple of comments about the tangential subject.

Is it too hot to ride a bike in Dallas?

No, not really. When one considers the average bicycle commute is five to seven miles, the relatively short duration of a trip at these distances – even at the height of summer heat – is not a terribly uncomfortable prospect. The key to success is proper dress and hydration. I do it on a daily basis during an average one-way trip distance of 30km. For most, this would be a potentially daunting prospect. Nevertheless, commitment and experience make it mostly pleasant and uneventful.

Many novice transportation cyclists disparage the use of cycling attire as being elitist. Assigning such derogatory terms as “lycra” and “spandex” to modern performance fabrics, some criticize the donning of clothing intended to shield skin, wick perspiration and prevent chafing as being uninviting. Of course, the use of these synthetics is not required. Smart wool is another good choice. If the detractors stick with bicycle commuting, in a few years they too will come to realize the benefits of wearing appropriate clothing – especially for long distance commutes.

Hydration is of paramount importance. The average person can lose up to two liters of water per hour during intense exercise. Whether one cycles vigorously or not, simply being out in the summer sun in Texas can be analogous to an intense workout. The consumption of at least 250mL/15 minutes of riding is a minimum maintenance volume requirement. A supplemental containing electrolytes is advisable, but can be replenished at the end of the trip as well.

Feedback

As one might imagine, the responses posted to the Transportation ‘blog run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous. Most of the respondents ranged far afield from the question at hand and whined about the lack of bike lanes as being an impediment toward serious consideration of bicycle commuting. As experienced vehicular cyclists know, this is specious and little more than a convenient excuse. Every lane is a bike lane when occupied by a competent, experienced cyclist.

Of course, there were the ever present trolls as well. Those who are more that willing to share their thinly veiled, paternalistic derision of cyclists on the roadway. They feign altruistic concern by employing such platitudes as concern for the cyclist’s safety. In reality, their only care is removal from their path of any potential impediment to progress at (or above) the posted speed limit.

Spurious emissions

In addition to the community query, the author adding some unrelated commentary concerning the recently highlighted “Bike Fort Worth” plan. He began by citing Streetsblog Capitol Hill and its profile of today’s BFOC interview with Don Koski, a senior planner with Fort Worth. The Streetsblog piece focused primarily on the proposed “[h]undreds of miles of new bike lanes, ‘road diets’ and a proposed streetcar system.” Even BFOC was pushing the bike lane meme by lauding the “400+ miles of bike lanes, bus only lanes, streetcars, and ‘road diets’ … being planned throughout the city.” What Koski actually says, or rather doesn’t, is of more interest.

In response to the question, “Since the majority of residents are in cars, is there a concern that implementing bicycle infrastructure at the cost of losing lanes and/or parking will diminish the ability for people to gain access to these areas?”; he responds:

There often are trade-offs when right-of-way space is limited. We are addressing the decision-making process dealing with these concerns in the Bike Fort Worth plan. With new construction, it is relatively easy to make the provisions for all of the likely users of the street as long as it is planned for from the beginning. The most difficulty is when trying to retrofit bicycle facilities into existing streets. On streets in downtown and in other areas where traffic speeds and volumes are relatively low, dedicated cycling space isn’t a high priority as most cyclists feel comfortable sharing the travel lanes in that environment. Elsewhere, in some cases, we may need to identify a parallel street as the preferred cycling route, or we may need to just sign the street as a bike route and install shared lane marking symbols. However, there are a number of streets that are oversized for the level of vehicular traffic that they experience today or are likely to have in the future. In some of those cases, a “road diet” may be possible that could provide dedicated space for cyclists. We look at these on a case-by-case basis to determine how best to accommodate cyclists, based on the criteria established in the plan. Another related challenge is the trade-off between space for cyclists and space for pedestrians, especially along some of the busy arterial streets that pass through Fort Worth’s urban villages.

Note the phrase bike lane does not appear even once. It could be argued that reference to potential segregated facilities is implied in the phrase, “a ‘road diet’ may be possible that could provide dedicated space for cyclists.” That is not necessarily the case, however. This “dedicated space” could also take the form of wide outside lanes to allow for sharing or various traffic calming measures to slow the motorists to a more comfortable speed for novice cyclists.

It is obvious that Koski is approaching the Bike Fort Worth plan with more pragmatism and reason than the shrill voices of the facilities hounds are promoting. Of course, all of this is smoke and mirrors until the funding is acquired and the proposals begin to see the light of day. Many have been the bicycle transportation projects which have met with approval by city councils only to be scaled back or endlessly delayed due to funding issues and public outcry at the required sacrifices.

Only time will tell, but I am hopeful reason and common sense will prevail. Koski’s comments provide some solace in that regard. We shall see.

“Watch for Cyclists or Face $2,000 Fine, Jail Time: State”

June 11th, 2009

Another media proclamation regarding the proposed “Safe Passing” Bill has appeared. This one comes from a relatively unknown news source; so new it is designated as beta.

Bearing the sub-title “Cyclists are our friends”, this piece from NBC-DFW continues the theme of stirring an emotional response from all sides of the issue by employing hyperbole and misinformation.

Notable for its terseness, it contains several statements which are questionable or taken out of context.

A new bill (SB 488) before Gov. Perry seeks to curb the increasing number of bicycle injuries on North Texas streets.

No proof that bicycle injuries are increasing in North Texas is provided, despite this statement suggesting that they are. Nationally, bicycle crashes have declined, modestly, over the last fourteen years. An analysis by Michael Bluejay in 1996 listed Texas as fourteenth among traffic fatalities  – this despite the contradictory language that “Texas leads cycling deaths”. Finding the truth will take some work, but in the absence of a verifiable citation, this claim by NBC must be considered false.

Texas motorists are not known for awareness of their unmotorized, two-wheeled counterparts.

Really? I have safely ridden in North Texas for over sixteen years with nary an incident that would suggest a lack of awareness. Yes, there is occasionally harassment. It would also be correct to state that few – cyclists and motorists alike – know the law as it applies to the operation of a bicycle as a vehicle. Misconception and ignorance seem to be the rule. However, none of the above denotes a lack of awareness.

An issue of Bicycling magazine recently named Dallas in particular as one of the worst cities for bicycling.

How many times does that dubious claim have to be debunked? Dallas was named among the worst cities for bicycling due solely to the lack of bike lanes. This designation is largely disingenuous and has been rendered specious by contrary views.

In the absence of legitimate experience on the subject of transportation cycling, reporters for the mass media really ought to limit their coverage of these issues to the facts. When they inject hyperbole, half-truths and misinformed personal opinion, they do a disservice not only to their readers, but sully their reputation and that of their employer.

NCTCOG BPAC

June 10th, 2009

For over a decade, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) has sponsored a special sub-committee to the Regional Transportation Council (RTC), whose purpose is to advise the parent entity on bicycle and pedestrian issues. Named the Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Task Force (BPTTF), this committee has historically been egalitarian in nature and comprised of not only representatives of municipal governments, but also included members of various advocacy groups and at large “interested parties”. All members brought unique and relevant perspectives to the table and had an equal vote in the decision making process.

Unfortunately, in recent years the BPTTF became somewhat ineffective. Meetings were few and far between; often occurring only annually. As a result, the agenda became so packed that little room remained for discussion. It largely became a show-and-tell gathering wherein invited speakers or municipal representives simply presented study findings or project summaries. Any attempt to provide commentary or criticism was often stifled in the interest of keeping the meeting on track in order to ensure it did not exceed its ninety minute allocation. Platitiudes that ample opportunities would be extended in future meetings to accommodate feedback were offered to pacify questioners, but never realized. These meetings did not occur and necessary discussions were left in perpetual limbo.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to receive surreptitious notification that regular meetings of an advisory committee would resume. However, it would not be the BPTTF of old. Renamed and restructured, the new entity would be known as the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC). [Actually, it was originally to be named the Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Action Council (BP-TAC).]  No longer would the franchise members be comprised of knowledgeable members of the transportation and recreational cycling communities. Instead, the group will be comprised of seven transportation providers, 35 municipal representatives from the Surface Transportation Technical Committee (STTC), nine STTC county representatives and four regional focus groups. It is these four “focus groups” to which advocacy representatives will be relegated.

The Regional Focus Groups will be designated by COG staff and do not seen to be based upon merit or relevance. A single representative will be allowed from the Texas Bicycle Coalition (TBC), the Texas Trails Network (TTN), BikeDFW, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Of these groups, only two have any realistic experience directing bicycle transportation activity. The TTN is focused on recreational issues and TCEQ, while a legitimate voice for the RTC in general, has no bicycle related credentials. Having their voice filtered through a sub-committee designed to offer bicycle related input seems ridiculous.

Of course, “interested parties” have been assured that their presence and participation is still appreciated. They will simply not have a vote in any deciding poll and will be relegated to the sidelines.

Planning for this restructuring was apparently initiated last summer (July). A follow-up message distributed in January updated prospective members on the progress. Were it not for a friendly contact within one of the proposed municipal entities, I likely would not have received notice until the notice included below was distributed. This even though I have been a regular, active and cited member of the original BPTTF for over a decade.

With that introduction in mind, I present the following notice to interested parties and encourage you to make an effort to attend. This is especially true for those who have been dedicated participants of the BPTTF in the past. Get your ducks aligned and be prepared to express your dissatisfaction at this restructuring and demand equal representation by legitimate, experienced bicycle advocates.

Good Afternoon,

The North Central Texas Council of Governments’ (NCTCOG) newly restructured Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) is set to hold its first meeting on June 17, 2009 from 3:15 pm to 4:30 pm in the Transportation Council Room at the NCTCOG offices. I apologize for the inactivity of the BPAC in recent months, but with the emergence of many new bicycle and pedestrian projects, our goal is to become a more active body within the region. We are planning to hold three BPAC meetings for the year 2009; the dates for the last two meetings of the year will be announced at the BPAC meeting on June 17.

Representing the BPAC as Chair for the 2009 term will be Don Koski. He is a Senior Planner with the City of Fort Worth Transportation and Public Works Department, and is the principal planner for Bike Fort Worth, the City’s updated comprehensive bicycle transportation plan. Fulfilling the role of Vice Chair for the BPAC 2009 term is Ms. Renée Burke Jordan. Renée is the Trail System Planner for the City of Plano’s Parks and Recreation Department, and the planner responsible for the 2009 update to the City’s Bicycle Transportation Plan.

The agenda for this meeting will include a review of the restructuring of the BPAC, an update on the 2009 Sustainable Development Call for Projects funding program, status of the Regional Veloweb updates, and an update on the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program (EECBG). We are also designating time for presentations on bicycle and pedestrian initiatives and/or projects occurring throughout the region.  For this meeting we will focus on the Cities of Fort Worth and Plano.  Future meetings will include presentations on bicycle and pedestrian projects from other Cities.

In addition, NCTCOG is offering a FREE webinar hosted by Peter Lagerway on Bicycle Master Plans before the meeting from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm, also in the Transportation Council Room. Come early and learn the step-by-step process of how to create and implement a successful bicycle master plan in your city.  Please see the attached flyer for more details.

To RSVP for the meeting and webinar, please respond to this e-mail by June 12, 2009.

A map to the NCTCOG offices can be found here.

I look forward to seeing all of you there. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at anytime.

Thank you,

Deborah Humphreys

Transportation Planner | Bicycle and Pedestrian Program

North Central Texas Council of Governments

616 Six Flags Drive | Arlington, TX 76011

Direct: (817) 608-2394

Fax: (817) 640-3028

dhumphreys@nctcog.org

P please consider the environment before printing this e-mail

Community Rewards

June 9th, 2009

In what is increasingly being identified as the “Blue-Ribbon Generation“, there are some rewards which have merit. Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, an organization which usually employs dubious tactics to instill FUD in their constituents, is to be congratulated on a program they have coordinated in the Bishop Arts District.

Recognizing the success of a discount movie promotion they negotiated at a neighborhood theater in April, the group has extended their rewards program to businesses through out the Oak Cliff arts district. Individuals and families who ride their bicycle(s) to area businesses are eligible to discounts ranging from 10% to 50%. There are even a few freebies thrown in for good measure. It is this sort of imaginative, grassroots effort which just may revitalize the local living economies of decades past and encourage physical activity.

The media coverage has been mixed. An article appearing in the Dallas Morning News was, IMO, too superficial and glossed over the potential for similar initiatives in other parts of the Metroplex. Even worse was a piece airing on the local CBS affiliate, KTVT. Instead of focusing on the community and health benefits, their angle was to couch the program as a means to weather the economic downturn (text|video). In other words, a belt-tightening scheme, rather than a health incentive and community spirit endeavor. Even so, publicizing programs like this can only have a beneficial effect for utility cycling.

BFOC is blazing a new trail with this idea. Other North Texas advocacy groups should take heed and follow suit. Friends of the Katy Trail could solicit participation from Knox Street, Uptown and Victory Park businesses; BikeDFW, Greater Dallas Bicyclists and other regional groups could work with community centers and neighborhood groups. Expanding programs like this could encourage families to think about bicycles as an alternate mode of transportation and an activity families can do together. Fostering utility cycling at the family level may translate to wider adoption of vehicular cycling principles.

“Bill before Gov. Perry aims to help drivers, cyclists share the road”

June 8th, 2009

It was bound to happen sooner or later. An article appeared in yesterday’s edition of Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the topic of the so-called “Safe Passing” Bill (SB488/HB827). Hyperbole and misinformation were well represented within the 852 word treatise.

Under current law, cyclists are allowed to ride in traffic lanes, but they must stay as far to the right as practical.

Er, um, no. §551.103(a) states, “a person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway”. Practical and practicable are substantially different concepts. To confuse the two is irresponsible.

Anyway, revisions to the Transportation Code will take place in Chapter 545; the FTR rule appears in Chapter 551. Suggesting that the proposed legislation will have any bearing upon or modify the FTR rule is a MacGuffin.

They must also obey traffic laws, stop at stoplights and stop signs, and make turn signals with their hands.

True and those facts will not change under the proposed legislation.

Cyclists and runners have long complained that drivers are aggressive, while motorists complain that cyclists don’t follow the rules.

I am a cyclist and a runner; I have not made any such complaints. It has not been necessary, since I operate my bicycle in a lawful and competent manner. Sure, there is an occasional motorist who is harassing in one form or another, but they are few and far between. This legislation will not mitigate that activity.

It’s almost like you are legislating common sense.

— Terry Grisham, spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department

That is what many of us have been saying for months.

Cyclists who ride every Tuesday and Thursday at the Benbrook YMCA were excited and hopeful that drivers and cyclists will adhere to road rules.

Really? Photos accompanying this article show cyclists riding three, four… up to six or more abreast on rural roads. §551.103(c) states:

Persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two abreast. Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway shall ride in a single lane. Persons riding two abreast may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway. Persons may not ride more than two abreast unless they are riding on a part of a roadway set aside for the exclusive operation of bicycles.

To suggest that cyclists need protections as “vulnerable road users”, while simultaneously showing them operating selfishly and illegally smacks hypocrisy. One cannot have their cake and eat it too. Their perception of vulnerability is a direct result of their lack of adherence to established law. Many conflicts between cyclists and motorists are the direct result of incompetence or lack of training on the part of one, the other or both road users. From what I can tell, in this instance, it is largely the cyclists at fault. All road users must educate themselves about the law and operate according to the rules of the road.

Legislation is not the answer; education is.

Authority

June 7th, 2009

There seems to be some misunderstanding regarding the law as it applies to bicycle use for transportation. Many individuals on both sides of the issue appear to have a fundamental misunderstanding about what the Texas Transportation Code states and how it affects cyclists who choose to operate in a vehicular manner.

Two statutes in particular are germane to the subject. Taking a look at each, in turn, we begin with §551.101.

Sec. 551.101. RIGHTS AND DUTIES. (a) A person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle under this subtitle, unless:

(1) a provision of this chapter alters a right or duty; or

(2) a right or duty applicable to a driver operating a vehicle cannot by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle.

(b) A parent of a child or a guardian of a ward may not knowingly permit the child or ward to violate this subtitle.

Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 165, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1995.

Specific analysis will be left to future articles. Nevertheless, this Section of the Transportation Code defines a bicycle as a vehicle and conveying upon it and its operator the “same rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle under this subtitle.” Definitions for the subtitle in reference are contained in §541.201, which includes:

(2)  “Bicycle” means a device that a person may ride and that is propelled by human power and has two tandem wheels at least one of which is more than 14 inches in diameter.

Don’t get too excited, however. The fact that a bicycle is listed as the second defined vehicle is a reflection of its ranking according to alphabetical order. Nevertheless, it reflects the conveyance of legitimacy to the bicycle as a design vehicle and that it and its operator are to be afforded respect as well as consideration as a lawful road user.

The next subsection to be highlighted is that which pertains to the operation of a bicycle upon the roadway.

Sec. 551.103.  OPERATION ON ROADWAY.  (a)  Except as provided by Subsection (b), a person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, unless:

(1)  the person is passing another vehicle moving in the same direction;

(2)  the person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway;

(3)  a condition on or of the roadway, including a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, pedestrian, animal, or surface hazard prevents the person from safely riding next to the right curb or edge of the roadway; or

(4)  the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is:

(A)  less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or

(B)  too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.

(b)  A person operating a bicycle on a one-way roadway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near as practicable to the left curb or edge of the roadway.

(c)  Persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two abreast. Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway shall ride in a single lane. Persons riding two abreast may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway. Persons may not ride more than two abreast unless they are riding on a part of a roadway set aside for the exclusive operation of bicycles.

(d)  Repealed by Acts 2001, 77th Leg., ch. 1085, Sec. 13, eff. Sept. 1, 2001.

Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 165, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1995. Amended by Acts 2001, 77th Leg., ch. 1085, Sec. 10, 13, eff. Sept. 1, 2001.

A detailed analysis of this subsection will also await a future commentary. It not enough to say at this point that §551.103 is among the most misunderstood subsection in the statute. Motorists and bicycle advocates alike tend to interpret this as suggesting cyclists must ride in the gutter or as near as possible thereto. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Use of the term practicable, as opposed to practical, conveys a wide margin of discretion to the transportation cyclist. It imparts the ability to evaluate the condition of the road, surrounding traffic and environment – among other details – and determine a safe and comfortable road alignment. Ruts in the surface material, standing water, parallel drainage grates, uneven surface are a few of many legitimate factors to be considered.

Of even greater significance is §551.103(b)(4). This passage defines an important distinction. If the lane is substandard – being defined as less than fourteen (14) feet in width – then the cyclist is free to take control of the entire lane, if they so desire and if doing so does not impede the normal flow of traffic.

It has been my experience that many people have poor depth perception. Even worse, they have an undeveloped sense of distance. Consider the fact that an average automobile is approximately six feet wide, including side mirrors. An average rule of thumb for determining whether a lane is at least fourteen feet in width would be to eyeball the ability to place two average sized cars side-by side, door-to-door in the outside travel lane. If this is not possible, then a cyclist is very much within their rights to take control of the entire lane.

Need further proof? Take a tape measure out to a few of the roads near your home or place of employment. Being careful to consider approaching vehicles, run the tape out fourteen feet and place that tick at the curb face. I wager one will be surprised at how far the tape extends into the adjacent lane.

Finally, for this discussion, consider the idea of impediment. One can only be accused of impeding the flow of traffic if their presence prevents other vehicles from reasonable progression. If there is at least one other same direction lane, no impediment exists. The motorist has the option of safely changing lanes and passing the cyclist. In the absence of an inside lane for passing, only then must the cyclist consider riding further to the right or pulling over to allow the building queue behind them to pass.

Recall this phrase from §551.101, “unless [it] cannot by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle.” The laws of physics and human physiology limit the speed at which a cyclist can operate for any length of time. Thus, if the operator of a bicycle can only manage ten to fifteen miles per hour, that individual cannot be held responsible for traveling at a slower rate of speed than the surrounding traffic, because it is physically impossible for them to go any faster.

This information is presented in order to lay the groundwork for future discussion subjects. Additional analysis and commentary will deal with the evolution of the law as it applies to bicyclists in Texas. It is beneficial to know what others have attempted to enact into law on our behalf, as well as to understand the extent to which still others were willing to limit our lawful access to the road.

Mendacity

June 3rd, 2009

Bike Friendly Oak Cliff (BFOC), a local advocacy group, posted an article from the Austin American-Statesman, which was originally published on 18 February of this year. As they are prone to do, BFOC usurped the original focus of the piece – Lance Armstrong’s plans to open a “commuting bike shop” in Austin – to imply that Armstrong is bullish on bike lanes.

The article contains several quotes attributed to Armstrong. One stands out as seeming to confirm BFOC’s claims.

“There are times I ride in Austin, and I’m afraid of cars,” Armstrong said. “Imagine what the beginner cyclist must feel like?”

Sounds odd, doesn’t it. A seven time Tour de France winner being afraid of cars. I suppose it could be true. Viewing the following video, one comes away with a different take, however.

Fear? Where is the fear? Not only is Armstrong riding in the midst of normal traffic, in many of the shots he is doing so legally and confidently with good lane positioning and adhering to the two-abreast rule. It is the balance of the footage, which is most telling. One recognizes an unapologetic scofflaw who has no regard for the law or the other vehicles on the roadway.

More importantly, at no point within the article is there a quote from Armstrong indicating affection for bike lanes. Though there are several references to these on-street facilities, there is never a direct endorsement. The closest he comes is the following statement with respect to how Austin can reach a point where “biking is part of the culture”.

The (Lance Armstrong Bikeway) is a big start…

The author goes on to describe the “bikeway” in terms of being some sort of cycle track. Despite the inference in the article, a cycle track is not a bike lane. It is a facility designed to separate cyclists from motor vehicles and serves only to diminish the legitimacy of a bicycle as a vehicle.

In truth, all of the pandering language used by Armstrong and his partner is simply a vehicle for garnering the attention of prospective customers. It is branding; it’s advertising, pure and simple. “Advocates” in Austin, North Texas and elsewhere have relied upon fear, uncertainly and doom to build a following of inferior cyclists in order to drive their infrastructure plans. They have now enlisted a well-known cycling celebrity to help push their agenda. This same mentality has, unfortunately, been adopted by local advocacy groups.

North Texas has several organizations who call themselves bicycle advocates. Some are more honest than others when it comes to clearly stating intent. BFOC is the most vocal in their goal to see bike lanes become a part of the transportation infrastructure. A big problem with their tactics is the use of lies and subterfuge to achieve their desires. The example cited above is among many one can readily discover at their website. Perhaps less apparent is their fascist editorializing. The webmasters deny comments from those with dissenting views. On rare occasions when opposing information is approved, it is attacked with flawed arguments or criticized out of context.

Groups like BFOC capitalize on FUD to mobilize their base. Rather than present facts to support their position, some of these groups employ deceit and personal attacks. For those with knowledge and experience relative to the subject, these tactics are obvious. To the gullible and uneducated, actions like these appear to be legitimate arguments.

What I describe above is not limited to BFOC; they are only the most pronounced example. There are certainly voices from the vehicular cycling community who are also prone to hyperbole and bending the truth in order to spread their message. Some degree of hypocrisy creeps into all of these discussions. It is the responsibility of the audience to learn how to discriminate fact from fiction and hold the proponents of the latter to account.

The use of a bicycle for tranportation, in North Texas or anywhere else, is not inherently dangerous. Despite what some organizations would have you believe, when practiced according to the rules of the road, along with practical knowledge and technique, vehicular cycling is very safe and doable. The important point to emphasize is the need for education. Regardless of which side of the debate one finds themselves (pro-vehicular cycling or pro-facilities), become informed and do not allow succumb to the influence of disreputable individuals or groups. Learn to discern fact from fiction and arrive at an informed conclusion.

“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.