The Dallas Bike Trail Network
In only a decade, Dallas County and a number of cities within the county have succeeded in planning and putting forward a comprehensive and intricate county wide bike trail system. This network represents the back bone of our cycling infrastructure. Much of our trail system has been completed for years now and many projects are nearing completion. Several of them are just getting started and more are in the planning and funding phase. So in this article we’ll take a look at what’s happening throughout the county, how we got here, and where we’re headed.
Where We Stand Today
Bicycle trails and lanes are the key to a modern, effective transportation infrastructure. Bike lanes provide an important tactical neighborhood solution and “major” or “major linear” bike trails (to use the City Of Dallas’ terminology) provide regional, strategic solutions. But before we go any further, let’s define a few terms.
A “bike lane” is a portion of the street that is exclusively for the use of cyclists dedicated to cyclists, yet they may be designed in a way where they are shared with vehicles that are parked along the curbside, or those making a right hand turn. They typically run adjacent to automobile lanes. Everyone has an opinion on bike lanes so here’s ours – For reasons of safety we think a wide bike lane is ideal, and narrow ones are no good.
The distinguishing feature of a “cycle track“, or segregated bike lane, is the presence of physical barrier which might be in the form of a physical wall or some sort of landscaping feature that servers to better separate (and protect) cyclists from automobile traffic.
A “bike trail” (or “hike and bike trail”) is a dedicated roadway that is shared amongst cyclists, pedestrians and folks on roller blades or use other non-motorized means of transportation and recreation. Around these parts they are often 12 feet wide, have a dividing line and you’ll usually find them within a utility, rail or city/county easement. Think of bike trails as the freeways of non-motorized travel, and go ride the Katy Trail before you snicker about my freeway analogy.
Near the millennium Dallas County and several partnering cities began working together to develop a plan to install 300 miles of dedicated hike and bike trails throughout the county. We’re riding on well over 100 miles of it now. I live across the street from the Preston Ridge Trail, the largest and most expensive trail the County has ever installed. I’ve been cycling on it since 2003. Connecting bike trails serve as the backbone of our cycling infrastructure. They can move quite a number of cyclists a great distances and do so safely. In some high traffic areas (like Katy Trail and White Rock Lake) you’ll see sections that have two separate, parallel trails. One for cyclists one for those walking and/or jogging.
You can see the entire trail system with a few clicks of your mouse. Go here for a map (PDF) of the entire Dallas Trail Network Plan. Pay close attention to the existing and funded trails. That’s the low hanging fruit for those of you who want to ride now or ride very soon. And here you can read the the entire 2008 Dallas Trail Network Plan report (very large PDF). It’s an 80 page document that gives a great level of detail to the collective trail system and also spotlights each individual trail, including aerial shots. It’s well worth the read. And then there’s the Dallas County 2009 Trail Projects map that you’ll want to familiarize yourself with.
If you devote some time to study the literature (or simply drive through the county) you’ll see that Dallas has a very progressive and comprehensive system in place and much more is under construction or planned to be soon. You’ll be able to ride your bike from most any part of the county to the other, relying on primarily bike trails to get you there. In some areas you can do that now, today even. That’s progressive.
With a little creativity between a few soon to be finished connecting points, you can commute from Frisco, Texas to downtown Dallas, on our bike trail system. Keep in mind Collin County is no slouch when it comes to bike trails of their own. People have been commuting from Collin County to the inner core of Dallas for some time now. The Cottonwood Trail will play a vital role for several reasons. It will provide the cyclist a safe passage under Central and LBJ freeways, and it will connect two other regional bike trails (Preston Ridge and White Rock Creek), and it will connect to a DART light rail station via Hamilton park. Hubbard and I rode and photographed the portion underneath the highway a couple of years ago and it’s exciting to see that they’re almost finished (finally!). You can see the Cottonwood Trail map details here. This is a very strategic bike trail for our northern region.
If you want to see progress in action, visit some of the bicycle trails that are currently under construction, like the 7.8 mile Trinity Strand. The “Strand” is another strategic trail that will play an important role in connecting several other “major linear” trails. From their website:
The location of the “Strand” plays a key part of the redevelopment vision for the Trinity River Corridor. The Strand will connect the Katy Trail to the Trinity River Levee Trail and the entire Trinity River Greenbelt. This unites many Dallas neighborhoods and offers residents commuter access to many business districts, in addition to the obvious recreational benefits of the trail.
I follow many of the trail blogs and sites and they all seem to be adding construction updates each week. For that matter, Is it me or does the Katy Trail seem to be adding something new every single month?
And it’s not just the county and city of Dallas that’s moving forward. Several cities within Dallas County have their own existing and planned trails, many of those are in partnership with the county. Take Richardson for instance. Read about their impressive bicycle route plan here (PDF file). You can also glean quite a bit about their ambitions here too.
Richardson now has the unique distinction of offering the only dedicated (shared) on-street bike lanes in the county. One is along Grove road and the other runs along Custer road heading north from Campbell. The one on Custer crosses a rail road track that is bordered by a wide greenbelt that goes on for miles. It’s gorgeous when the grass is green. You’ll also ride past a creek that will cool you off in the summer months. This is all along a lovely section of the Canyon Creek neighborhood.
In time, Richardson is likely going to set the standard for suburban cycling and commuting. They already have several DART rail stops which gives them a strategic advantage to become a major commuting hub for cyclists – and they know it. And don’t forget we now have Bike Friendly Richardson helping to promote the cause and lead a few groups rides. I live near Richardson so I’m excited about riding there more often. And the City of Irving is setting a similar example on the west side of the county, read up on their Campion Trail plans, that will be a major commuting trail for the western portion of our county. More about Irving soon.
So when you step back and look at the big picture you’ll discover something that looks an awful lot like a cyclists’ paradise, a dream state for the serious bike commuter. No need to “take a lane” because now you own the lane. But if you prefer to take a lane, you’ll want to learn more about our 500 mile route system that was designed with you in mind. Quite possibly before you were born.
Dallas has had an extensive bicycle route system (aka “Dallas Bike Plan“) in place for decades. And many vehicular cyclists (those who prefer to ride on the street) enjoy this system on a daily basis. It allows those who prefer to “take a lane” to leverage our existing roadways to get around town. Our bike route system encompasses over 500 miles and 365 of those miles have signage. This is nothing new, Hubbard and I both recall watching the emergence of the bike routes ages ago. Those cool looking blue signs with the Pegasus and wheels? The Dallas Bike Route system.
How We Got Here
As far as the county efforts go, your local County Commissioner probably deserve a good deal of the credit for what you see. As a part of the Trail and Preserve program, in 2000 Dallas County began installing our county wide trail system that would connect neighborhoods, employment centers and allow people to get from one end of the county to another – without a car. Most neighborhoods are within a short biking distance to one of the many trails. Each trail is designed to be pleasing to the eye, friendly to the environment and surroundings, and provide a legitimate transportation alternative. In many cases the county drove the efforts and the individual cities, especially Dallas, partnered with them. A program of this magnitude would require the full support of the County Commissioners Court, and they all signed on enthusiastically. Judge Lee Jackson, former head of the Dallas County Commissioners Court, was one of the early and vocal advocates of the county trail system. He has a long history of championing local and regional transportation issues and initiatives.
The City of Dallas adopted the Park and Recreation Department’s “Long Range Development Plan”, and deemed it the “Renaissance Plan” (PDF) in 2002. A couple of bond issues has allowed them to pursue a world class park system, and that’s not hype on my part. One of the centerpieces of the Dallas park system is the “regional trail network” throughout the city. The City of Dallas has four distinct trail classifications: 1) Major Linear Trails 2) Major Loop Trails 3) Major nature Trails 4) Neighborhood Trails. Each serves a distinct purpose and they are explained in detail in the 2008 Dallas Parks and Recreation Trail Network Plan. There are also numerous neighboring cities which have partnered with Dallas and their contribution is key to the “big picture”.
Where We’re Headed
While we may very well have a budding, world class bike trail system, not all neighborhoods can accommodate something of that scale. Bike trails often require a substantial amount of real estate and unless an easement is present that can be utilized, chances are a bike trail might not make financial sense. Bike lanes, however, can often times be easier to put in place, especially if you can leverage existing roadways.
Somewhere in the 2007/2008 time frame Bike Friendly Oak Cliff stepped up their efforts and took the lead to get City Hall’s attention regarding the need for bike lanes and a bike friendlier environment. Many older neighborhoods like Oak Cliff were built at a time when cars did not rule transportation. They utilized street cars extensively back then and have/had narrow streets that don’t lend themselves well to cycling. These older parts of town typically lack bicycle friendly amenities. BFOC wasn’t shy about asking for bike lanes to be installed. Their persistent efforts and the work of other cycling advocates have contributed to the mayor and several Dallas city council members lending an ear to cyclists, recognizing the need for improvements, and just as importantly, they seem to realize the benefits that a friendlier infrastructure will yield. Our elected officials soon took action. One of the most visible changes included a new bike coordinator. Next a major review and plan would be commissioned.
Our Mayor and several council members attended and even helped promote a bike event or two, one blogged about it here. “Dallas Bikes To City Hall” helped a lot of people galvanize the resolve to work together to bring about measurable results.
The weather resulted in a less than expected turn out for “Dallas Bikes to City Hall”, nonetheless there was a nice turn out of dedicated bicycle commuters and representatives from the city. The publicity and “buzz” it created was significant. From the 2009 press release:
Complete Streets are streets designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Developing greater multi-modal infrastructures have proven to improve safety, ease transportation flow, improve air quality, and help the overall health of communities who have adopted them… – Dallas City Hall press release
The concept of “Complete Streets” has gained currency in Dallas and most everyone seems to embrace the idea that there is a need to make our city more bicycle (and human) friendly. An update to our “bike plan” has been commissioned by the City of Dallas and it should be published in a few months. It will outline a course of action for how the City of Dallas can continue to make improvements to the cycling infrastructure. Council Member Angela Hunt said the study would show “how we integrate bicycles into the daily infrastructure of our city.” The plan will also leverage DART as much as possible so look for more routes to emerge that will connect major DART stops and stations. Ever taken your bike on one of the DART trains? There’s nothing like taking trails and rails all the way to downtown on a weekend day when there’s very little traffic.
If your head is spinning as you try and grasp all the different initiatives and trails you’re not alone. I have been a student of our trail system for a couple of years now and I still have a hard time grasping it all. But here’s one thing that’s evident to me:
Our County Commissioners, council members, county and city planners and parks departments have all been a vital and driving force behind our bike trail system and they have done an amazing job of coordinating their efforts to produce what I think will be a world class bike trail system. Hubbard attended one of the Santa Fe Trail meetings and said he was astonished by the level of cooperation and coordination between so many different agencies and planners. I think we’re fortunate to have elected officials who recognize the value that a legitimate cycling infrastructure brings to Dallas and the folks who work for the city and county to make it a reality.
So, our bike trail system is just one more example of what you might see and experience, if you’re biking in Dallas.
Finally, I want to thank Rick Loessberg for spending some time with me to explain some of the nuances and history of our trail system. Rick is the Dallas County Planning and Development Director and has been involved with the trail projects since the very beginning, so he has literally seen it all.
Postscript – Chris and Hubbard’s Excellent Adventure
As a side note, Hubbard and I plan to visit, ride, map, photograph and lend a narrative to as many bike trails as we can get to over the next year or so. We hope to see most all of them, including some of the nature preserves that I’ll write about another time. We’ve started with the Santa Fe Trail update here and we’ve got one or more in the works now. This will be a fun series and we’re looking forward to doing it. Maybe you’ll join us on one of these rides or lend a hand at some point. Consider this your invitation to ride along with us as we explore the greater Dallas bike trail system.
Tags: Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, Bike Friendly Richardson, Bike Lane, Bike Trail, Complete Streets, Cottonwood Trail, cycle track, Dallas, Dallas Bike Plan, Dallas County, Katy Trail, Preston Ridge Trail, Santa Fe Trail, Trinity Strand Trail, White Rock Creek Trail