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Wednesday, July 02 2014
By Mark Adams
On Wednesday, June 25, TxDOT held their first-ever hearing about bicycle use in DFW at Irving City Hall. An astounding 62 citizens from the DFW area joined 16 elected officials and 14 staff members from TxDOT and the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) to discuss programs and issues surrounding cycling in the metroplex.
TxDOT is required by 43 TAC §25.55 to conduct a local hearing on bicycle use in each TxDOT district annually. In the past, TxDOT has offered to hold the required hearing in Dallas and Fort Worth but has never received enough interest to hold one. The low interest has largely been related to the fact that TxDOT is required to advertise the offer for public hearing in the newspaper, so word has never reached the cycling community that these hearings were going on. After missing the opportunity to hold a hearing last year, cycling advocates were on their guard this time around and immediately spread the word on social media-- quickly generating enough interest to trigger the required hearing. The Dallas and Ft. Worth districts decided to hold a hearing together centrally in Irving, since many of the same cyclists ride in both districts.
State Bike Plan and Program
Teri Kaplan, Statewide Bicycle Coordinator with TxDOT, began the hearing by giving an overview of TxDOT and their involvement with cyclists in Texas. Specifically, TxDOT constructs all State Highways (SH roads), Farm to Market Roads (FM roads), Interstates and US highways, Loop, and Spur roadways. TxDOT also has oversight and approves any projects that are done with Federal funding.
Ms. Kaplan also mentioned that TxDOT is working on a statewide Bicycle Plan to help lay out TxDOT’s priorities for cycling statewide. Part of her work on the bicycle plan involves collecting information about local bicycle trails, paths, and facilities from local governments so that TxDOT can construct a statewide bikeway map that can be used by cyclists as a one-stop place to see details on what bicycle routes are available, what facilities they offer, and where they are located across the state.
Ms. Kaplan then gave a summary of different bicycle facilities as they are referred to by TxDOT.
Afterwards those present were polled based on a number of questions, such as "What type of cyclist are you? (strong and fearless; would ride more if it were safer; etc.)" and "How many days per week do you ride your bicycle?"
Cyclists were then shown photographs of each type of bicycle facility and asked whether they felt “Very Comfortable”, “Somewhat Comfortable”, “Somewhat Uncomfortable”, or “Very Uncomfortable” riding on that type of facility.
Dallas & Ft. Worth Districts
Kathy Kleinschmidt, Bicycle / Pedestrian Coordinator for TxDOT Dallas District, began her presentation by discussing a TxDOT memo to its engineers in March 2011 titled “Guidelines Emphasizing Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodations” that established TxDOT’s policy of being committed to accommodating cyclists on its roadways and projects. That memo required that all TxDOT projects (construction, widening, reconstruction) in urban areas feature either a 14’ wide outside lane for shared use or a 5' bike lane (at a minimum). In rural areas, a 5’ shoulder is typically required. Ms. Kleinschmidt gave an overview of Dallas-area projects including several F.M. roadways that are currently being widened or reconstructed and explained how they would be designed to accommodate cyclists. In addition, Ms. Kleinschmidt reviewed several local projects that TxDOT has oversight over being done by counties and cities in the Dallas district and the facilities they provide for cyclists.
Phillip Hayes, Bicycle / Pedestrian Coordinator for TxDOT Ft. Worth District, then presented on several projects going on in the Ft. Worth area and described how many of those projects have been in the works for several years and would soon be completed.
Regional Bicycle Programs and Projects
Karla Weaver, Program Manager with the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), then presented regardig some of the regional initiatives that they are undertaking. NCTCOG is the region’s metropolitan planning organization (MPO) and is responsible for coordinating with cities on regional initiatives and also managing the assignment and distribution of many forms of federal funding such as the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) which provides federal funding to local bicycle and pedestrian projects.
Ms. Weaver began by discussing the Regional Veloweb, a network of existing and planned off-street shared use paths (trails) designed for use by cyclists. She specifically discussed how the veloweb is designed to interconnect area cities and encourage non-motorized transportation in the region. She noted that as cities have begun to develop on-street bicycle facilities, NCTCOG is beginning to look at how to interconnect the veloweb with city on-street facilities to complete an even more comprehensive network. One of the most exciting projects related to the veloweb is a 64-mile project called the Fort Worth to Dallas Trail Connection which will link bicycle paths from Ft. Worth, through Arlington, Grand Prairie, and Irving to Downtown Dallas.
Ms. Weaver also discussed also NCTCOG’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Access to Rail study which focuses on identifying how easily rail stations (such as DART light-rail, the TRE, and DCTA A-Train) are accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians within a certain radius in order to provide cities and counties with vital information that they can use to help make transportation more accessible and increase utilization of our transit system and non-motorized options (such as bicycling and walking).
In addition, Ms. Weaver discussed NCTCOG’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), made up of representatives from state government, county government, and local governments, which meets monthly to discuss bicycle and pedestrian projects and planning on the NCTCOG service area. Attendees were told that the group’s meetings are open to the public and more information is available on the NCTCOG website.
Another project discussed by Ms. Weaver was the a data collection initiative that NCTCOG has recently begun piloting. A system of automated permanent and temporary counters have been installed along several shared use paths and bicycle facilities that provide aggregate counts of bicycle and pedestrian use at 15-minute increments for 24 hours each day. If the pilot goes well, more cities will be able to join the program and begin collecting real data about utilization of bicycling facilities in DFW that can be used to by local planners to justify additional facilities and funding.
Question and Answer
Before the close of the hearing, the floor was opened up to questions from the public to get answers regarding bicycle policies and programs.
One attendee asked about a specific F.M. roadway where a cyclist was killed and where construction is about to begin. Specifically, he wanted to highlight the fact that he had been told that, even though construction had not yet begun, it would not include cyclist accommodations because it was planned prior to the March 2011 memo requiring bicycle accommodations. TxDOT staff replied by stating they could look into the issue and many times “It all depends on who you talked to.”
Another attendee asked about a Safe Passing Law in Texas and whether TxDOT would assist in lobbying for such a law. TxDOT responded by saying that TxDOT is not allowed to lobby for any particular laws but that citizens would need to contact their state legislators.
Another attendee complained that many municipalities do not follow good practices for bicycle facilities and often create situations that are dangerous for cyclists. TxDOT responded by saying that they only have oversight over projects using state and federal funding and highlighted the fact that work by local residents communicating with their city and county leaders is very important to making sure local projects accommodate cyclists.
Another attendee asked about maintenance of bicycle facilities, specifically regarding debris being swept out of the main lanes and into bicycling facilities. TxDOT replied that bicycle facilities on TxDOT roadways are included as part of their roadway maintenance plans but other roadways may be different. TxDOT staff encouraged the attendee to contact their local municipality to ask about their bicycle facilities and associated maintenance plans. Ms. Kaplan suggested that establishing maintenance plans for bicycle facilities might be a good element to include in the statewide bicycle plan.
Another attendee discussed the fact that many TxDOT programs and policy actions are dictated by performance measures that TxDOT uses to measure its performance. Specifically, since these improvement in these performance measures guides TxDOT policies and the allocation of funding, has TxDOT ever considered implementing performance measures related to cyclists and specifically, a performance measure related to bicyclist fatalities. Ms. Kaplan responded by stating that there was currently no performance measure related to bicyclist fatalities even though TxDOT does track and report the number of bicyclist fatalities each year. Ms. Kaplan indicated that she would like to see such performance measures incorporated as part of the statewide bicycle plan and the individual should follow-up via e-mail.
Another attendee suggested that TxDOT should allocate funding for advertising (TV, radio, billboards) in the DFW area related to bicycle safety similar to other initiatives (“Don’t Mess with Texas”, “Share the Road”, etc.”).
At the conclusion of the hearing, TxDOT staff reiterated that they are seeking any additional comments that people might have regarding Bicycle Use in DFW and those in attendance should be sure to write down their comments and place them in the comment box. TxDOT and NCTCOG staff also encouraged citizens to attend one of the Texas Transportation Plan (TTP) 2040 hearings being held by TxDOT to discuss the state transportation plan through 2040 that will be held locally in Mesquite on 07/07/14 and in Ft. Worth on 7/09/14 since bicycling policies and projects are part of the statewide transportation plan.
TxDOT staff will still be soliciting comments about bicycle use in DFW until Saturday, July 5, 2014. Citizens can send their comments to TxDOT via e-mail or USPS to:
TxDOT Dallas District
Attn: Kathy Kleinschmidt, P.E.
4777 East Highway 80
Mesquite, Texas 75150-6643
After all comments have been received, TxDOT will compile a summary report based on the comments from the public and the data collecting during the hearing and publish that report to the public. It is anticipated that report will be available by the end of July.