THE RECREATIONAL RIDER COMMUTES: ROUTE
Working in a bike shop, a question I get a lot is: “Is it safe to ride around the streets of Dallas?” As many of you already know, Dallas still has a ways to go before it’s really considered a bike friendly city. However, if there wasn’t any sense of safety, I sure wouldn’t see nearly as many cyclist out on the road as I do today. It’s no Copenhagen, where the majority of commuters are on bikes, but there are still many relatively safe ways to find your way around the city. The key to that is planning the right route.
Outside of the bike shop I also have a “9-5 job” with an office located in uptown. I don’t always get to work out of that office but I recently changed clients which allows me to commute by bicycle to work. One of the things I love most about cycling is the freedom to go wherever you want. Sure, you can do that in a car too, but it’s just not as easy. I feel much closer to the surroundings when I’m not enclosed inside of a big metal car. You can feel, hear, smell, see, and taste (if you really want to), the elements. And if you take the right route some of those industrial elements of the city can easily be tuned out. I live in Oak Cliff which makes my commute about five and a half miles from door to door. Including ‘traffic’, it only takes me about 25 minutes which is pretty predictable every day. In a car, if I take the hwy there could be any number of reasons for delays. Many of those reasons don’t effect the bike commute nearly as much.
Obviously, the most important thing to consider when choosing your route is safety. It doesn’t matter how fun or scenic the route is if you are constantly being buzzed by a city bus or drivers not giving you enough buffer. A good place to start in choosing your route is google maps.
You have the option to choose a bike as the method of travel which will do its best to take you on streets marked with bike lanes, sharrows, less hills, or simply reduced traffic speeds.
Sharrows indicate that it’s a bike friendly street. They can only be put on streets with a speed limit of 35 mph or less. You have just as much a right to the road as cars do on these streets but you still need to be aware of your surroundings.
Bike lanes usually have a painted buffer where only bikes are allowed to travel. In Dallas you still have to be a little careful here because some people think it’s their own personal parking lane. We’ll save that for another post.
Buffered bike lanes typically have some sort of barrier preventing cars from entering the bike lane. Houston Street near the AAC has a newly installed lane that takes you from continental to the Katy Trail. The Jefferson viaduct, across the ‘mighty’ trinity also has buffered lanes marked with plastic pylons. As you can see in some places it doesn’t fully prevent cars from entering the lane but it’s better than nothing.
My dad always taught me growing up that I should be a defensive driver. I should assume that I have to watch out for everyone else on the road and react to what they are doing. To date I’ve never been in a car accident so I’d say it’s worked out pretty well (knock on wood). When riding you have to amp that up to an 11. You have to assume drivers don’t see you, that they are going to turn into your lane, or just plain be assholes because you’re on a bike and causing them a 10 second delay in getting to their destination. Just be sure you know your surroundings. Make sure you make eye contact with drivers before going across an intersection or making a turn. Use hand singles that are clear and can be seen by anyone around you. Just follow the golden rule: Ride a bike as you would like others to ride if you were driving a car behind them. In other words, don’t be an asshole.
When it comes down to it, it’s up to you to choose how you want to get to your destination. You can take whatever route you want. Many times the best traveled streets are side roads that cars typically don’t travel. This also give you a chance to see parts of the city you normally don’t see when you are driving. Surprisingly, riding in downtown is relatively safe due to the number of stop lights which reduces traffic speed. If you can time it right on a bike you can find green all the way down the street.
My preferred route is to take some back roads across the Houston Street viaduct, down Houston St., past the AAC, connecting to the Katy Trail. A few turns off of the trail and I’m at the office. There is another route I can take that is a little more direct and scenic given that it crosses over the continental bridge. However, getting to the bridge has a few dangerous spots not intended for bikes. I’d rather not be stressed while commuting so I usually avoid that route.
There are a few things we can all do to make the city a safer place to ride. 1) Get out there and ride. The more riders we have on the streets the more drivers will become aware of cyclist and remember to watch out for us. 2) Use Strava. The City of Dallas uses Strava Heat Maps to understand what parts of the city are being used for commuting. Where are people starting from, where are they going, are there connections along the way that could make that commute safer / easier? Every year this gets better and with the commuter data it will help make our roads even safer. Finally, as I mentioned, be a good rider. There is no getting around it, we are going to have to coexist with cars in this city, that will never go away. Let’s just all get along.