DALLAS — Jason Kalka began riding a bike to work this month. His fight through traffic, he says, is often one for his life.
“You’ve got to avoid these busy streets,” he said while taking a break from pedaling down Henderson Avenue. “People don’t care... they’ll just run you over.”
For decades, the car has been king in Dallas. City leaders focused on designing and building streets to handle large amounts of car traffic; pedestrians and bicyclists weren’t the priority, critics say.
Now, city leaders admit it’s time Dallas started sharing its roads.
“The city is exploring a new way of designing and building streets across the city,” said Peer Chacko, assistant director of sustainable development for the City of Dallas. “We're talking about a big change in the way the city does business and the way the city builds streets.”
This year the city launched an initiative called Complete Streets to re-design roads to make them friendlier to pedestrians and bicyclists. Planners want to widen sidewalks. Streets could be repaved or re-striped to give cyclists their own lanes.
In the end, city leaders envision more people strolling busy, tree-lined avenues lined with outdoor cafes.
“I want to make this street a walkable, urban street,” said Dallas councilwoman Carolyn Davis, as she stood on Grand Avenue. “I’m hoping for a whole lot of things to happen with Complete Streets.”
On Saturday afternoon, the councilwoman watched as crews staged Grand Avenue near Fair Park with temporary planters and benches to give neighbors an idea of what a redesigned streetscape could look like.
“When you bring something around like this right here, it wakes up everybody all over the city,” boasted R.L. Griffin. He’s owned several nearby businesses for nearly 20 years and says crime and neglect have plagued the area. “It would definitely be a good change.”
Still, there are trade-offs.
Lanes of traffic would likely have to be eliminated, possibly causing more congestion.
Designs haven’t been finalized and funding hasn’t been found, although city leaders hope the changes could be paid for with a 2012 bond program. Plus, planners concede that the idea is not feasible for most of Dallas’ streets.
Engineers have focused on a dozen neighborhoods, including Ross Avenue, Knox-Henderson, Royal Lane, Davis Street and Buckner Boulevard.
“You can’t have everything on every street,” said Chacko. “We want to know if people are comfortable with reducing the road from four lanes to two lanes of traffic.”
A city survey shows most people support the idea.
“A bike lane would be nice,” Kalka said. “With city budgets being what they are these days, I don’t know what they can do.”