Bicyclists in car country just got some good news: Transportation planners took a $7 million dollar step toward a commuter bike and pedestrian trail reaching from downtown Fort Worth to downtown Dallas.
The money approved Thursday will help build about 10 more miles of connecting trails.
As is stands today, studies rank North Texas at or near the bottom for bicycle commuting -- in one survey of the country’s 70 biggest cities, Fort Worth was at No. 60, Dallas No. 65 and Plano dead last.
Urban planners and city agencies are calling it the “superhighway of bicycles.” Sixty-four miles in all, the trail will run mostly along the Trinity River -- from existing bike paths in downtown Fort Worth through Arlington, then in a loop through Irving and Grand Prairie and finishing off on the new Trinity Skyline Trail in Downtown Dallas.
Cyclists like Chris Curnutt hope this superhighway will one day become a way of life. Curnutt, who lives in North Dallas, bikes three miles to work every day and, like many others, enjoys a more leisurely ride at night.
“I’ll just go by myself, like the kids are in bed, the temperature is good. But it’s just a very peaceful, almost zen-like experience,” he said.
Curnutt is part of a small but growing number of cyclists who would prefer to use bike trails to get around day-to-day, rather than rely on cars. However, he said a decade ago, options like this didn’t exist.
“Back then things were so splintered. You would go on some of the bike forums, and you’d see somebody post every now and then, ‘Is anybody in Dallas riding a bicycle?’” he said.
Today, conditions are different. A 2011 citywide survey found nearly 80 percent of Dallasites would bike more often if there were more off-street trails.
The Regional 'Veloweb'
That surge in interest gave Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price an idea. As a long-distance road-biker of 25 years and an occasional bike commuter to City Hall, she asked: “Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to connect the whole Metroplex -- to encourage people to get out, to use the trail, to see the beauty, to see different cities?”
So became the Fort Worth to Dallas Trail Connection. It’s just one segment of a larger network of trails the North Central Texas Council of Governments has dubbed the “Regional Veloweb.” The veloweb already boasts more than 300 miles -- from the Sante Fe Trail in Dallas to the Trinity Trails in Fort Worth and Fish Creek Trail through Arlington and Grand Prairie.
The council is planning for another 1,400 miles. The trail between Fort Worth to Dallas has cyclists most excited.
Karla Weaver, program manager for the NCTCOG, said 30 of the 64 miles of the connection already exist, and cyclists and pedestrians could access them today. The remaining 34 miles will connect those trails already in place in Forth Worth, Arlington, Irving, Grand Prairie and Dallas.
“When you look at the population of people that would come in contact with that trail or are within two miles of that trail, it’s close to a million people,” Weaver said.
Miles and miles of trails
The trail would run next to the river in spots, through numerous neighborhoods and job centers. Planners want it to be “multi-modal,” which means people could cycle and walk on the trail, and also use it to connect to other forms of transit -- like the Trinity Railway Express.
Bud Melton, a bicycle and pedestrian planner for the North Texas region, said the trail redefines convenience. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in urban areas like Dallas-Fort Worth, half of all trips -- via cars, buses and bikes -- are less than three miles, and a quarter of them are less than one.
“We shouldn’t be burning a gallon of gas to be getting a gallon of milk,” Melton said. “People realize that we’re locked in irons when we have to wait 15 minutes to get out of a cul-de-sac to get our kids to school when the school is just on the other side of the block."
Ten more miles of the Fort Worth-to-Dallas trail are already being built.
At the east end of this cycling superhighway, with a backdrop of downtown Dallas skyscrapers, was Jonathan Braddick, who works with a group called Bike Friendly Oak Cliff. He spent a recent sunny Saturday on the brand-new Trinity Skyline Trail.
“[The connection] will open up parts of North Texas that people don’t ever get to see, which is mostly the Trinity, the natural resources that we have that for so many years we turned our back to,” he said.
Planners hope the full 64 miles of the Fort Worth-to-Dallas trail will be linked up in four years.