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Long-range bike plans move forward in Fort Worth

The Star-Telegram: Long-range bike plans move forward in Fort Worth

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010

BY MIKE LEE
mikelee@star-telegram.com

FORT WORTH -- As a sea of bicyclists in red and yellow jerseys looked on, City Council members moved forward with a long-range plan this week to weave cyclists into the traffic pattern across Fort Worth.

The city has had false starts before with bike plans. But a grassroots movement, including two big bicycling clubs, is solidly behind the latest version, known as Bike Fort Worth.

"With a city that is more bicycle-friendly, then the sport of cycling will be enhanced, and maybe that will encourage more bicycle riding and less auto driving," John Roberts, president of the Fort Worth Bicycling Association, told the City Council on Tuesday.

Jim Wilson, president of the Lockheed Martin Recreation Association's cycling club, said the bike plan complements the city's push to get people out of cars by encouraging mass transit and building walkable neighborhoods.

"None of those can go to every home -- none of those can go to every neighborhood; the bicycle is another avenue to connect each of those," he said.

The plan calls for creating 900 miles of new trails and bike lanes -- up from 100 miles today -- and connecting that web to popular destinations and to other cities, while encouraging cycling and striving to decrease bike accidents.

There's no funding in the city budget for any specific projects, but adding bike routes to Fort Worth's long-term plans will make it possible to build the bike routes incrementally as the city grows. It will also increase the odds of winning state and federal grants, said Julia McCreeary, a city planner.

Bikes have been an afterthought for most of Fort Worth's explosive growth. In 2004, for instance, the city announced it would stripe 300 miles of bike lanes. But only 40 miles were actually built, because of lack of funds, McCreeary said.

A couple of things have changed since then.

In 2008, the city and the economic development group Fort Worth South joined forces to restripe Magnolia Avenue between Eighth Avenue and Hemphill Street. The street went from four lanes to three lanes, with wide bike lanes on each side. The street was already becoming a hipster mecca because of its restaurants, and now the bike racks are full on most days.

At the same time, cycling has become more popular overall, in part because of the spike in fuel prices in 2008.

"It's hip and cool, it's urban - it's living in the city," Councilman Joel Burns said.

Doug Black, a lawyer for the city who commutes by bicycle a couple days a week, said many of the basics for bike commuting are already in place. Most downtown streets are one-way, and the traffic moves slowly enough that bikes can mingle safely.

"Downtown riding is very, very convenient. Getting into downtown, depending on your arterial, is very, very tricky," he said.

The bigger obstacles are convenience issues -- where to find bike racks, showers and a place to change into professional clothes, he said. Black keeps his work clothes in his office at City Hall and uses extra deodorant.

McCreeary said even incremental steps could bring about big changes.

"There are a lot of people out there who actually do ride their bikes, and they're craving these facilities so they can feel safe," she said. "It's kind of a feedback loop -- the more cyclists there are, the more safe they feel."

Black said he sees signs every day that bicycling is catching on. "I think the critical mass is out there to develop this city into a first-class biking city," he said.