Drivers in Dallas spend around 45 hours a year stuck in gridlock. But despite painfully long commutes from the suburbs, few are tempted to try giving up their cars. That may slowly start to change: As part of a massive new transit project, a new bridge will finally make it easier to bike into the city.
The new Margaret McDermott Bridge will stretch across the Trinity River into downtown Dallas with new lanes of traffic. But it will have fully separated lanes for biking and pedestrians, connecting with more bike paths and sidewalks on each side of the river.
“Just having pedestrian and bike access to the new bridge is a huge win for all transit users,” says Richard Wezensky, president of BikeDFW, a local bike advocacy nonprofit. “The Trinity River is a difficult obstacle for those wanting to use active transportation into the city.”
The bridge was designed to make crossing the bridge feel as low-stress as possible. “We specifically designed the pathways to provide a clear division between the cyclists and pedestrians,” says architect Santiago Calatrava. The bike path is more than 12 feet from the edge of the road, and the pedestrian path 23 feet away, with solid barriers in between. “This gives pedestrians a secure, protected, and comfortable environment in which to cross the river.”
It’s a step toward change for a car-obsessed city that has been ranked the worst city for biking in the country twice. “With cheap gas, and an excellent highway and tollway system, we are definitely a car culture,” says Wezensky. “Unfortunately, this isn’t sustainable. We need to reverse the thinking that more space for cars is better.”
A more walkable, bikeable city might also attract new business to the area. “Most big companies now want to locate in towns that are bicycle-friendly, pedestrian-friendly, and have facilities where you can ride to the store, ride to work, things like that,” says Warren Casteel, another bike advocate at BikeDFW. “Dallas is just not there right now. But it will pay off for the city if they do this.”
The city has been slow to act, with a 2011 Bicycle Plan that has yet to materialize. But the new bridge, which will be completed in 2017, may help create a center for a stronger bike and pedestrian network. “Our hope is that this new link across the Trinity River will ultimately transform the floodplain into a central gathering place,” says Calatrava.
“The bridge is a superb facility,” says Casteel. “It’s being done the right way. The key to its success will be having really good connectivity on each end.”