Dallas has bike momentum but needs more off-road trails
Remember that spike in bike sales at the start of the pandemic? In June 2020 Woody Smith, owner of Richardson Bike Mart said Bicycling magazine this request was “breathtaking”. Turns out people pedaled these things instead of letting them gather dust in the garage.
That, combined with forward-thinking planning, gives North Texas a chance to dramatically improve its bike culture. Municipal leaders should do what they can to support this trend.
National rankings of the most bike-friendly cities regularly omit Dallas. In 2018, Bicyclingit’s top 50 list included only one city in Texas: Austin. Last summer, another such study ranked Dallas 140 out of 200 cities, taking into account factors such as bike lanes, the share of workers who cycle to work, access to bike shops and to clubs, air quality and weather.
But Dallas cycling activists expect that to change.
An ace we have up our sleeve: The Dallas Off-Road Bike Association. According to Sean Laughlin, director of club development and sponsorship, DORBA, founded in 1988, was one of the first such organizations in the country and remains one of the most active. Its 2,000 members contribute to the maintenance of more than 200 miles of cycle paths.
Laughlin followed the increase in traffic. In 2019, there were 969 mountain bikers for every kilometer of the DORBA trail. In 2022, this number is 1,714 runners. This means the trails are 77% more crowded, even though the region has added new trails.
“Stats are through the roof right now,” said Philip Haitt Haigh. He is the executive director of the Circuit Trail Conservancy, the partnership connecting segments of paved trails to create a 50 mile loop around Dallas. The loop is an outgrowth of a 230-mile trail master plan adopted by city council in 2008.
Haitt Haigh said his group is working with DORBA to install natural surface trails branching off from the paved loop. These trails are much less expensive to build, but more difficult to maintain. This is why the partnership with DORBA is important. The club has trail maintenance agreements with several North Texas cities, including Dallas, as well as Texas Parks and Wildlife, and private organizations like the Texas Land Conservancy which manages the Oak Cliff Nature Preserve. According to Laughlin, DORBA mobilizes volunteers to serve 13,000 hours each year, mostly on trail maintenance.
“This availability of soft-surface trails built and maintained by such a reputable partner as DORBA is truly unique. Truly special for our metro area,” said Haitt Haigh. “From a trail provider’s perspective, that’s pretty amazing.”
It’s not just Dallas leaders who are pro-cycling. Laughlin told us that DORBA often answers questions from suburbs and private developers. A network of pathways is an attractive amenity for new neighborhoods, a step up from community pools and playgrounds.
In fact, only about 22 miles of mountain bike trails are part of the City of Dallas trail system, according to City Hall trail guru Jared White.
If more of those people pushed into the saddle by the pandemic keep riding, it will be a good thing for them and for our city. We should keep rolling.