In North Texas, March brings signs of spring: daffodils, lawn mower sounds, garden stores seedlings peeking out hopefully, and people walking and riding bicycles. I ride my bicycle in Denton throughout the year, commuting to work, riding to the grocery store and meeting up with friends. After living in New Jersey for six years, I love the slower pace of Denton and the way drivers tend to be respectful and courteous. They pass slowly, giving a wide berth. However, when I get to work, the scene is not so nice.
Although city laws require cars to give cyclists at least 3 feet when passing -- and commercial vehicles 6 feet -- these laws are abandoned on a half-mile stretch of Bell Avenue, the road that bisects Texas Woman's University. When I bike along this road, I must navigate not only cracks in the road, potholes and raised manhole covers but also drivers trying to get to Point B.
This narrow road with no shoulder forces cars either to slow to a crawl behind a cyclist or to pass them with barely a few feet as a buffer, dangerous even at the campus's 20-mile-per-hour speed limit. And it forces cyclists either to face the potential wrath of drivers whose progress they interrupt or to hug the right edge of the road as vehicles -- sometimes commercial trucks -- drive by.
For me this traffic pattern serves primarily as an annoyance, but in January a TWU student was hit by a car and killed while crossing Bell. Poor lighting, few designated crosswalks, and sidewalks that end abruptly contribute to making this part of our city unsafe for people not in cars. It shouldn't take a tragedy to push us to make positive change to a community's infrastructure.
Many cities have transformed their roads to increase pedestrian and cyclist safety. What started as an experiment in Times Square in 2009 has become permanent. The New York City Department of Transportation closed five blocks on Broadway Avenue to traffic in one of the busiest parts of Manhattan to increase safety and accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists. The overall effect increased revenue for businesses in the area and decreased injuries related to traffic. A Portland State University study also shows communities can experience economic benefits as well as increased safety when they build bike lanes, even at the cost of reducing the number of lanes for cars.
Taking on Texas car culture, Dallas and Fort Worth are planning a 64-mile "bicycle superhighway" to connect the two cities. In 2014, the University of Texas San Antonio piloted a bike share program that would allow students, faculty, and staff to borrow bikes from designated stations. And the City of Denton recently hired a pedestrian and bicycle coordinator, showing the city is taking the health and safety of its residents seriously.
The university where I work also has increased its efforts to support cyclists on campus. After a 2012 survey, the university added new bicycle racks, sending a message to commuters that the university values this form of transportation.
If commuters cannot safely bike to campus and through campus, these racks will not do much good. With Bell Avenue as a central thoroughfare, for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, this half-mile stretch of road needs attention. Weighing the extra few minutes a driver might need to reach her destination against the many benefits increased pedestrian and bike traffic offers, it behooves Texas Woman's University to take a cue from the city and consider changing the traffic patterns on Bell or even closing it to traffic altogether.
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