City officials held a focus group with bicyclists this week to get more input on ways to make biking better and safer in Denton.
About 20 people met at Sprockets Bicycle Shop in downtown Denton on Wednesday and outlined their preferred bicycle facilities as well as favorite destinations that need improvement. The feedback is expected to become part of the city’s mobility plan, which is getting a comprehensive update this year.
“The focus group is here to tell us what will work and what won’t work,” said Rob Ray, project manager of the mobility plan. “We’re taking some of the recommendations we’ve heard from our public meetings in the summer and showing them to some people who use the bicycle facilities now. This way we can get an idea on what they think before we ultimately take them to City Council for approval.”
City planners are collecting data and feedback in order to update the Denton Master Thoroughfare Plan, which guides how city streets will be built. An updated bicycle plan and the creation of a pedestrian plan are also part of the updates. Officials will hold more public meetings this fall as the plan is drafted and finalized. The updates will also include transportation impact fees — the amount developers of large projects will be expected to pay for the effect their projects have on the city’s mobility.
Susan Whitmer, a librarian at Texas Woman’s University, was among the 20 people who voiced concerns with the safety of popular biking routes.
“I have been commuting in Denton on a bicycle since I was an undergraduate in 1988,” Whitmer said. “There was a time in the summer when everybody left town and I could ride up and down Carroll [Boulevard] without problems. But now I don’t do that. I’m here mostly because my commute from my house in north Denton to Texas Woman’s University has become really dangerous. I have lights, I usually wear high-visibility clothing, but I don’t feel safe anymore.”
According to city records, there have been 131 bicycle-related crashes in Denton between 2014 and 2018. Some of the routes with the most concerns for cyclists include Sherman Drive, Teasley Lane, McKinney Street, Elm Street and Locust Street.
Marc Oliphant, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said that many cyclists are asking for protected bike lanes separate from passing cars. These bike lanes can be separated from driving lanes by a small curb or standing posts. Other cyclists favored off-street trails strictly for bicycles.
“There’s a lot of research about what kinds of bicycle infrastructure people are comfortable riding in,” said Oliphant. “A lot of people really want to be separated from cars to feel safe and that’s what we’re focusing on right now.”
Transportation planners might also test downtown streets for two-way travel to eliminate any confusion with drivers and cyclists on rules of the road. These tests could begin next month.
Attendees at Wednesday’s meeting are bicycle advocates and expressed hope that safety improvements could encourage others to ride more.
“I sold my vehicle a little bit over two years ago,” said Sally Austin, a Denton cyclist. “I avoid certain areas when riding, but I’d like to not have to do that. I can’t tell you how many people talk to me and say that they used to ride their bikes everywhere but had a bad accident, and if there were protected bike lanes, they would ride in a minute. So I know that getting these bike lanes and making it more pedestrian friendly is just going to make a tremendous difference in our city.”
Overall, planners had a positive reception and good feedback from the community, Oliphant said.
“The whole point of this is to prevent problems in the future,” Oliphant said. “We want to get everyone’s input in an inviting atmosphere. We have some of our own ideas already, but it’s kind of a balance between the professional data and the information from the people that are out there riding everyday.”
Seeing those plans for improvement, Whitmer said that she is excited and hopes it will get more people out of cars and onto bikes.
“I say they’re the solution to cleaner air, healthier bodies and a clearer mind,” she said.