*Updated with responses from Kevin Roden, Brendan Carroll and Jim Engelbrecht*
Howard always did really well to ask simple, pointed questions of our local politicians ahead of elections in years past. This year should be no different, as much of the concerns in the post-Denton Mobility Plan-approval world are much the same as before – with give or take marginal progress.
But first, the quick info:
Denton City Elections will take place Saturday, May 11 with early voting starting on April 29. You can find info on all of the candidates as well as whether you’re up to date on registration on VoteDenton, an excellent new elections resource. The cool kids over at WeDentonDoIt also have a slew of questionnaire articles of the candidates as part of their Politics Week a few back.
But now for our own.
“A recent BikeTexas study found that Denton, among the state’s largest 35 cities, leads with the most per capita cycling mode share at 1.5%. Additionally, we are second in pedestrian walking mode share at 5.1% to San Angelo (6.9%). Despite these metrics, Denton has consistently proven itself behind the curve in meeting the needs of appropriate bicycle and pedestrian accommodation, and has been consistently outdone by the core and even peripheral cities of the DFW metroplex.
1. Though we have had a vetted, approved Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Plan on the books for nearly a year and half, only one major priority has been addressed thus far in the Hickory and Oak street corridors – and even then in only the area between Bonnie Brae and Malone/Jagoe/Ave C streets. Most dedicated funding has been reported to be used in engineering costs by City staff. How will you as a Denton City Council member help ensure that the plan sees true implementation and can fulfill more tangible actions within a beneficial timeline?
2. What do you envision as the nature of mobility in Denton in the future – 5 years, 10 years, 20 years – and can our city support this vision?
Please answer with pragmatism.”
Candidates were given until Friday, April 19 to give their responses. Kevin Roden, Dalton Gregory, Alfredo Sanchez, Griffen Rice, Brendan Carroll, Jim Engelbrecht, Joey Hawkins and Phil Kregel got back to us;
Kevin Roden did not. Brendan Carroll plans on getting to us later today.
1. During last year’s budget talks, we agreed on a dedicated fund for the bike plan. What that means is money unused during a given fiscal year will be rolled-over and accumulated for the next year. That was an important step as we get our street and engineering team geared up to begin implementing the plan. I don’t know the veracity of your allegation that “most dedicated funding has been reported to be used for engineering costs.” Any street realignment where stripes are concerned will necessarily involve engineering to properly align the road. What we don’t want coming from that fund – and this is something council made clear in the last budget cycle – is money associated with public hearings and notifications relating to new lane projects and other such costs.
Several significant projects are in the works, including lanes on Windsor (which will connect several neighborhoods to two elementary schools, a middle school, a library, several parks, etc.). We also made sure the recently passed $20 million street bond program included data on streets which are designated for lanes in the bike plan. While those streets are being redone (and that starts this year), bike lanes will be added at no additional cost to the bike lane funding (it is included in the cost to redo the streets and comes out of the bond program).
We need to have an annual or semi-annual review and status update of the plan and the funding. We are heading into another budget cycle, so that always gives us an opportunity to find out where we are and retool from there.
2. You are going to see a significant increase in density in the core of the city (downtown and surrounding neighborhoods) in the next 20 years. That is a signal that more people want to put themselves in a geographical living condition where walking, biking, or public transit is more accessible. I also recommend that we increase the amount of neighborhood/commercial districts in order to create this possibility in other areas of town. Consider, for instance, what has developed organically on Congress Street between the Greenhouse and Seven Mile and how that connects to the TWU neighborhoods, the Bolivar Street neighborhood, and the Panhandle/Congress/Egan neighborhood. Understanding how this works and how it can be fostered in other parts of town will go a long way to creating more walkable/bikable pockets throughout the city.
1. I have been pushing staff to produce tangible results that address the bike plan. As long as I am on council I will be insisting on action to accomplish the plan. Since it is a ten-year plan, we should see an average of 10% accomplished each year. I expected it to start slowly since it takes some time to gear up. But there are some other factors that have exacerbated the delays.
We had a false start to add bike lanes on Pennsylvania in the Southridge subdivision when those who had been lobbying for the facilities did not show up to public hearings and those opposed were well represented. Also, some engineering effort has gone into a bike route on Sycamore from the Downtown Denton Transit Center to UNT but there is an interest in shifting that route over to Oak and Hickory.
Here is the good news. The Traffic Safety Commission and the Council Mobility Committee have both received reports in April regarding the Windsor bike route, which will include bike lanes, road diets, and road sharing features in different segments. That route will connect to two other bike lanes, three parks, three schools, a public library, a recreation center, and an off street bike path along Cooper Creek from Sherman Drive that will eventually connect with UNT’s Discovery Park. The city has applied for a state grant to help fund the Cooper Creek path. And the pedestrian/bike bridge over Loop 288 parallel to the A-Train line is almost complete.
2. I expect to see the ten-year bike plan to be fully operational on time. In the seventh or eighth year of the plan, we need to review what has been accomplished and develop a plan for the next ten years. We need to add a component for educating motorist and bicyclists – probably by adding a “bicycle manager” to the staff. Schools must start teaching bike safety to children and their parents with the support of the city and volunteer groups such as yours. Supporting the plan and the vision to provide adequate pedestrian and bike accommodations will only happen if citizens communicate their desires and elect council members who will are knowledgeable advocates.
Citizen advocacy and involvement is crucial. Howard Draper helped educate other council members and me about what was possible. His advocacy was not just complaining but offering real solutions. He was both idealistic and pragmatic.
You ask if we can support the vision. It is important to understand that there are other areas competing for limited funds. Good roads make bike accommodations possible. In 2009, we should have been spending about $10 million a year to keep our roads repaired but we were only spending $1.9 million. Now we are up to $4.2 but that is still far short of the amount needed. We should celebrate a 52% increase during some very tough budget years but council must require staff to present a plan to fully fund our road budget in the next five years.
1. As a federal employee with the USDA Forest Service, the thing we dreaded most was that our projects would go through Engineering because funds would be spent with little to show for it. From your letter it seems that you are facing the same issue. As a citizen you can request to know how much funding was available and how that funding was utilized. That is the only way to put a stop to spending on salaries rather than projects.
As a council member we are not directly involved with the budget. We should be influencing project development based on citizen interest. As a citizen and member of a concerned group, you should be taking every opportunity to speak at council meetings to make your concerns known.
As a council member I do see a need for bicycle lanes. We have many students who do not own a car and the only means of transportation is their bicycle. There are others in the city who utilize bicycles as a form of needed transportation because they do not have a car or cannot afford any other means of transportation. Because of the great weather we have here in Denton, weekends are a great time for many groups to take to the street and ride their bikes. Denton is very unique in that it has two Universities. Denton should be made more bike friendly and I would throw my full support for this project.
Pedestrian accommodation is also crucial in that it improves the quality of life for many that do not have a car. There are many who utilize their wheel chairs on roads which is very dangerous. Denton citizens who decide to walk should not feel threatened by traffic speeding on right next to them.
2. Because of how our cities are built, spread out, I still see vehicles as the major form of transportation. I do see people moving to smaller vehicles as gas prices continue to escalate. I also see people moving toward other means of transportation like motor cycles/scooters and bicycles. Long term, we need to better plan our cities to be more energy efficient and more environmental friendly but that only comes from people educating themselves and understanding their options.
1. Denton is a maturing city that is enduring a period of significant population growth. This growth factor coupled with an already high ad valorem tax rate makes allocating funds for new initiatives difficult if not impossible. While there is an approved mobility plan in place with a clear implementation plan, the true costs haven’t been calculated – nor have all of the funding sources been identified. As a council member, I would advocate a serious evaluation of what we consider our priorities. In the case of safe mobility throughout our city, we have placed too much significance on the single occupant motor vehicle. Perhaps we should apply the funds from civil fines collected through traffic camera violations to fund our Pedestrian and Bicycle Mobility Plan. I’d certainly like to see more progress, but it is important to remember that a beneficial timeline is part of one’s perspective, while those that are making the compromise now might see the project as a failure, in years to come, those that witness a fully implemented, maintained and progressing plan will see it in a different light.
2. Part of what I envision is happening right now and being planned for in the Denton Comprehensive Plan. I’d like to see special districts with greater density and mixed uses than we currently see in our city. This would curtail an unsustainable sprawl, reduce impact on all types of city infrastructure and shape our community in a positive manner. The types of districts that I am suggesting would provide goods and services, entertainment, education and employment opportunities within smaller geographic areas than are currently planned for in our city. A perfect example of this type of design is represented by the Sterling project in the Fry St. area. While this development was quite contentious for many of the long time residents of Denton, myself included, the final results for those residents that it accommodates is quite nice. Mobility in Denton will be significantly impacted by this type of planning and development.
1. The city is finishing an $800,000+ bridge over Loop 288 to complete the hike/bike trail from the DCTA station Downtown to Lake Dallas. In time, as the I-35E corridor is expanded, the trail will extend all the way to Dallas. Meanwhile, Windsor Street on the north side is on the cusp of being restriped to include bike lanes in some sections and share the road in others.
2. Discussions have been ongoing to link the rail trail to the hike/bike trail north of Denton leading to Lake Ray Roberts and beyond. Continued funding through the annual budget will ensure the city continues to implement other aspects of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Plan.
1. I think bike lanes are extremely important and as the only candidate who depends on biking as my main form of transportation this subject is near and dear to me.
Right now Denton is still recovering from the recession, which is why implementation has been so slow. I think the budget does need to be reevaluated and roads/bike lanes do need more attention.
2. As for the long term vision, I think building restrictions right now are harmful to Denton’s city planning. We allow buildings to be built to close to the curb, which makes it more expensive if not impossible to widen roads. There is also a height restriction on buildings, which will cause urban sprawl as the city grows and put more pressure on the roads budget. If we grow up instead of out we will not only be creating a more environmentally friendly city, but one that also is cost effective. The density of the city will also encourage more people to walk and/or bike because of their proximity to all the places they need to go.
1. Let me start by saying that I am not fully informed on the status of this project, but I will attempt to answer based on general information I have gathered. I will also say that, like most residents, I am all for better safety and accessibility for cyclists, pedestrians, and users of other alternatives to cars. We voted for it – we want it! Many of my employees’ only means of transportation are bicycles and feet. Many more of us would choose to utilize a healthier and cheaper way to get around in town if there were appropriate lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks. We all know that it is more fiscally responsible to have less wear and tear on the roads that would have to be repaired eventually. I don’t think there is any argument about that.
Practically, however, I imagine that this process will take longer than anyone wants. Again, I don’t know the details. I do know that there are several factors that have to be successfully addressed. For example, one of the main projects (which you referred to in your question) will be for the Hickory and Oak Street Corridors. These streets offer their own particular concerns because they span the UNT district, our beautiful district of private homes on the Historic Registry, retail space, the Courthouse Square, and crossing tracks into the Denton Terminus of the A Train. This is an area with diverse existing infrastructure and varying concerns by property and business owners. The plan has to be as perfect as we can make it and, to my understanding, it is still going through adjustments. As anyone who has started a building project will tell you, this is one of the most tedious and sometimes frustrating steps. The residents of Denton have agreed to fund this development, but I doubt we would be so agreeable if asked for more funding to redo it in five or ten years because it didn’t meet our needs or take into account plans currently in the pipeline.
That said, I imagine there are ways that some parts of the project could be expedited. It reviewing some of the City Council minutes, as well as this BikeDenton website, I am curious about the change in the plan from Pennsylvania Avenue to Windsor Drive, due to the Pennsylvania residents’ complaints. I will use that as an example, although I repeat that I am speaking without information about why that incident happened. However, I think that, had the neighborhood been properly informed and consulted about the proposal before it actually became a plan, that delay and expense might have been avoided. That is the kind of thing that looks, from the outside, like and area for improvement that I would be diligent about addressing. Some things just take a lot of time, but we don’t have to waste time.
2. We are obviously still a very car-centric society in Texas. That is changing slowly and will continue to do so as people have to change their way of thinking. Just to name a few factors that could act as catalysts in that change: rising fuel costs; nationwide and local economy; relations with oil producing countries; advances in alternative fuel technologies; greater awareness of environmental concerns; aging populations; more local businesses to provide employment, reducing distance commuting; increased number of businesses and residents providing larger tax base for infrastructure; increased ridership on buses and trains once the schedules are more frequent and flexible . . . So, to answer your question, my best guesses would be:
5 years – small increase in regular usage of bicycles and public transportation
10 years – technological advances in alternative fuel sources will affect automobiles and public transportation; if the city starts growing up instead of out, there could be a greater dependence on walking and cycling
20 years – Hovercrafts! But seriously, as fast as technology is changing, even the experts admit that we have no idea where we’ll be.
Can our City support that vision? Absolutely, as long as we continue to be fiscally responsible, true to our identity, welcoming to new business, conservative of natural resources, and cooperative and considerate with each other, we will be a great city that embraces our future in a uniquely Denton way.
1. I will stay vigilant and in the ears of city staff to help ensure implementation. I will also attempt to get the community involved more in the process so they, too, can hold the staff accountable. We have a very large deficit in pedestrian friendly roads and as an avid bike rider, I would be a stern voice to communicate the bike communities needs and wants to the city staff and colleagues on the council.
2. I would love if the square became an all pedestrian area on the weekend by detouring car traffic around the square, I think it would add a great vibrancy to already unique culture on the square. I honestly don’t think our mobility rationale will change any time soon, unfortunately. I see the roads continue to fall behind and lack maintenance and with more people moving to Denton, means more cars on the road, so our elected officials really need to re consider investing more monies in our roads rather than convention centers.