North Texas' love affair with the automobile is a passionate one, as evidenced by the region's history.
Like little love notes, moments in time serve as reminders of people's deep feelings toward their cars. In Arlington, residents celebrated when the first Pontiac rolled off the city's new General Motors assembly line in 1954. In Fort Worth, many folks have fond memories of shopping for a car along the "Automobile Row" of West Seventh and Henderson streets, beginning in the Roaring '20s.
Maybe the car will always be king here -- and why not? But times are changing. The proof is now slathered on the pavement of streets across the Metroplex, where -- of all things -- bike-only lanes are starting to sprout up.
Fort Worth is restriping 11 miles of streets this year to include dedicated bike lanes. Some are already in place on 10th and Texas streets, as well as West Seventh Street (yep, old Automobile Row) in the bustling new mixed-use area west of downtown.
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Arlington elected leaders have approved a 125-mile network of on-street and off-street bikeways in the coming years, including the restriping of 16 miles of streets for on-street bike lanes and 43 miles of recommended bike routes.
Cyclists will tell you that Dallas-Fort Worth is among the last major metropolitan areas in the U.S. to embrace bike lanes as a true alternative to traffic congestion, and a way to clean up the environment and promote exercise and health.
"Bicycles are going to be here, and they can be a huge benefit to our transportation system, if we can learn to benefit from them," said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas, an Austin-based advocacy group. "If you make your city attractive for bicycles, especially for trips under 5 miles, it clears up road space for everybody else."
But however popular cycling becomes, it will be a long time before that mode of travel amounts to anything more than a niche. So what's the other 99 percent of the population supposed to make of these bike lanes? What are the rules of the road?
We think it's about time that car lovers and cycling fanatics start to understand each other a little better. In that spirit, we offer eight tips to help motorists share space on the planet with bike riders, based on interviews with experts and a review of state and municipal laws:
Is it legal to drive in the bike lanes?
No. Bike lanes are separated from traffic by a solid white stripe that automobiles should not cross. Breaks in the white stripe indicate where automobiles are allowed to make turns.
Can cyclists still use the regular lanes?
Yes. State law gives cyclists the right to the same amount of space on the road as autos.
Is the speed limit any different on roads with bike lanes?
No. The speed limit is the speed limit, whether you're traveling in a vehicle that burns fossil fuels or just calories. Cyclists are obligated to obey all traffic laws, according to the Texas Drivers Handbook (the yellow-orange booklet used by driver education students). This is a source of irritation among some motorists, who complain about cyclists running stop signs or not waiting for red lights to turn green. (When was the last time anyone saw a cyclist pulled over by a police officer?)
What are the rules about passing?
On streets with bike lanes, motorists should be able to pass cyclists with ease (this is among the biggest selling points of bike lanes!). On other streets, pass a bicycle only in areas where passing is allowed.
If the street is wide enough, the cyclists should ride near the right curb if they're moving slower than car traffic, leaving enough room to pass without making a full lane change. However, cyclists do have a right to take the entire right lane, or even the left lane if they're preparing to make a left turn, and in those cases motorists should apply the same passing rules they would an automobile -- wait until it's safe to switch lanes, and then pass. If it's not safe, fall in line behind the bicycle, and be patient.
Who has the right of way at a four-way stop?
Whoever gets there first -- car or bike -- generally has the right of way. If vehicles arrive at about the same time, yield to the driver on the right.
If you're in an accident with a cyclist, what do you do?
Call the police in the event of any injuries or property damage. A special report is filled out for accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists. Motorists are required by state law to carry liability insurance. Cyclists aren't.
Does Texas have a helmet law?
No. It's common sense to wear a helmet while cycling, especially on streets shared with cars, but it's not required by law in Texas, or many other states. However, Fort Worth, Arlington and many other cities require minors to wear helmets (precise age requirements vary).
What helps motorists see cyclists at night?
Bikes used at night must be equipped with a white lamp (a small headlight) on the front, and a red reflector on the rear.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796