Fort Worth becoming bike-friendly, but North Texas cyclists say it’s a long road

Joel Rumfelt rescued his dog, Fiona, from an abusive situation. But these days, when Rumfelt rides his bike, it’s the little Chihuahua who seems to protect him.

Rumfelt, who commutes daily by bicycle 18 miles from his Hurst home to his job at a bike shop in southwest Fort Worth, dealt for years with offensive gestures and angry shouts from motorists who didn’t want to share the road with him. But this year, when he started bringing along his dog — who rides in a backpack, with her little head poking out to hear the sounds and smell the air while Rumfelt does the pedaling — people in automobiles began cutting him more slack.

“For some reason, people are a little nicer when you have a dog,” Rumfelt said. “They say: ‘You have a dog? OK. Let’s share the road.’ 

Even cyclists who ride without a canine say they’re encouraged that Fort Worth is finally making progress in becoming more bike-friendly. It’s a gradual process, they say, that sometimes appears to take two steps forward and one back.

For example, the city now has 60 miles of bike lanes, up from fewer than 10 miles in 2010, and has marked an additional 87 miles of bike routes. Also Fort Worth Bike Sharing. a nonprofit program that has 350 red bicycles available for rent at 44 racks in areas such as downtown, the Cultural District and the south side, has logged 94,000 rides in 2  1/2 years.

And yet the effort to create a cycling-enthusiastic city occasionally suffers setbacks. For example, last month Trinity Bicycles permanently closed after less than three years in Sundance Square. Owner Bernie Scheffler cited a variety of problems including personal matters, but also a decline in sales.

“We had a wet cold late-breaking winter, followed by record-breaking spring rains in a period where we should have been doing great,” Scheffler said in a Facebook message. “Most local mountain bike trails have been closed most of the year, it seems. On top of that, our industry is seeing significantly fewer bike shop visits.”

But overall, a gaggle of bike riders interviewed on city streets this week seemed to agree that, generally, things are better on Fort Worth roads than a few years ago.

“We just need more education. It’s a cultural change and, to change attitudes, it takes time,” said Bryan Hardy, a teacher in the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw school district who often spends Wednesday and Sunday evenings with a group known as the Night Riders.

On Wednesday night, the group — regulars and newcomers alike — met after dark at the Chat Room pub on Magnolia Avenue and rode about two hours at a leisurely pace through downtown, the Stockyards, the Trinity Trails and near the Fort Worth Zoo.

Many riders were quick to credit Mayor Betsy Price, an avid cyclist who regularly hosts group rides and has proposed that Fort Worth and Dallas be connected by bike trails, with using her prominence to cast the activity in a positive light.

“Most of us [cyclists] are car drivers, too, so we recognize that we all need to retrain our brains to expect more bikes on the road,” Hardy said.

Even so, riders said they want to be clear that much work remains in making the city safe. Certain neighborhoods such as downtown and Fairmount on the near south side are known as being bike-friendly, while areas outside Loop 820 — especially to the north — are considered habitually dangerous.

Even specially marked bike lanes aren’t always safe, said Shane Woodhall, who lives in east Fort Worth and works at Lockheed Martin. He often rides with the Night Riders.

Woodhall said a buddy was recently struck by a car while riding in a bike lane on West Seventh Street near Montgomery Plaza, just steps from a bike rental rack.

“Somebody turned in front of him,” Woodhall said, adding that his friend was badly bruised but didn’t have to be hospitalized.

But those stories are becoming less the norm, as motorists become accustomed to seeing two-wheel counterparts on the road.

Fort Worth has begun a $1.26 million program funded by voter-approved bonds to improve cycling safety in several areas, mostly south of downtown.

But in other areas the establishment of bike lanes has been spottier. In far north Fort Worth, city crews have added bike lanes to streets including Old Denton Road as part of an expansion project. But many other roads were built before the city got serious about bike planning, and lack lanes or even signs encouraging motorists to make room for bikes.

Some major thoroughfares such as North Beach Street have only signs encouraging motorists to share the road, but not bike lanes. In some neighborhoods where Keller school district parent-teacher associations have lobbied for action, Fort Worth officials have put bike lanes on residential streets.

Elsewhere in Tarrant County, the hope is that the gradual acceptance of bikes in Fort Worth’s central city will spread to the suburbs, eventually creating a web of streets and trails that will make it possible to go anywhere in the Metroplex on two wheels.

“I think the bottom line is, there’s more awareness,” said Kristen Camareno, executive director of Fort Worth Bike Sharing. “Whether you are supportive [of cycling] or not, as a motorist, nobody wants to hit anybody.”

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

Better bike paths

Fort Worth has embarked upon a $1.26 million program funded by voter-approved bonds to improve cycling safety in several parts of the city, mostly south of downtown, by 2019. Projects include:

  • Bike lanes on Miller Avenue between Rosedale and Berry streets.
  • Bike lanes on Allen Avenue between Evans Avenue and Cobb Park.
  • An enhanced on-street trail connection on 10th Street between Forest Park Boulevard and Penn Street.
  • Carroll Street bike lanes between West Seventh Street and White Settlement Road.
  • Bike lanes on Biddison Street, between McCart Avenue and Jones Street.
  • A neighborhood connection to Trinity Trails via Texas 183 frontage roads.

Source: City of Fort Worth.