Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lack of experience

In my last post, I talked about having to give up the idea of being a planner. The lack of experience was the big factor in the down economy.

Proof that I am not quite over it, I am reading one of the books given to me for Christmas. In a book titled Those Guys Have All the Fun, authors James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales chronicle the timeline of ESPN's rise to dominance. In the 1970 and early 1980's, when ESPN was planned and implemented, there was a lot of uncertainty and doubt about whether the idea of an all-sports cable channel would succeed. Many of the things they did were ridiculed by the established media outlets.

Many of the guys ESPN hired early were new guys who had little-to-no experience in running and producing TV. Most of them were hired because they were cheap, but they were also hired because they had a passion to make it work.

Many of the things they did are common place today, but were told back then that people didn't want to do that. The established experience of the established media guys said viewers didn't want studio updates. They said viewers wanted to watch the game they were watching and not be interrupted. They said the camera should only follow the ball, whereas ESPN pioneered the cameraman following a player without the ball who would make an impact on the play.The establishment said viewers weren't concerned with what was going on behind the scenes. ESPN said things like the NFL draft would hold interest to the public.

These young guys were hired by the execs because they were cheap, sure. But there were a lot of guys who were cheap that didn't get on with ESPN. The guys who were hired wanted to prove themselves. The execs gave them freedom to do what they needed, guided them when needed and took a station that experienced folks said were doomed and made it the dominant name in sports media.

My point is, I think the planning industry is doing itself a disservice by not giving inexperienced guys a try. I understand why they value experience, but in the end, using ESPN as an example, does it make the candidate better? I can't answer that for every city/agency/company, but I can say that it isn't necessarily better. Sports fans today take for granted what ESPN pioneered in the early 80's by guys without experience.

I'm not saying I would have revolutionized the planning industry. But I would have brought a similar passion to my job. I would have also brought a similar zeal for success. There are lots of inexperienced guys like me who would do the same. Keep in mind that Dallas/Fort Worth was spared from the worst of the recession. If I had these struggles here, I can't imagine what is going on in the harder hit areas. I just can't imagine what the planning industry will look like without a dearth of young guys coming in.

Friday, December 27, 2013

So this is it

This one will be a tough one for me to write. I'm doing this primarily for myself as a cathartic exercise. But I am also partially doing it for my more loyal readers, some of whom have wondered why I post less than I have had in the past. I view writing as a mental therapy and I just need to get some things out. This post may seem rambling at times as I have many disparate thoughts coming from many different directions.

Let me add a fair warning, there may be language that I don't normally say or write. I haven't cussed in this blog nor my other, so whatever I write will be from the depths of the passion I have.

I have failed. The top of this blog reads "a newly minted city planner." I received a masters, but never found the professional career path. For over three years, I routinely checked the job boards, entered the same information in different application software for different planning entities, applied for jobs I qualified for, went to the occasional interview, but never became a planner. My wife constantly told me I didn't fail. I still disagree. I tried and didn't succeed. By definition, I failed.

Today I accepted a position with the Dallas Police Department. Starting late next month, I begin training to become a police officer. Ironically, it will be the first job where I will actually get some compensation for my degree. Sadly, it is for my Bachelors. As it stands now, my Masters has been a $25,000 albatross.

I offer a brief timeline to give some context. I have a family. Part of the impetus for moving into an alternate career field is to provide for them. When we started family planning, the assumption was to get a good job out of college. There were some extra life issues that we dealt with that upped the timeline, so my first son was born in March 2010 several months ahead of the original thought. I finished studies the following August. There wasn't much job headway, so I started a second job in April of 2011. That provided enough income to make it work. Then in early 2012, we had unexpected news of a second son. I took a third income source, but it wasn't enough for both. We saved well, but it were going to run out before years end. I applied for DPD in case some of the opportunities that lay ahead of me failed. They did. By this time next year, I will be donning a police officers uniform.

There were several factors that I have pinpointed that caused this outcome.

My primary problem is that I lacked professional experience. Sure, I volunteered for various planning functions, like DART's D2 study and the Downtown 360 plan, but had no planning experience where I was paid for my efforts.

I logged a minimum of 70 applications for open, entry level positions (I like to catalog useless data and stats, but admit I likely missed a few). Most were within DFW, but several were around the state and country. Of those, well over half never responded other than thanks for applying. I was just left hanging. Most of the rest responded months after the fact, well after I already knew I was out (thanks for reminding me I didn't get it). A small handful let me know in a timely manner that I wasn't going to get an interview or work there, and they were the most appreciated.

Of those 70+, I interviewed for 7 positions. I know for a certainty that five of those ENTRY level positions were filled by folks with experience, including one  internship that was filled by someone with experience. Yes, you heard that right. I did not get an internship because I didn't have enough experience. In another case, a person involved in the hiring process was obviously sheepish when I asked for followup. He was embarrassed that they hired someone with experience for an entry-level position. I can't speak for certainty for the other two, because I just don't know. I have my suspicion, but nothing else.

That right there severely pisses me off. The planning industry is undervaluing itself. Folks with two or three years as a professional are being paid entry level salaries and doing entry level work. Meanwhile, true entry level people aren't doing squat but applying for the next job.

My wife has heard this rant many times. If you want experience, ASK FOR IT IN THE JOB POST!!!!! Not only are you devaluing the planning industry, you are giving false hope to folks like me. Sadly, though the miracle of the internet, I know I'm not the only one struggling through this.

The only classmates that I know who were able to get jobs were those who had no other personal obligations and could do low-to-un-paid internships. Some were living with parents, others with several roommates. I, on the other hand, had to support a wife and kids because I went back to school later in life. I had to have a full time job, while also going to Graduate School full time, while also becoming a first-time parent. There was just no way to do that and get an internship, unless it was paid. Paid internships were cut just as much as the planning staffs were (One classmate who got a professional gig actually told me that he didn't want to do planning as a career in an attempt to make me feel better...How that would make me feel better is beyond me).

In some ways, I am really not surprised that experience means so much. In a profession that categorizes everything, how do you measure an applicants worth? Worth ethic, desire, passion, motivation are all unmeasurable attributes. Even knowledge can be, though I do offer up my 4.0 Masters GPA as some type of measure, though it certainly doesn't cover it all. I'd put my writing and communication skills against anyone, but there really is no way to measure that. But experience? That is the easiest and really only one that is 100% completely measurable. And mine was 0.0.

Externally, I graduated at the worst time in the history of the planning profession. The deficiency in experience wouldn't have been an issue were the times more consistent with the previous twenty years. The cuts to parks and libraries received a lot of media attention but cuts to planning were just as severe. There are over 60 municipalities in the DFW region. If each laid off between 1-6 planners (I know one city eliminated the entire department), then us entry level guys never stood a shot if they were ahead of us.

In a down economy, I don't blame these experienced planners who were laid off for getting any job they can. They are probably more like me than those few students I mentioned who were getting a job. They had a family, kids or other obligations and needed a source of revenue. It doesn't make it any easier for me, but at least I can sympathize.

There are many in the profession who are openly questioning what the future of planning looks like. New blood is not coming in, especially at the rate of retirement and attrition. 

I am also dismayed with my University. Other than a professor who did everything he could, I felt the School of Urban and Public Affairs at UT-Arlington took my money, gave me a degree and sent me on my way. There was no prep while in school for getting a job. There was no career development folks to guide the process, offer tips or resume critiques. The best SUPA could do was have a e-mail service that published open jobs, but that's available only to students. I heard of few times about networking, but that was it and it wasn't in depth, just a casual mention. I had a fairly large network and absolutely nothing positive happened - I'll mention a little of that in a moment.

Even outside of SUPA, UTA fell flat. I asked Career Services for help with my resume in the beginning. They gave a few vague pointers that I had seen on Yahoo!'s front page. I revamped what was an absolutely awful resume and asked them to critique that. Crickets. I tried again and got nothing. I felt like a cheap date. UTA took my money and showed me a good time and then the door. Didn't even pay for cab fare.

So to the professor, Ard Anjomani, thank you so much for all your help. I just wish it wouldn't have been in vain. I'm only using his name because I truly felt he did everything he could to help. He deserves some praise. To most of the other professors, thank you for providing a mentally stimulating environment. To the rest of UTA that I dealt with, shame on you! Shame for taking my money and running. I needed you and instead I got nothing.

Even some of my fellow classmates deserve shame. Many of them were already employed in the field while working on their Masters, beneficiaries of a better economic climate. On in particular still makes my skin crawl. In a lapse of moral judgement, I fed him answers for his thesis-substitute test. Had he not passed this test, he wouldn't have graduated. I can't say for sure the many answers I provided were the difference in pass/fail, but I do know I studied and he didn't. He passes, moves to a different, higher paying job in another city, bolstered by his experience and Masters Degree. Eventually, that city has an opening and when I call asking for a good word, he tells me there is nothing he can do because he is on the hiring committee. Just thinking about still pisses me off. There are other examples networking failure, but that one...that ire will never subside.

And Alumni Association, stop calling me asking donations. Even if I could afford to give you something, I don't feel I owe you anything. I have two degrees from you. My Bachelors I actually used in radio, though the U in now way advises against getting a Communications or Journalism Degree. The traditional media industries are shrinking and dying, yet their enrollment is increasing and they don't mention a thing about job prospects. However, I got the degree and worked in the field.

With SUPA, I couldn't even get work in the industry. In my naivety, I truly thought I could take a 4.0 in a Masters program and get a job.Maybe I deserve some shame too.

Irony, I still love my Alma Mater. At least as an undergraduate, I felt an attachment to UTA. I actively follow the U's sports teams, as evidenced by my second blog, and still feel a positive emotion toward UTA. But it in no way shape or form has anything to do with earning a Masters. I still seethe when I think of how they use their students, or more accurately, their wallets. Or, considering the ballooning crises surrounding student loans, their credit worthiness is the most accurate.

When I told a close friend I might become a police officer - he is one himself - he expressed reservations about me joining the police department. His primary concern was that the profession is a hard one, and those without the passion may struggle.

There may be some truth to that. But I believe in loyalty and paying it forward. All levels of the department, from the folks who processed our paperwork, to the test takers, to the background detective, busted their ass to try and get me in. Were it not for a legal issue with my name, they would have done all of that in time for the academy that began the first week of November. In fact, thanks to my current employment, DPD officers have been recruiting me for years. After failing so long at attaining a planning job, it feels good to be wanted. I will NEVER forget that. That creates a passion and drive to succeed and honor that.

It is clear the planning profession has no desire to include me. I don't have any pretense that I would have been a superstar planner along the lines of Peter Calthorpe, Janet Sadik-Kahn or Daniel Burnham. But I can guarantee you, any planning agency would be hard pressed to find a member of their staff more dedicated or driven to succeed than me. Instead, that drive now goes to DPD. And it is the same drive they have shown towards me.

But I won't lie. It hurts. Failing to become a planner really hurts. I don't normally fail. Most times, I just try harder until I figure out how to succeed. Prior, my one other big failure was not making radio work. With little chance of advancement and a huge likelihood of instability, I left the radio industry and its $7/hr, weekday night, market #5 broadcasting position. I just couldn't make it work professionally. It was creating a strain on my personal life (BTW, the $7/hr I earned as recently as October 2006, isn't even minimum wage now). That was my biggest failure. However, spending $25,000 for a piece of paper and not getting into the industry is now my biggest. I couldn't make either work and both still hurt.

As it stands now, I am just channeling that hurt into making this work. I really don't know how to describe the feeling that I finally will be able to fully provide for my family. I will enjoy the new challenges and am ready to tackle it head on. I am really excited about the future and am very much looking forward to January 29, when academy starts. In fact, I have already spent Christmas money and gift cards on items I will need for it.

As for this blog, I don't honestly know what is in store. I still love transportation, urban design and development. I still want Dallas to achieve a critical mass of cohesive, consecutive urban neighborhoods. I can foresee a time when the pain wears off and I will post again. What I will type would be Dallas-specific, as the posts about planing in general won't have any meaning to me anymore.

 I don't know when, but that's the best I can offer my group of loyal readers. Until then, thank you so much for following me and giving me an outlet these last three years, since I didn't get that with a professional job to actually practice it in.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dallas Does Bike Lanes II

Roughly a month ago, I critiqued the bike lanes on the ground in downtown Dallas. While there were some things I liked, I was overall unhappy with what has been put into place.

On Wednesday, the annual ride to City Hall took place, and several council members were there as well as the man in charge at Public Works of putting the infrastructure in place, Jared White. When I voiced my concerns, I was generally pleased with the reception. Some of the lane changes and the separated lane at Main under the freeway he acknowledged weren't perfect.

As he explained to me, it was a learning process that the City was doing. There will be changes, though none in the near term, but that the lessons learned would be applied to the currently-fund-but-not-implemented bike infrastructure projects in the near term.

He also was similarly discouraged about the lack of enforcement when vehicles stage in the lanes on Jackson and Wood. He lives near there and sees that happening and is hoping for better enforcement. He also acknowledged the lanes run though sewer grates, recessed man-hole covers and other obstacles and will work to resolve those at some point. 

While I still think that Dallas would have benefited from having a cyclist plan and implement the projects, I am at least a little encouraged that they recognize there is room for improvement in the way we go about adding bicycle infrastructure.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Am I Scott Griggs?

Short answer no, but listening to the Economic Development Committee this week might have given someone who reads this blog a different impression.

I have mentioned the urban design flaws of Victory Park before. One of the items before the EDC this week was the latest proposal by the owners of Victory Park to turn it around. I won't go into details since I only know the generics, turn Olive into a more pedestrian-friendly street, widen sidewalks all over and get rid of some one-way streets in favor of two-way. Sounds good, but without concrete proposals or blueprints, I just can't comment with certainty. Victory Park in its generic form sounded good, but the devil was in the details.

But I offer these quotes from Griggs.

"If you want these water-colors (artist renderings) to be a reality, you have to stop focusing on the events and focus on everyday life."

"You can't have events drive the every day. We want to build a successful community in an urban environment and to do that you need life between buildings on a day in, day out basis."

Victory Park is "one of the biggest failures of urban design ever imaginable."

No link to the Katy Trail "is going to be a regrettable mistake."

Griggs also noted the poor relation to Victory Park and the DART light rail station.

He wasn't the only one with attention directed towards the flaws. I think we are finally getting council members who get urban areas.

Adam Medrano questioned city staffers on why bike lanes were absent in the redo plans. His council district covers the area.

Lee Kleinman, similar to Griggs, noted there is a lack of everyday needs for the area. He also made mention that arena-anchored areas tend to fail, something I have said many times, particularly on the economic development front.

It is really refreshing to see Council members ask the hard questions and point out the obvious, rather than take the developers word and hope for the best.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Just Not Enough Parking

I guess it has been a while and it is inevitable that it gets the spot light again at some point. Friday, Steve Brown of the Dallas Morning News ran an article lamenting the lack of parking in downtown Dallas, particularly as new developments take the place of surface lots.

Can I scream please? It is the same tired line. Let me repeat something I have said here over and over. There is not a lack of parking downtown. There are near 100,000 public and private parking spaces spread across all land-uses in downtown. There are roughly 30,000 surface parking spaces and another 30,000 in stand-alone garages.

What downtown has a true lack of, and something that will never, ever change, is convenient parking, especially when the city outlaws convenient on-street parking options.

When the wife and I were watching the old Dallas TV series, I always laughed when one of the Ewing's or Barnes' would pull up to their office tower at Renaissance Tower or One Main Place and amazingly find a parking space on the street or in the drop-off zone. They'd get out, shut the door and enter the office building. Of course they would have been towed in real life, but they'd always have the ability to park freely and conveniently. Downtown Dallas will never have that.

All throughout the column, Brown mentions the reason for the lack of surface parking. That right there is a red flag. Surface parking is the biggest use of land in downtown, yet accounts for only a third of the total parking supply. If every surface parking space is eliminated, the total parking supply is reduced by that amount to 60-70,000 spaces. And that's if there isn't any replacement, which rarely happens.

Brown himself makes no mention of transit as an option. He does offer the following quote:

And extra parking was a key ingredient to get worldwide engineering firm Jacobs to consolidate its North Texas offices in downtown. The California-based firm leased more than 80,000 square feet in the Harwood Center on Bryan Street.

But first, the building owner and Dallas economic development officials had to line up extra parking in a garage next door.

“That and DART moved the needle for Jacobs,” said Cushman & Wakefield senior director Matt Heidelbaugh, who represented the tenant. “Proximity was very important for ease and security.

I understand corporate offices are finally moving away from needing increasing amounts of space for the same amount of workers. I am quite happy with the trend. However, most of the '80's towers still have abundant amounts of parking in an attached garage. Also, the vast majority are on a DART line or within two blocks of a DART station. I see Brown making no mention employers subsidizing a transit pass, only subsidizing parking, or in the case above, the city helping the subsidization of parking. No mention of the work to make biking a legitimate commuting option anywhere in the column.

The other thing Brown completely ignores is that as new development takes the place of the surface lots, they will include more parking than what was there, so there is a net increase of total parking spaces. However, those lots just aren't as convenient.

Brown also makes note that the new suburban projects have two to three times the parking of downtown office buildings. They have to, THEY ARE IN THE SUBURBS! Many of those new office buildings are in cities that are designed for the car and have no transit service. How else are they going to get people there? It also this design that ensures the suburban projects will never have any external activity and makes things like Legacy in Plano a nice idea that doesn't quite make for an urban area.

I have said it countless times. Downtown Dallas will never out-suburb the suburbs. It can never make it convenient for the car. It can, however, out-urban them. The suburbs will never be able to offer authentic, walkable urban areas like historic city centers can. Downtown Dallas leaders would be better off playing to those strengths, rather than complaining about the lack of parking.

It wasn't until the end that we got the idea that maybe it really isn't a terrible issue.

An apartment development planned on land surrounding the historic Dallas High School on Bryan Street and a cultural center in the works at Griffin and Woodall Rodgers Freeway will occupy more surface parking lots. Although they remove parking, these developments are good for downtown, almost everyone agrees.

“It is a very good problem to have,” said John Crawford, CEO of the economic development group Downtown Dallas Inc. “Ten years ago, this wasn’t that big a deal.

“As we look at taking away these surface parking lots, we are looking at other options.”

Crawford said the city of Dallas is developing plans to build an underground parking garage below the planned 3.5-acre Live Oak Avenue park.
And Downtown Dallas Inc. and city officials are working with other building owners to find additional parking.

“Parking, both in perception and reality, has been a problem downtown for a long time,” Crawford said. “As we have rebuilt our downtown, it’s become even more a consideration.”

Let me rephrase this. It is a good problem, we are replacing parking, perception of parking is bad. The real answer is that there will never be enough convenient parking options and what is currently there suppresses the desirability of the surrounding area. In essence attractive areas become less attractive to visit the more convenient the parking becomes. Since there can never be enough convenient parking options, alternative modes have to be considered. Without it is like trying to diet by drinking excessive amounts of soda.

I am glad to see Crawford acknowledge that the problem may not be that big. Dallas has leaders that have always thought capacity solutions are the answer to the problem, more parking, more freeways, more lanes, etc. Until Dallas gets decision makers who think otherwise then this will always be a problem. The solution to parking problems isn't more parking spaces, but rather changing the approach to parking.

“Corporate America is downsizing its space needs, and the densities of workers in offices is going up,” said Greg Langston, managing director of commercial property firm Avison Young’s Dallas office. “With some of these buildings — particularly those built in the 1980s — there is nowhere left to park.”

I think ultimately, I absolutely abhor this kind of article because there is always a quote like this. It is patently false and just continues the stereotype that there is nowhere to park to those who don't know. I introduce some maps that I made a few years ago to dispel that there is nowhere to park downtown. While there may be some minor errors from time, they are still pretty accurate.

There are over 100 distinct surface parking lots downtown.

These are the stand-alone garages, which are approximately equal to the number of spaces in the picture above.
Looking at those pictures, does it look like there is nowhere to park? Those pictures do not include things like basement parking in the office towers or residential buildings. City Hall and the civic buildings in the Arts District, among others, have underground parking, but it isn't there on those maps. I could go on, but here's the main takeaway: Between all the office workers, residences and visitors, there are roughly 150,000 people in downtown daily. How can 100,000 spaces for a downtown that sees 150,000 people and is the nexus of the transit system not have enough parking?

Truth is, it does not have a parking shortage. It has and will always have a convenient-parking shortage. But if the goal is to make downtown Dallas a true urban area, then it will always have that shortage, regardless of what the old guard thinks.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Success in Arlington

It has been hard for me to find information on the MAX bus service in Arlington that opened last month, but my Alma Mater's school paper was able to give some information on the early performance of the new express route from the TRE's Centrepointe Station to the College Park district at UTA and in downtown Arlington.

The bus system, which opened Aug. 19, averaged about 227 riders per day in its first week. The system averaged about 248 riders per day in its third week.

Arlington city officials are pleased with the numbers, said Alicia Winkelblech, Community Development and Planning manager.

“We estimated 250 riders per day at the end of the first year, and we’re already hitting the low end of that year one goal,” she said.


The city council will receive ridership reports quarterly with the next report coming in January, Winkelblech said.

So based on their metric, the express route is a success.

The MAX stop at the southwest corner of UTA Blvd and Center St.
I took the route and was pleased with what I saw. The timing wasn't perfect, though it was at least decently timed to not make the transfer times overly long. The main problem is that there are likely two transfers to make this work, one from the first mode to the TRE and the second from the TRE to MAX.

The stop at College Park was clean, noticeable and convenient, at least if you are going to anything in the immediate district. Considering that the major reason I would use it would be athletic events at the arena, College Park Center, it would work really well for me. The average student has a small hike if they are headed somewhere else on campus.

A close-up of the stop.
There are a few tweaks that would make the service a lot better. First, the University operates its own quasi-bus service that links parts of the disparate campus. Its primary function is to navigate students from the outlying parking lots to the main sections of campus. Increasingly, as the on-campus student population grows, it is developing into more of a bus service to circulate passengers within the service area, but it is still predominantly used by the commuters.

Not one of the shuttles has a stop at this location. There are a couple that get close, but not directly at the new stop. Certainly ridership would increase if at least one of the main routes did.

Second, I really feel that in order for this thing to take off, the transfer times have to be tightened. Coming from downtown Dallas, the hub of the DART system, it took almost two hours. Coming from the same spot, I could have drove in 25-30. I guarantee you, of those 248 average daily riders, almost all of them either don't/can't drive or are going someplace where there are external costs to motor vehicle operation, like paying to park. Otherwise, very few will take the service. About 15-25 minutes of that was waiting for the next transit mode to come.

Part of the issue in tightening the times is that MAX is timed to try and meet TRE trains in both directions. Inevitably with commuter rail, whose headways are roughly one hour in non-peak times, that will mean one direction will wait longer than the other.

Of course, that gets into a whole new debate about providing transit service in a low-density area such as ours, and I really don't want to dive into that again.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dallas' Does Bike Lanes

For those that know me personally, it may be a bit of a shocker to hear; I just have a hard time getting motivated blogging about Dallas' new bike infrastructure. I am really just weary of constantly sounding negative about the City's attempts to urbanize itself. I occasional feel that even though I am trying to give an objective, unbiased opinion, it comes across as overly pessimistic. Occasionally, something like Klyde Warren Park or Third Rail Lofts comes along that is very solidly urban and actually prove that I can like something Dallas does to its urban core.

Sadly, the City's attempts at bike infrastructure downtown follow the same, tiring pattern.

Allow some background information before I continue. In 2011, the Dallas Bike Plan was released. It was put together by the Toole Design Group, who is based out of Seattle and has offices nationwide. FULL DISCLOSURE: I was apart of the planning process of this report. For the most part, it was a solid plan. Like any planning study, there were some things I thought could have been better, but the whole was a really solid plan to move Dallas' biking infrastructure and culture forward.

However, as is always the case, politics comes into play. First, Dallas staffers told folks that it was too expensive, that ordinances would have to change, that intensive public information and meetings would be needed (click here for an Dallas Observer account). Then, thanks to intense pressure, it was able to get done.

That's the messiness of planning. Two very different planners could tackle the same issue and, with the same data and input, come to radical divergent conclusions. Add in the political process, either the will to get it done, or the desire to block it, or something in between and the reality that plans get half-implemented or just sit on the shelf is easy to see.

When it comes to bike infrastructure in Dallas, it has been all the above.

A plan done by a consultant is really the best-case scenario for a city. When the consultant turns in the final product, they are done with it. Should the municipality like it, they can then set the wheels in motion to get it implemented. If they don't, they can put up the required road blocks. And, in most cases, they decide to implement the politically pleasing ones while ignoring the ones that could be harder to explain to the constituency or donors. Again, it has been all of the above with Dallas.

Add in the bonus that the infrastructure implemented was done by someone who doesn't ride a bike, and the downtown portion severely underperforms.

There is at least one positive from the changes downtown, and those are actually the least intrusive and expensive. Several streets have had a bike emblem painted in right lane. While some don't like this, I can at least support it. It helps to illustrate to drivers that bikes do belong on the road.

Main street bike emblem. The bike shares the lane with vehicular traffic.
There are some whose placement is suspect. Most of the time, they are directly in the middle of the street, and the ghost lanes painted at the intersection help to indicate the cyclist is supposed to ride over this portion. The problem is that, like motorcycle drivers, bike riders prefer not to ride in the center where the oil leak lane is. The traction is different and occasional debris and other substances can be flown in the air. Most will ride on either side. My personal preference is just to the outside of the slick, as it also lets drivers know that I am in this lane and they should pass in the next lane.

Notice the darker part in the middle, indicating where oil drip has occurred, is right in the middle of the bike lane.
The ghost lane indicating the bike should ride in the middle.
As I mentioned in the Belo Garden critique, the lanes tend to change to correspond with the on-street parking. Cyclists will avoid changing lanes when it is unnecessary. Every time they change lanes, there is a chance, however, small, of getting in an accident. Doing it more than is necessary just adds too many small chances. Eventually, one of those will hit...literally. A system that automatically builds that in is poorly designed and/or implemented.

Otherwise, I do like the bike markers in the street. It is just the rest of what has happened downtown I don't like.

There are two bike lanes added to downtown, on the directly parallel streets of Wood and Jackson. The right vehicular lanes were removed and a buffered bike lane, resembling a cycle track, were put down. There is no discretion towards the existing part of the street, as they run over storm grates and drains, manhole covers and other obstacles.

There is a problem with vehicles pulling over into the lanes on both streets. It happens all day, everyday on both streets.

Three vehicles are in the bike lane on Jackson.

A maintenance is vehicle blocking the lane on Wood Street.
Both of those pictures were taken immediately when I arrived. I didn't have to wait for it to happen. This happens so much that even if cyclists do use the lanes, they have to keep going in and out of them. This is why most cyclists downtown will ride on Elm, Main and Commerce.

Another wrinkle is the property on the north side of Jackson has a bus lane that prevents vehicles from stopping there. If a delivery driver needs to make a quick stop at AT&T's corporate headquarters, should they block the bus lane on Commerce, block the bike lane on Jackson or go all the way to the subterranean loading dock off of Wood? Technically it should be the later, but we all know they won't. Heck, I wouldn't if it was an in and out delivery. What about taxi drivers? Where should they pick up and drop off passengers? There is no suitable solution here.

Bottom Line is that these two lanes are just in a poor location and then poorly designed on top of it.

One of the things some of the bike improvements have done is something I consider akin to an urban sin, take away on-street parking. While the bike lane could provide the buffer between moving vehicles and pedestrians, nothing compares to a parked car. There is nothing like on-street parking. It gives every transportation user a benefit, even cyclists. Car drivers tend to travel slower next to parked which benefit riders too (just be careful to avoid opening doors).

Main Street was already a bicycle-friendly street. They didn't have to do much. I really feel it was made worse in some cases. Another example is the Central Expressway portion.

The bike land coming from Deep Ellum under Central Expressway

Under the freeway between downtown Dallas and Deep Ellum has never been a pedestrian or urban utopia. What it did have was a decent street with infrastructure to support Deep Ellum. What I mean is it was basically a mixed-use area for cars; freeway above, parking at surface and on-street, it was also easy to use for pedestrians and cyclists as well.

The addition of the bike lanes eliminated on-street parking, and though it wasn't extensively used, I have noticed that the cars traveling on this section seem to be going faster than before. I may be injecting my own bias in there, for what it's worth.

From a biking standpoint, what was once an easy pass by the freeway exit has turned into something a bit more complicated.

The bike lane past the Central Expressway exit on Main Street

According to state law, bikes are no different than motor vehicles in moving traffic. Prior to this lane, bikes could easily navigate the exit, just as the cars do. They had the full portion of the lane to maneuver if a vehicle didn't obey the yield sign.

However, with the addition of that lane, along with the ghost lane markings, the margin of error on this portion for cyclists is much greater. Expecting a cyclist to move from the far right of the street, equivalent to where the shoulder and on-street parking was, to the far left in a short distance, expecting the drivers to see and act accordingly is a recipe for disaster. For this reason, many cyclists have not used this lane when on the street. They continue to use the street, like before.

Any infrastructure design that increases the risk of cyclist injury is fundamentally flawed.

There is also a slight irony to how the city approaches the lanes too. In a large portion of downtown Dallas, there is an ordinance that prohibits riding on the sidewalk. It isn't often enforced, but tickets have been written from time to time. The Southern boundary is Young Street from Houston to basically the freeway by Deep Ellum.

The City closed the Houston Street Viauct for construction of the Oak Cliff streetcar. The detour is on the Jefferson Street Bridge, where the formerly one-way corridor has been converted to two-way and a bike lane connecting downtown to Oak Cliff was added.

The end of the Jefferson Street Bridge bike Lane.
Where the sign instructs riders to get on the sidewalk and the half-block stretch to where the sign says they can't ride on the sidewalk is adjacent to Young, where the City decided it should be illegal for bikers to ride on the sidewalk. 

I am aware that in construction zones, detours have to be made to accommodate construction crews. I would have less of a problem with this if there weren't any obvious alternatives.

Market Street is a one-way north of Young. Why can't cyclists go straight? Why do they have to turn left for a half-block, then have to make a U-turn and go back over that same half block. I understand that making a left across two directions of vehicular traffic is dangerous, but to not have the same option as drivers going the same direction is silly to me. The left lane is already going to be vacant as northbound traffic is on the east side to allow for two-way travel. There is no harm in letting them go straight. It also wouldn't violate the law of the City that told them to turn. Many cyclist just cut through to the left anyway and either go straight or turn on Young. It is not the safest thing to do, but it is the more convenient option.

It is these examples that clearly indicate that the person or folks who planned and implemented the downtown bike infrastructure isn't a cyclist. All too often, they either consult a manual to see what they accepted industry standard is, or, more likely, the traffic engineer does consults the AASHTO manual, which is close to a one-size-fits-all approach. The irony is most cyclist, as was the case with the 2011 Dallas Bike Plan, would willingly give their input. We'd rather see it done to a higher standard the first time. But, as the evidence on the ground shows, the input clearly wasn't sought.

Ultimately, this kind of planning will set back Dallas in the long run. If it doesn't make sense for people to use it, they won't. Then the "it's never used so why do we keep doing it" argument will surface and it becomes politically harder to do something that really can benefit everyone.

There are other parts of Dallas that have better bike infrastructure. The following pictures were snapped on Bishop Avenue, a street that had way too much concrete when it was recently redone to accommodate bicycle infrastructure.

Notice the on-street parking on the right, bike lane in the middle and auto lane on the left.
Between the parking cars, buses, intersections and turning vehicles, there are myriad points of potential conflict between drivers and cyclists on Bishop Avenue.

While not perfect, there are plenty of potential conflict points with motorized travel, it is a good example of how bike infrastructure can work in Dallas. There will always be conflict points, no system can completely avoid it, but at least here, unlike the lanes in downtown Dallas, the myriad transportation options don't have to be in a perpetual state of conflict.

I am a guy whose primary transportation choice is bike. Ultimately,the downtown infrastructure has done very little for that kind of biker. I like the bike markers, but don't use the lanes, even when I am on that street. The design is so rough that it is hard to use as the designer intended. That just shouldn't cut it. I speak for lots in the biking community when I say what has been provided has not disappointed, and that is truly a shame.

Dallas has a very, very long way to go for it to make biking a legitimate urban transportation choice.