Sunday, May 24, 2015

What makes the Dallas metroplex (almost) perfect for e-bikes


An e-bike is an Electrically Assisted Bicycle, or a human-electric hybrid bicycle. The basic bicycle is an extraordinarily efficient machine, "the most energy-efficient means of human transport generally available". An e-bike amplifies the amazing abilities of a bicycle into a serious people moving machine, able to go places a car or motorcycle can't practically or legally travel. The first e-bikes were invented in the late 1800's, but they were limited by the available battery and motor technology which was quite crude at the time. Modern e-bike technology leverages the numerous advances in lightweight batteries, efficient motors, and PWM/sine wave controllers that have occurred in the previous 20 years.

A properly designed e-bike is not only very practical, but is very fun and healthy to ride too. An e-bike is a hybrid machine, able to be propelled manually, with the motor, or any combination of the two. As an extra bonus, with an e-bike you gain access to your own semi-private "road" network of thousands of miles of trails, sidewalks, bike lanes, parking lots, fields, etc. Legally, e-bikes in TX can't go faster than 20 MPH, and don't need to be licensed or have insurance.

Don't only cars live in Dallas?

There's a perception that Dallas is the least bicycle friendly city in the entire US. I don't agree. I've been happily and safely e-biking to work and around town for almost a decade, and this blog is about passing on all I've learned and the topic. I've mostly ebiked in north Dallas, Richardson, Plano, Allen and McKinney, so this blog will mostly focus on getting around in these areas of the metroplex.

Most importantly, I absolutely avoid traveling with traffic on major roads as much as possible. I think attempting to share a the road with cars whizzing by at 30-40 mph (or faster, because Dallas drivers tend to be kinda insane) is not safe or even necessary. This doesn't mean I don't use the roads, but I only choose those roads which have very little if any traffic. Luckily, you've got lots of roads and trails to choose from in the metroplex!

The attributes of Dallas that work in an e-biker's favor

- Freedom: The Dallas Ft. Forth metroplex is huge, almost 9,000 square miles of land. This means the road and trail network is also huge, and there's almost always more than one way to get anywhere. This is key to getting around the metroplex safely on an e-bike.

- Traffic patterns: Car traffic generally follows paths of least resistance. Motorists typically travel from their houses, down to the nearest "feeder" street to the closest major intersection. They then tend to stick to the larger multi-lane roads with few intersections, either going to stores, schools, etc. or onto highways. As an ebiker, you can exploit this typical behavior to plot routes with minimal (if any) traffic.

- Trail networks: The metroplex has a constantly growing network of multi-use trails. At first glance, this network is crazily complex, and in many cases it doesn't seem to go to many common destinations. The key is to use the trail network as a bridge to safely route yourself closer to your ultimate destination. Many of the trails tend to follow natural areas of water flow, so they are usually near streams.

Safely routing yourself to/from these trails is usually pretty simple. Plano is probably my favorite city in this network, because from the trail network there you can route yourself to Allen, Richardson, or the train station rather easily. The network in Plano is also close to a large number of low traffic suburban streets. By Dallas and the suburbs around Plano have plenty of very serviceable trail networks too.

- Train network: The DART rail network is bicycle friendly. You can also park your e-bike at the train station, or use a folding e-bike which makes it even easier to find a spot on the train. This map cuts off the network, it goes all the way up to Plano and will eventually make its way up to McKinney.

Endless sidewalks: Honestly, nobody cares if you use the sidewalks as bike paths in the Dallas area, because few people actually walk anywhere here. (Things tend to be pretty far apart here, or the weather is rainy or too hot, etc.) So in those cases where you can't plot a route via a trail or suburban road, you can just fall back to the sidewalk networks.

You can also plot routes through the metroplex's seemingly endless parking lots. In the worst case scenarios, with a decent mountain bike you can even easily travel right through empty fields and lots.

- Exclusiveness: Speaking in general terms, few people walk or bicycle in the metroplex. I've never seen another e-bike in this city (but I know they are here).  E-biking around Dallas is definitely the path less traveled. This is a positive attribute, because this means you'll encounter very little traffic to slow you down in your travels if you plot your routes correctly.

The Goal of this Blog

  • How to plan safe and efficient routes from point A and point B without battling huge amounts of traffic.
  • To educate others on how to safely travel around Dallas and the surrounding suburbs on ebikes.
  • Dallas has a reputation as being unfriendly to cyclists, and I want to help get the word out that it actually isn't anymore.
  • To present an alternative way of bicycling/ebiking that doesn't involve asserting yourself into dangerous, high traffic situations.

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