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Bike Rack City: A look at Denton’s bike culture

Bike Rack City: A look at Denton’s bike culture

June 15
12:46 2012

Ashley-Crystal Firstley / Intern

It’s evident in the dozens of cyclists pedaling miles every Tuesday night. It’s in the thousands of city dollars going toward a new bike plan, or the new “share the road” arrows painted on Denton streets, and is apparent every time a mallet strikes a ball in a game of bike polo. Denton is home to an emerging culture of biking, a culture set to change in the near future at both a city-wide and personal level.

“That’s one thing I like about Denton, is that we’re still in that transitioning phase,” said Nathaniel Lightfoot, a treasurer at the non-profit community bike shop Querencia. “If you go to places like Portland and Austin, or Denver, they have all these infrastructures in place but here we actually get to see it come about.”

(Left to right) Adam Burns; a communication senior; Nate Thames; literature senior and Nathaniel Lightfoot; manager of Querencia Community Bike Shop; get ready to start a game of bike polo at Mack Park in Denton. Photo by Desiree Cousineau

Bicycling: A growing trend

UNT alumna Jillian Jordan said that 10 years ago, she couldn’t imagine biking becoming such a big deal in Denton.

“The only people who rode their bikes back then were commuters, like [those who] lost their license or something,” Jordan said.

UNT installed two bike repair stations on campus in the last year, and more bike racks are popping up all over the city. Construction of a pedestrian bridge over Loop 288, to be named after Martin Luther King, Jr., is set to begin in July, creating safer passage for pedestrians and cyclists, and Quakertown Park is due to get new paved paths.

In 2011, Denton City Council unanimously approved the Safe Passing ordinance, encouraging the coexistence of automobiles and bikers on roads and requiring cars to maintain a distance of three feet when passing cyclists.

A 10-year bike plan using $192,000 of a budget surplus was unanimously approved by the city council in February.

According to a bike plan draft from July 2011, the plan calls for new bike lanes, routes and trails, the establishment of a regional annual bicycling event in Denton, among other things. The plan outlines strategies to increase the safety and convenience of biking in the city.

Some of the city’s surplus money, as well as funds donated by two county commissioners, will fund the first year of the plan. However, supporters such as Nathaniel Lightfoot are worried that when it comes to spending money on biking accommodations such as striped lanes, Denton may not live up to its word.

“I hope that the city [goes] through with plans and we get a decent amount of infrastructures,” Lightfoot said. “Recently, we’ve done nothing but lose bike lanes in Denton.”

Biking groups

Bicycling is more than just a mode of transportation for Dentonites. It’s a hobby. It’s a sport. It’s empowerment.

Lightfoot and his friend Eric Uphoff founded North Texas Bike Polo about two years ago.

The group plays at 3 p.m. every Sunday at Mack Park. Players ride around a court in circles, steering their bikes with one hand while using the other hand to wield long polo mallets and strike a small rubber ball. Games can last hours.

There’s a good reason for the mandatory helmet rule: the game is all in good fun, but things can get competitive and aggressive, Lightfoot said.

“We kind of get looked at funny by a lot of cyclists and a lot of people in town,” he said. “We’re not all avid cyclists. A great number of the people who play are faculty or teachers.”

About 30 to 50 cyclists meet up outside the UNT Language Building on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. for Tuesday Bike Night. The group cruises the streets of Denton, choosing different routes.

“The culture for it here is underground,” said Howard Draper, a local bike activisit who runs the blog Bike Denton. “I tend to not blog about all those things on Bike Denton because I don’t to want to ruin it. I don’t want define the culture for everybody else.”

Bike safety

Lightfoot said he has had a beer bottle thrown at him and has almost been hit by several vehicles.

“So it’s kind of intimidating and the reason why a lot of people don’t ride around Denton is because they don’t feel safe,” he said.

Draper said accident underreporting is a problem when trying to keep up with the frequency of bike accidents, but said he gets contacted about incidents almost three times a week.

“The first thing I ask them is, ‘Did you call the police?’ Because if you didn’t call the police then I can’t collaborate with getting details,” Draper said. “If you’re riding a bike – there’s no education for it, there’s no guidance, there’s no lanes in the streets of Denton, there’s no cues that tells the bikers how to behave.”

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