Northaven Trail Bridge Update

“I delve into the mysterious and counterintuitive world of helmets and high-visibility gear later in the book. But it’s worth immediately noting this: while they’re not inherently bad, they’re less a safety device for cycling than a symptom of a road network where no cyclist can truly feel safe.”
― Peter Walker, How Cycling Can Save the World

Nice Tribe Urban Bike parked outside Braindead Brewing, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Let’s see when it was…. May 9, 2021 (well under a year ago) when I went down to the groundbreaking of the Northaven Trail Bridge. It’s exciting – a bridge system that goes over the giant deadly Hway75 North Central Expressway and also White Rock Creek. It will join the Northaven trail with the White Rock and Cottonwood Trails – East and West will come together, opening up a whole new galaxy of bicycle riding in the Metroplex.

Here’s a virtual simulation of the thing:

Whenever I drive down Central or ride down the White Rock Trail I look at the construction. Although the signature bridge is still a long time off – the progress is palpable. It truly is the best of all possible worlds.

Here’s drone footage of what it looks like right now:

Once the Storm is Over

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Margaret McDermott Bridge (cycle/pedestrian portion), Dallas, Texas

Pillar and River Bottoms

“She didn’t need to understand the meaning of life; it was enough to find someone who did, and then fall asleep in his arms and sleep as a child sleeps, knowing that someone stronger than you is protecting you from all evil and all danger”
― Paulo Coelho, Brida

View from the pedestrian bridge down to the Trinity river bottoms, Margaret McDermott Bridge, Dallas, Texas

Cable Dampers

“When you want to know how things really work, study them when they’re coming apart.”
― William Gibson, Zero History

Cable anchor and damper on the Margaret McDermott Bridge, Dallas, Texas

One reason I was so excited about the final opening of the bike/pedestrian lanes on the Margaret McDermott Bridge is the long, sad, awful story of its construction.

To make a long story short, to save a little money, the city skipped some engineering testing on some elements of the bridge – which had been greatly modified to save money already. Once the thing was finished, several cable anchors cracked in the high winds that are common in Texas. There was an orgy of blame and recrimination and I really thought that the bike part of the bridge would never open.

Finally, the city decided to pony up seven million dollars or so for repairs and try to claw that money back later.

So when I crossed that bridge for the first time I took a look at the cable anchors to see what was done. There wasn’t much that was all that obvious.

Here’s a photo of the original cable anchors:

Image from Dallas Morning News

So it looks like the rod connecting the cable to the bridge is a bit thicker. The big difference seems to be the addition of cable dampers – which are (I guess) the funny looking barbell-looking things mounted to the cables right above the anchors.

They look kind of cool – but it’s hard to believe that these little things are keeping a two hundred million dollar bridge from falling down.

My Bike on the Bridge

“People will pay any price for motion. They will even work for it. Look at bicycles.”
― William Faulkner, The Reivers

My bike – Vintage 1987 Cannondale ST600 Touring Bike.

On the Margaret McDermott bridge bike/pedestrian path, over the Trinity River, Dallas, Texas

Cannondale 1987 brochure

Pedestrian

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
― John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

Margaret McDermott bridge, pedestrian path, Dallas, Texas

Margaret McDermott Bridge

“It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos.
What it’s going to be, I don’t know.
Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.
And maybe knowing isn’t the point.
Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Choke

Let me check the date on this photo – sometime mid 2015… six years ago. It actually seems like longer than that. They had already been working on the bridge/highway complex for three years, they started in 2012. This was the base of one arch, down in the Trinity River bottoms, near downtown Dallas. I was down there on my bicycle, riding the muddy gravel paths. The other half of the arch was further along – reaching up into the sky.

The arches of a second Calatrava designed bridge rise in the river bottoms. The Horseshoe, Dallas, Texas

These massive arches, designed by Santiago Calatrava were never intended to support the roadway. That would be too expensive and unnecessary – a simple concrete causeway was all that was needed. The immense, soaring arches would cost 125 million dollars and support a bicycle/pedestrian bridge – and look good.

As a cycling advocate I had very mixed feelings about this. Of course, another route across the river was welcome – but 125 million dollars was way too much – that money could do a lot of good in man other places. Well, nobody asked me – and they went ahead and built the Margaret McDermott Bridge – way behind schedule and way, way over budget.

And then things went from bad to worse. When the thing was finished, it was discovered that corners had been cut, the bridge cable fasteners were not properly tested, and the thing was in danger of falling down in high winds.

I had resigned myself to never having the bridge opened… after all these years, but I was wrong. A couple of weeks ago I received in invitation to ride my bike across the bridge during a grand opening ceremony. Now, truth be told, most of my cycling friends had already rode around the safety barricades and crossed the bridge over the last couple of years – but I never did. So I was excited to go down there and ride across.

I rode up right when a news camera was running.

There were about a dozen bike riders – we picked up our… what do you call them? The things that you pin to your shirt at an event? Running bibs? Yeah, that must be it – it says “Printed by Boulder Bibs.”

And off we rode. It was fun – I’ll be back. There are steep spots – especially on the north (pedestrian) side. I need to look at moonrise – the bridge will be fun at night – the view of the downtown skyline is spectacular.

Folks at the ribbon-cutting. The arches are spectacular from the bike/pedestrian lanes – maybe they are worth the money.

View of downtown from the bike lane on the bridge.

The ceremony made all the news shows. Here’s a good one – you can see me from behind riding my bike near the end, at the 1:56 mark.

Northaven Trail Pedestrian Bridge

“Likewise—now don’t laugh—cars and trucks should view the bike lanes as if they are sacrosanct. A driver would never think of riding up on a sidewalk. Most drivers, anyway. Hell, there are strollers and little old ladies up there! It would be unthinkable, except in action movies. A driver would get a serious fine or maybe even get locked up. Everyone around would wonder who that asshole was. Well, bike lanes should be treated the same way. You wouldn’t park your car or pull over for a stop on the sidewalk, would you? Well then, don’t park in the bike lanes either—that forces cyclists into traffic where poor little meat puppets don’t stand a chance.”
― David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

My Xootr Swift bicycle next to the Secret Mural, Dallas, Texas

I have not been out riding my bike nearly enough – not enough miles and not enough riding with people. So when I read that some folks were riding from the Forrest Lane DART station over to the end of the Northaven Trail for the groundbreaking of the planned bridge over Highway 75 I thought I’d go. I did cheat and drive down to the station with my bike in the back of my car – so it was going to be a short ride.

A city like Dallas has a lot of bike trails and dedicated lanes – but a lot of them were put in as recreational opportunities – for the neighborhood to walk their dogs or get in a few miles of exercise – not as transportation corridors. That lead to what I call “choke points” – barriers to car-less transportation. The most common are highways, which can be impossible to cross without a car.

And the worst of these highways is 75, which slashes Dallas in half north to south.

Highway 75 at Sunset (click to enlarge)

The Northaven trail is a fairly new trail that runs through north Dallas all the way from 75 in the east almost to Love Field in the west. On the other side of 75 is the White Rock creek trail, which connects through miles of East Dallas trails – but it isolated by the highway.

For the last few years, work has been going on to connect these two with a bridge over the highway. Finally, funding has been established, a design has been finished and approved, and work is about to start. Two years from now, we should have our bridge.

And today was the groundbreaking ceremony. The mayor of Dallas was there, Dallas county officials, City Council Members, Park Board Members and more – they all wanted their turn to pontificate about how hard they have been working and how much credit they deserve. It went on for way too long for anyone in the audience – but that’s fine – if their egos and political careers need some service, so be it, as long as we get our bridge.

Groundbreaking ceremony at the Northaven Trail Bicycle/Pedestrian Bridge.

I had a good time. I was able to meet a good number of friends that I had not talked to since before COVID. That was nice.

And best of all, I learned a new route back under Highway 75 that joins up with the White Rock Creek Trail, Cottonwood Trail, and Forest Lane DART station where I parked my car. There is a little known footpath through a tunnel under the highway. You have to ride on a sidewalk along the frontage road for a few hundred feet, but it’s a good way to get across. Not the best looking path, but it works.

Bike/Pedestrian path under Highway 75, Dallas, Texas

So why do we need the bridge? A path like this doesn’t give any opportunities for politicians to shovel sand.

Tokyo Nightmare

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

The Wave that Washes us all
The Wave that Washes us all

The last few days I have been haunted by the same nightmare. It’s the same because when I go to sleep my dream starts up right where the last one ended, when I woke up. This has been happening not only at night, but if I try and sneak in a nap.

I’m in the dream, of course, but the person in the dream isn’t exactly me. I’m someone else, though I don’t know who.

The dream is set in Tokyo, sort of. It’s Tokyo but not the real one. It’s a dream nightmare Tokyo (and no, I’ve never been to Japan). The city itself isn’t as big or crowded as the real Tokyo is – it feels sort of like an American mid-sized city… maybe Lubbock. It’s definitely Dream Tokyo, though, I know that, I remember taking a long dream flight to get there.

I don’t know why I’m in Dream Tokyo. There is some sort of work that I am supposed to do. I have a vague feeling that my job is very important, but don’t remember what it is that I am doing.

Dream Tokyo is a coastal city with a very complex harbor, with several peninsulas and inlets. The border between land and water is very important to me.

The most obvious feature of Dream Tokyo is a highway bridge that links two parts of the city across a wide bay. This bridge is what gives the dream its nightmare edge. It’s not a regular bridge, of course. It’s very, very wide and extremely high. A huge arch reaching up into the sky. It is visible from everywhere in the city and dominates the horizon. Not only is it wide, but the edges simply end. There are no guardrails or other barriers along the side.

It should still be safe, though. It is so wide, almost like a field in the sky (it is green in color and covered with a very short grass, like a golf green) and not heavily used, so you could drive right down the middle with no risk of going over the edge.

That’s not how it works for me, though. I go off driving through Dream Tokyo (I know I wouldn’t ever actually drive in Real Tokyo, but here, there isn’t any mass transit) and I get confused on the poorly-labeled complex highway interchanges. All of a sudden, here I am, driving up the ramp to the vast grassy sky bridge even though it’s the last place I want to go. There is no turning back, I have to cross.

It is horrifying. I can see the sea off to each side and the blue water with the green bridge surface fills me with absolute terror – something about the open spaces sends me into panic (and no, in real life I do not suffer from agoraphobia in any way). I clutch the steering wheel with white, sweaty knuckles and drive quickly, almost with my eyes closed.

I do make it across. That was very odd – the road, despite being amazingly wide and crossing what must be a multi-billion dollar bridge, simply ends. The road narrows and ends in a short stretch of old, cracked tarmac that peters out at the water’s edge. Here the shoreline is paved and the water is dark and full of trash.

There was no clear path forward. I had to drive my car (a rental, I seemed to know that) over a curb and down onto a narrow paved alley that ran along the water and curved off into a neighborhood of run-down warehouses.

That’s the point where I woke up this morning. When I go to bed tonight will I be back in the car, entering the warehouse district? I doubt it. Writing the dream down will certainly kill it.

I’ll be somewhere else, somewhere completely different. A different city, a different seaside, a different bridge.