West Dallas neighbors work to make Bernal Drive safe

By Vivian Berreondo - December 9, 2020

West Dallas

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West Dallas residents have been begging for safer streets, and after decades of no response, the voices of neighbors living near Bernal Drive finally are being heard.

Ledbetter Neighborhood Association, a nonprofit focused on building up the community, has been working closely with Dallas’ District 6 Councilman Omar Narvaez and the city’s transportation department to find solutions that will help tackle the traffic problems facing the neighborhood.

Bernal Drive has become infamous for speeding, accidents, dangerous street racing and most recently, a fatal incident.

Henry Martinez, president of Ledbetter Neighborhood Association, says problems have been plentiful, and recently, “someone got run over right there at the DART station.”

Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police are investigating an incident that occurred on Oct. 30 that resulted in the death of 70-year-old Porfirio Zarate at the Bernal/Singleton transfer location. His son Edward Zarate, 41, moved back home to take care of his mother and says they have yet to receive details concerning his father’s death.

“I want change,” Zarate says. “I want answers.”

With the aid of Lee Engineering, the city drafted four possible options that will improve the four-lane Bernal Drive, from Singleton Avenue to Peoria Street, to help prevent similar tragedies from occurring.

Caption: Reconfiguration options for Bernal Drive. Source: Lee Engineering

Option 1: Two-lane road with a bike lane and buffer

One lane in each direction will help slow down traffic, and the buffer enhances safety for pedestrians by placing more distance between them and vehicles. This option would be the cheapest and fastest to accomplish, making it the city’s preferred solution.

Option 2: Two-lane road with a median multi-use path

This option narrows the travel lanes to 10 or 11 feet to accommodate a wider (12-foot) multi-use path between the two lanes. The multi-use path functions as a two-way bike lane. The narrowed lanes help reduce speeds, and there’s still a 5-foot buffer for pedestrian safety. This option was considered undesirable by the city.

Option 3: Reconstruct and narrow roadway

This option retains one lane in each direction but also includes a two-way left-turn lane, which allows drivers from either side to turn left from the center lane. Bernal Drive would be repaved between Tumalo Trail and Pluto Street. The addition of curvature also would help reduce speeds. This option would require reducing the buffer by 2 feet, and overall, the city considered it infeasible due to the amount of construction required.

Option 4: Roundabouts

This option maintains the 5-foot pedestrian buffer and the narrowed travel lanes but adds a roundabout at Palacios Avenue, which is an intersection with a history of accidents. Other intersections could also be considered if this option is implemented. This option is the recommended solution if the city maintains Bernal’s classification as a minor arterial rather than a collector roadway.

Bernal Drive Memo 2-19-2020 by Keri Mitchell

“Collector” and “arterial” are part of a street classification system based on traffic movements. According to Dallas’ Transportation and Public Policy, the five types (principal arterial, minor arterial, community collectors, residential collectors and local streets) determine how many lanes a street has and “right-of-way requirements.”

As of now, Bernal Drive is considered a minor arterial (four lanes divided by a median), but Lee Engineering senior project manager John Denholm wrote that the street could be considered a collector since residential houses line the road. Classifying it as a collector roadway would allow for the city to reduce speeds in the Ledbetter neighborhood by limiting traffic to one lane in each direction.

Narvaez says that the decision is completely up to the residents, whether they choose one of these options or a combination.

“It’s going to be up to the community because y’all are the ones who live here and deal with it day in and day out,” Narvaez told neighborhood residents during an Oct. 20 public meeting on the options.

“Three out of those four options would take years to develop, and unfortunately, we don’t have the time,” Martinez said at the meeting. “We need the help right now as it is.”

A few residents brought up the possibility of introducing speed bumps on the road to help slow down drivers.

Narvaez said that adding speed bumps is an implausible solution and may introduce more problems. A petition for speed bumps is likely to be vetoed by emergency services, such as the fire department, because they would make it difficult to travel in a rush. Speed bumps also attract more reckless driving from individuals already causing problems on Bernal.

“You already got the stunters doing the donuts and all that,” Narvaez said. “Some of those same people, they love to hit those bumps at high speed. They want to go in the air. So we’ve seen them in some neighborhoods that have them, and the cars turn over and cause accidents.”

After neighbors like Martinez expressed their concerns over the four options, a couple of quicker and cheaper solutions were suggested. One was a four-way stop with blinking lights to slow down racers. The other would be to place “speed ripples” on the road, which Martinez doesn’t think would help at all.

Similar to the speed bumps, the introduction of “speed ripples” results in a noise problem for nearby residents, Narvaez said.

Overall, an agreement has yet to be reached, but Martinez says Ledbetter neighbors hope to schedule a meeting soon to discuss implementing some of these quicker options in the near future.

“Maybe in the next five years, we’ll get a community grant that would be enough to do something different other than just a four-way stop or blinking lights,” Martinez says.

Zarate is hopeful that changes will be made so no one else has to go through what his family has been through.

“It’s very sad that my dad’s tragedy had to bring us together, but I’m so grateful for the community and for everything they’ve done,” he says.


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