Cycling is Dave Roberts’ life.
By Stephen Koch • PHOTOGRAPHY: rett peek
Dave Roberts comes to cycling with a slightly different perspective than most riders. “It’s my hobby, and it’s my passion,” the Maumelle-based urban planner said, “and it’s my profession.” And, as a member of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Cycling as well as the Little Rock Bike Friendly committee, it’s also pretty much his avocation as well. At this point, one could say cycling is his life and his life is cycling.
The love of bikes and biking “all came from my childhood,” Roberts said. Growing up in the suburbs of Miami during the 1970s, Roberts and his friends used spare parts to retrofit their street bikes into BMX models for off-road thrills. Roberts rode his bike to school every day until sixth grade. Wheeling through the gridded street patterns of his planned community in southern Florida, he enjoyed wondering about the way cities spring up — or are purposefully laid out — around rivers and mountains: “Why are they shaped the way they are?” he asked himself.
So the die was cast early on for Roberts to become a landscape architect and urban planner as well as a bicycle enthusiast. Besides bicycling and dreaming about the layouts of cities, Roberts grew up loving art, drawing and maps — and next door to a landscape architect.
Roberts came to Arkansas to study landscape architecture at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Upon graduation, with his connections in Miami, he had no problem finding a job back home in Florida. But after “losing everything” during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Roberts was ready for a change. He and his Pine Bluff-born wife came back to Arkansas, where he’s stayed ever since. Roberts ran his own urban planning firm for 11 years, until Crafton Tull purchased it; he’s now vice president of business development and planning director at Crafton Tull. And, despite his current title, Roberts is still amused to find folks asking him about blight on their rose bushes, or for gardening tips.
FINDING THE ROAD
Like many Americans, Roberts left his bicycle behind as he grew up only to come back to it in adulthood. And he got into Central Arkansas’s mountain biking scene in a big way. Roberts rode the trails hard, but his interest in mountain biking waned following a couple of wrecks coming too closely to the birth of his daughter. It gave him pause. Seeking a safer form of exercise, Roberts tried running, only to find the impact “killed his legs.” Finally, he tried road cycling, and ever since then, he said, “I’ve been hooked.”
That was five years ago. Hooked, indeed. In fact, absent Roberts’ professed passion, cycling in Arkansas would look very different — literally. Robert and the planning team at Crafton Tull created the statewide master plan for cyclists and pedestrians for the Arkansas Department of Transportation. He and the team worked on a section of the 37.6-mile Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway, and have also worked on biking/pedestrian master plans for the cities of El Dorado, Camden and Batesville, among other municipalities. Currently, Roberts and the group are working on a biking/pedestrian master plan for Bentonville, one of the bigger cycling hubs in the state. Additionally, Roberts, as a member of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Cycling, helped get passed a law allowing cyclists to treat red traffic lights like stop signs and stop signs like yield signs at the most recent session of the legislature. Arkansas is now only the second state in the nation to have such biker-friendly legislation.
“I wish I could ride to work, but the infrastructure there doesn’t support it very well.”
In public meetings at cities where master transportation plans are discussed, Roberts found he was able to speak “cyclese” to the individual cyclists and bike club members who attended, and better answer any questions and assuage any fears they may have that biking might get short shrift in the transportation plans of their communities. “I was getting into it professionally,” he said, “and getting into it outside of work.”
Living in Maumelle, his favorite bike ride is coming in off the north side of the Arkansas River Trail to take the challenging climb to the top of historic Fort Roots in North Little Rock. This nest of switchbacks leading up to a high urban perch, Roberts explained, rewards riders with “two amazing views that most people don’t know exist”: a southerly view of the downtown Little Rock skyline that the capital city’s skyscrapers do not even afford, and a westerly view of the Arkansas River as it winds into the distant wilderness on the horizon.
After an injury, Roberts took some time off from cycling, but he’s getting back into it. He’s taking longer and longer solo rides, and hoping to soon rejoin his bike club for group rides. He’s quick to note, however, he rarely takes the Maumelle-Little Rock commute by bicycle to his workplace, which is located near the Big Rock Interchange. His co-workers understandably fear for his life during Ditch the Keys week, and they have helped run interference for him in their cars as he bikes the concrete jungle in that area of town.
“I wish I could ride to work,” Roberts laments, “but the infrastructure there doesn’t support it very well.” You know, someone should get an urban planner on that, stat.