The Dallas Morning News
Can we make bike share work?
City must invest in dedicated lanes to make bike share work, says Rob Curran
Dallas must invest in dedicated bike lanes for bike share to work. That’s going to cost taxpayers.
Driving into downtown Dallas lately feels like arriving in Paris at the end of the Tour de France. There are pelotons of app-operated bicycles kick-standing on almost every street.
The city is falling down with bikes. I went for dinner on a recent Saturday night and almost parked on the last bike in a domino-chain that had spilled over the curb. It’s as if a 1,000-strong gang of environmentally conscious Hells Angels rolled into Big D for a 12-month lock-in at a city bar.
“Right now, they are kind of everywhere,” said Jared White, the bicycle transportation manager for the city of Dallas. “There are things that need to be addressed.” White noted that the bike riders are much more active during morning rush hour, when I make a point of not being downtown.
In terms of blanketing the city with multicolored, fat-framed bicycles, Dallas is rapidly catching up with New York and Berlin. There’s just a couple of little things those great bike-culture cities have that Dallas does not.
1. Bike riders. Driverless cars are one thing, but riderless bicycles are going nowhere fast. Yes, Dallas has cyclists, the hotpanted Lance Armstrong types that whizz around White Rock Lake on the weekend, but most of them wouldn’t be caught dead on anything without a water-bottle holder. Even White, who’s a bike rider himself, concedes that most Dallasites don’t yet see their bikes as a means of city transport.
2. Places you can actually ride a bike. I saw approximately one person cycling a bike-sharing vehicle Saturday night and they were headed straight at me on the pavement. And well they might have been pedestrian bowling, but good luck finding a bicycle lane anywhere downtown. (There’s one bike lane running from downtown to Oak Cliff on the Jefferson Viaduct, and a couple on portions of Jackson and Wood streets, and there’s probably one starting at Woodall Rogers that goes straight to hell, but that’s it for the downtown area.)
What’s that I hear? “Share the road?”
Have you ever tried driving a light car in Dallas?
Unless you have a pickup with a SpaceX Heavy rocket strapped on the exhaust, a 300-horsepower midlife crisis or the ability to see into the future of lane changing, there’s no sharing the road in this town.
White has promoted bicycle transportation around Dallas for more than two decades and, for that, I salute him. Anyone who has spent years negotiating with irate Dallasites about putting bike trails near their backyards deserves a tip of the 10-gallon.
In this matter, however, White and the city of Dallas have put the horse before the cart and the cart before the horse-and-cart lane. White said the experiment with dockless bike-sharing companies has proven that downtown Dallas has many commuters who would cycle, if the infrastructure appeared.
I would argue the experiment has proven that the kind of private-sector-led infrastructure investment advocated by Republicans like President Donald Trump leads to nothing but bike-bergs on the sidewalk.
This new approach to infrastructure boils down to: “If they come, we will build it.”
By White’s estimate, 20,000 share bikes have come to the Dallas area during the last six months, operated by five companies: Garland-based V-Bikes, China’s Ofo, California-based LimeBike and smaller outfits MoBike and Spin.
OK, 20,000? Berlin, a city where the
cycle is as emblematic as the Mercedes sports car is in Dallas, only has about 5,000 of these things. Did I mention that not one of those 20,000 cow-chasers (as we call clunky bikes in Ireland) is licensed by the city? The companies have a few guidelines, including a color-coding system so the city can tell which company you’re mad at.
What in Sam Hill is going on?
It all started about six months ago, when city officials decided to run an experiment before making licensing rules on a bike-share program.
Despite White’s efforts, Dallas has dragged its pedals on bike-infrastructure investment for years. The city had explored a docked bike-share program, like the famous Citi Bike program in New York that includes docking stations for the bikes, but Dallas found it would cost tens of millions of dollars for a few hundred bikes, costs that no corporate sponsor showed any interest in bearing, White said.
“When these groups started showing up,” the city’s thought process was: “Let the private market do its thing and let them fund it, then work with them and then do whatever needed to be done to make it work for the city,” White said.
“This dockless bike share — it’s new; it first showed up in Seattle,” he said, adding that what guidelines have been put in place were modeled on Seattle’s. Dockless bike companies also descended on San Francisco, where they were quickly banned, he said.
By letting private enterprise run wild for a six-month trial period, the city would see what challenges new ordinances would have to address, White said. Now, 900 complaints later on the special 311 line established for the program, White is ready to present the results of the experiment to the council later this month.
“Now we really know what the issues are, and that’s going to help us draft our regulation,” he said, adding that some of the comments on the 311 lines are becoming: “Maybe there’s too many bikes? How do we address where they’re parked, how many can go on a certain block, where they’re grouped together — that type of thing.”
I’ve got some sympathy for White in this mess. Two decades ago, I moved to Texas from Ireland, a land where people get excited about new public infrastructure. It was simply impossible for me to get my head around why people who would hear about a cool new lightrail plan in (supposedly progressive) Austin and immediately gripe about the pennies that come out of their paychecks.
Guys, you get what you pay for with infrastructure. Yes, the city has committed millions, maybe even tens of millions of dollars to rebuilding roads around downtown with new bike lanes. Maybe wait until they’re actually painted in before dropping 20,000 bikes into a city where it’s illegal to cycle on the sidewalk?
The “private market” doing its “thing” may be OK for winnowing out social-media web sites. You can’t trip over MySpace or accidentally park on Bebo. Dallas should do the planning for how the its sidewalks look, not some venture-capital bro’s algorithm. (And, dude, you might want to tweak that algorithm if it’s telling you to drop thousands of bikes into a city without many bike lanes.)
London is spending $1 billion on its bike-infrastructure plan. Dallas can afford more than a few million.
Dallas bike infrastructure, and any infrastructure for that matter, requires government planning and government spending. Perhaps, after the Great Dallas Bike Glut of ’18, citizens and city planners will accept as much.
“We went from living in a city where you never see bikes to seeing bikes everywhere all over the place,” said White. “That was a really big change and it’s something this region’s really not used to.”