Some call them clutter. Others call them transportation. Two wheels for fun. More wheels blocking our paths. This is the push and pull of bike share in Dallas.
Since dockless bike share first entered the market last fall, like all transportation, downtown has been the hub of activity—the center of excitement and the root of much consternation. But as the organization who worked for nearly five years to raise the funds for a traditional docked system, we’re working through the growing pains so that this vital mobility option can be successful in our city. A year ago, finding a cyclist in our bike lanes was sporadic at best. The passionate commuters and weekend recreational riders worked to spread the message that Dallas does, can, and should bike. But the financial proposition was too great, and the belief that Dallasites would ride was not strong enough to prove system viability to big corporate sponsors needed to make a traditional system work. And even if our organization’s efforts had been successful, the more than $5 million would have only provided 400 bikes serving downtown and close-in neighborhoods.
Today, what a change! We see spontaneous group rides. Visitors use the bikes to explore our city. Data provided by current operators shows significant “last mile” use, connecting DART stations to final destinations of employment and housing, correlated directly to increased ridership during rush hours. One provider recently provided statistics that its system alone has seen 400,000 trips since last fall, equating to 370,000 miles. And GPS tracking of frequent routes demonstrates city-wide benefit, including areas like Deep Ellum, South Dallas, downtown, Uptown, and University Crossing. In less than one year of operation, bike share has proven to be an accessible, affordable, and efficient transportation option that is improving mobility in our city. It is in line with our vision from the 360 Plan for a robust network of mobility options that connect jobs, housing, education, services, amenities, and parks to create complete city center neighborhoods.
Additional benefits are emerging. As national and international eyes widen on Dallas, openness to advances in technology gives us a competitive advantage. As we strive to nurture economic development, what makes our city attractive? The ability to attract and retain talent, a talent base that desires walkability (and bike-ability!), quality of life, and spending more time out of the car. To be competitive in today’s market, cities must foster innovation and provide an ecosystem to grow it. I can cite specific companies that have already entered the Dallas market to test new technology because of our support of entrepreneurism, and ability to be nimble and embrace the future.
Finally, Downtown Dallas Inc.’s Vice President of Public Space and Design, Dustin Bullard, has worked closely with the city and operators to identify how the data gathered through app-based systems can be utilized to inform mobility planning. Through the data, we are able to see where people are using the bikes—where they’re starting and ending and how they’re getting there—which is of great benefit to transportation and infrastructure planning in our city. In a recent forum, Dustin spoke to this point further: “The data we’re getting from the these bikes will inform our decisions on where we should place bike lanes, because we can find out, for instance, that maybe a rider is taking a route that was unexpected. We can then figure out that it may make more sense pivot from original plans to meet actual need. In addition, these bikes are proving the demand for bike infrastructure, which supports our advocacy for more aggressive implementation of dedicated bike lanes.”
Now, to those growing pains. Since dockless bike share arrived in Dallas, the program has certainly dispelled the myth that no one wants to ride a bicycle downtown. But to address the associated challenges, we are committed to working with the city to create and implement reasonable regulation and ensure communication with the operators. We are creating pilot bike corals with the goal of giving users a place to park the bicycle at the end of their trip, limiting incidents of blocked sidewalks that create a nuisance or potential safety hazard. When bike share was introduced last summer, we committed to purchase and install up to 200 new bike racks.
We also welcome further advancements of bike share, which as an industry is still growing—and growing rapidly; it is the fastest growing mode of transportation in history ever. New docked system operators with revised private financial and operational models are emerging, in addition to the dockless systems, which enable the public sector to focus resources on critical infrastructure (i.e. bike lanes) to create a complete network. In addition, technology advances like electric bikes and scooters and integrated mobility platforms have potential to be big game changers.
So, while we move past our growing pains, consider what bringing more ways to get around our city—embracing innovation, and delivering safe, efficient, and equitable transportation—will do to better connect downtown and all of Dallas.
Kourtny Garrett is the president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc.