Freeway-choked Dallas, a city whose transportation infrastructure is often downright hostile to anything on fewer than four wheels, was an unlikely candidate to become the bike-share capital of North America. And yet here we are. There are close to 20,000 of the brightly-colored bicycles in Dallas, compared to 12,000 in New York and 10,000 in the bicyclists’ stronghold of Seattle, also having its own reckoning with bike share.
As unlikely and as ugly as it’s occasionally been, Dallas is in a unique position to define how bike share can be used to shape how we get around the city — creating those first and last-mile connections with public transit, decreasing pollution and congestion, encouraging people to exercise, and so on. Change is messy. The free market is messy, and the city made it a point to welcome the competition that has led five companies to flood the streets with bicycles. Recognizing that, Monday marked a sort of milestone in Dallas’ great bike share experiment, as the City Council’s transportation committee was briefed on what the last six-plus months of “wait and see” have yielded.
We’ve reported on much of this already, including some of the encouraging numbers shared by LimeBike and Ofo, the two biggest operators: Tens of thousands of people have used the bikes, and ridership is increasing. Demand exists. You’re familiar with the less positive aspects of bike share, but, again, to recap: vandalism, litter, and butt-ugliness, leading to more than 1,400 311 complaints about the bikes since September.
Michael Rogers, the city’s transportation director, is still eager to collect data, particularly in the summer months when more people will presumably be riding. But he said city staffers are also beginning to develop policy recommendations, which they will present early this fall. Before then, in the next few months, we can expect the city to begin striking up franchise agreements with the bike share companies, Rogers said. Among other things, those formal agreements would at least require companies to share their ridership data with the city, a very good idea if Dallas wants to use this as an opportunity to develop bike infrastructure.
Longer term, we will almost certainly see per-bike fees on the bike share companies using city rights-of-way. That money would likely be put into a fund specifically for bike infrastructure investments. There was talk of “geofencing,” which would help designate parking areas for the rental bikes, of gyroscopes that will alert the companies when bikes are knocked over, of limits to how many bikes can be placed in a particular block.
As of right now, it’s generally all talk, and on the City Council, an awareness that “cities across this nation are looking at Dallas to get this thing sorted out,” as Lee Kleinman put it.
So everybody’s watching. Whether Dallas is a guinea pig, poked and prodded by venture capital-backed tech startups, or a more equal partner in the bike share experiment, what happens next should be instructive. Let’s hope we get it right.