Well here’s a troubling, unconstructive development in the Dallas bike sharing conversation: Dallas City council member Dwaine Caraway visited Chicago and now he wants Dallas to scrap the dock-less bikes and introduce a docked bike share system.
Goodness, where to start. How about by pointing out that Caraway is participating in one of Dallas’ oldest, worst traditions of looking at the pretty things other cities have and attempting to import them unquestioningly to Dallas? This has happened over and over during the last 160-odd years, and it has contributed to a tremendous amount of wasted time and energy.
This is the same way of thinking that led to the broken whitewater feature in the Trinity River—some powerful people saw the prop in Colorado and wanted it for Dallas. It’s why we wasted years trying to turn the Trinity River into a vision of Central Park, even though the dynamic, difficult floodway bears little resemblance to the ecology of Manhattan island. We wanted a skyline, so we laid waste to block after block of wonderful turn-of-the-century mid-rise urban architecture. We wanted a canal and so we sunk locks into the river in the Trinity Forest that sit there rotting today. We wanted a Lincoln Center so we created an architectural zoo called the Arts District that is devoid of life except for the times before and after performances. We wanted—okay, I’ll stop. You get the point.
Now Dwaine Caraway took a trip to Chicago, saw a docked bike share system, and he believes it is the answer to Dallas supposedly pressing concern with the clutter created by the dock-less bike shares that have sprung up all over the city. And by foolishly believing that what works in Chicago will work in Dallas, Caraway now threatens to ruin what could be considered one of the most promising experiments in urban mobility Dallas has experienced in years.
There are plenty of constructive criticisms that can be waged at Dallas’ suddenly plentiful dock-less bike shares. The bikes, indeed, end up everywhere, creating something of a nuisance. The companies’ financial models—fueled by venture capital dough—may not prove profitable in the long run. The rapid introduction of rentable bikes into a city that has spent little resources or time planning for bike transportation has created a cluttered and potentially dangerous situation.
And so, yes, at some point, it will make sense to figure out how to regulate the bike shares. But regulations should not be drawn up in a vacuum or before Dallas has enough time to adjust to the new shares and understand how they are affecting mobility. Their popularity (I know commenters love to point out that they never see anyone using them, though my anecdotal experience is that I see people using them all the time) should serve as an example of the latent demand for expanding mobility options in Dallas. The bike share companies should cough up data on usage to help guide policy makers’ decisions about the future of bike share in this city. Furthermore, the bikes should serve as a kick in the rear for Dallas to get its act together with regards to building out better bike infrastructure.
What they shouldn’t do, however, is prompt a knee-jerk political reaction to quickly bring the whole bike share program under wraps. Caraway offers no constructive analysis of how context may affect his bike share comparison. Chicago has a fantastic cycling infrastructure. It is a much denser city than Dallas. It’s public transit system is infinitely better than Dallas’. Dallas’ bike shares are in their infancy, and there are pros and cons behind balancing the cost of docks verses the flexibility of dockless, particularly in spread-out, decentralized cities like Dallas.
None of that seems to matter because Dwaine Caraway went to Chicago and saw their bike share, and now he wants the same for Dallas.
And here’s the real kicker. Why does Caraway like Chicago’s bike share?
“The bikes were docked. They were not everywhere. If you want a bike you get the bike and return the bike to the dock. You have a clean city. You can still have bike share with regulations and rules. This is out of control,” Caraway said.
Since when do we travel to cities because they are clean? Dallas is a ridiculously clean city. It’s so clean no one is on the streets. The roads are manicured perfectly to keep cars moving quickly and pedestrians and bikes out of sight. If you walk around, there is very little to distract you from the clean and considered facades of soulless office buildings and banal apartment blocks. Caraway really doesn’t need to worry. Today in Dallas, compared to so many other great cities in the world, Dallas’ streets enjoy few interruptions, messiness, or opportunities for the kind of chaos that makes cities exciting and enjoyable.
Dallas is clean enough.
Don’t get me wrong. Dallas policy makers should be studying the bike share issue carefully. The city should force companies to provide data to help guide their decisions. It should revisit its bike plan to reconsider how the city’s streets can be reconfigured to allow both safer travel and more accommodating to the storage of bicycles. It should see the cluttered mess of the bikes as an opportunity to better understand how people move about or desire to move about the city, not as an affront to Dallas’ auto-organized streets that needs to be put in line with some other rationale that has nothing to do with how people actually live in Dallas
My fear is this. Caraway is a strong force on the council. He plays a key role in the horse trading between various voting factions. It would be a disaster if, as part of that horse trading, Caraway was allowed to get in the way of or ruin the bike share experiment. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen. The city’s political leaders need to show patience and reasonableness. Dallas will realize a well-functioning bike share system when it studies the progress on the ground and reacts to the ways in which bike share may best fit Dallas. And what works for Dallas may not be the same thing that works for Chicago. Because Dallas is not Chicago.