Elizabeth Lavin

Transportation

Please, Dwaine Caraway, Don’t Ruin Dallas’ Bike Share Experiment

The Mayor Pro-Tem wants Dallas to copy Chicago. But the two cities have nothing in common when it comes to bicycle infrastructure.

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.

Seriously?

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?

It’s clean.

“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.

Comments

  • My experience is that people use the bikes all the time, but only about half of them are paying for it, since half the bikes being ridden have the locking mechanism broken off.

    • Kyle Reese

      Uh bullshit

    • Pol Pot

      Another issue is people using the bike and then not locking it once they are done. I’d argue it’s close to a 65/35 split around Deep Ellum, but your point is well taken.

  • MattL1

    If memory serves, years ago the council and/or staff was discussing docked bike share, but nobody could agree on which districts/neighborhoods should get the docks.

    Dockless has been somewhat messy, but I have noticed it’s been less so lately. In the long run and on balance, this experience will be to the city’s benefit.

  • Joe Hunter

    Keep Caraway away from San Francisco. That City is struggling with dockless bikes and motorized scooters. The companies responsible for this situation are fighting the City government and getting kickback from City and it’s citizens.. SF is already a bike town with infrastructure to support bikers and has a good transit system – unlike Dallas. It has a lot of citizens who protect their neighborhoods and object to shooters going 20 MPH on sidewalks. Perhaps Caraway should look at SF Supervisor’s solutions for this problem. He might learn something how a real City’s government works.

  • PJCTX

    Love to see a genuine disclosure from all of the companies related to use data.

    Regardless, none of the urbanist ideas/proposals will work because: (1) Dallas is not dense; and (2) Dallas doesn’t want to be dense. Fortunately, or unfortunately, that is the bottom line. We like our single family zoning, space, and privacy. There’s massive NIMBYism here too. We can definitely become more bike friendly though.

    • Pol Pot

      Dallas is becoming a multi-faceted city. Bikes are used all over Deep Ellum which is not single family. Density is increasing throughout East Dallas as well with the onslaught of townhomes crammed into single family lots.

      So some ideas may work for parts of Dallas, but not others. There is probably a middle ground that works.

  • Emily

    You do realize there are more places than Chicago that have docked bikes, right? Perhaps it’s not “saw shiny object in one city and wants to replicate” and more “What we have is obviously not working. And here is a proven model that is working in many cities around the US. Maybe we should consider it rather than either live with obnoxious litter in our streets or cancel bikeshare offerings altogether.”

    • PJCTX

      The broken model will prove itself when the private funding dries up. And it will, I strongly suspect. It’s a terrible business model, but not our money, so take your shot.

  • Pol Pot

    Anyone think that if docked bikes were implemented there would be few docking stations south of the Trinity? The dockless approach avoids the potential of “redlining” which districts should get bikes.

  • chasd00

    Bill the bike share companies for the time a bike is not in use. Then there’s pressure to optimize the number of bikes based on demand. For every bike i see in use i see probably a 100 parked ( East Dallas ).

  • “roll”.
    giggle.

  • topham

    It seems to me they’ve really thinned out the bikes on the street. I used to see dozens of share bikes in Tietze Park in East Dallas. Today: 2. I’d say reasonable rules from the City Manager’s office, plus the work of the market, are fixing the overabundance of a couple of months ago.

  • Curt Riffel

    I was in Denver last week and struggled to find two dockless bikes downtown. The city has a docked bike program that charges $25 a day for a bike. Denver is a very friendly bike city and would do well to have half of the dockless bikes that Dallas has. They are cheaper, run by 3rd parties, and more convenient then docked bikes.

  • Los_Politico

    So has Caraway not traveled outside of Dallas in the last 8 years? I thought all the city council members went to DC at least once a year. He never saw Capital Bikeshare? Sheesh.

    I loved the section about being “clean”. In college I used to tell people that a pro for Dallas was that it was clean. Then I travel to and lived in some of the less clean cities I thought I didn’t like and realized cleanliness and liveliness were opposites.

  • Scott Braden

    Somebody should remind Mr Caraway that Dallas already has a “docked” bike share system, which D has reported on in the past. It has 2 (two) dock stations and at last report had been used a handful of times.

    https://www.dmagazine.com/urbanism-transportation/2014/11/when-wins-arent-wins-when-sharing-is-renting/

  • Sean Tyler Gill

    Living on Main Street, I see bike share used constantly, it has become a great tool for me personally and has greatly reduced my need to drive. I recently visited San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Fransisco, each city had very unique approaches to bike share. San Diego was similar to Dallas with large amounts of dockless bikes (and electric scooters which were freaking awesome) I found myself using them constantly and they were much more available. LA had both but we never used the docked bikes because of how inconvenient it was to have to find a dock that was several blocks from your destination. San Francisco had such little bike share it was pointless, but wasn’t needed due to there great transit system. The point is when managed right, dockless is an amazing option, and with the cost savings on the city, we can put that money towards building bike lanes and redesigning streets in favor of alternative modes of transit. Also, the issues with the bikes not locking and being stolen is not happening in other cities with the same companies. In California every time I ended the run, it locked the bike hands free, and the electric bikes and scooters sound an alarm when moved if not in use. My theory is the companies are prioritizing increasing ridership in Dallas for now instead of security, and that’s a good thing, get more people riding and worry about profits later.