"What's up with the bikes?"
That may be a refrain we all hear in our minds as we buzz through downtown Dallas these days, and it is also the first thing we heard blurted out while taking an infrequent visitor on a tour of the city the other day.
Big D is awash in green, yellow and orange two-wheelers scattered across sidewalks, a level of disarray that makes it seem as though a magical force suddenly snatched bike riders from their saddles.
This isn't a good look for Dallas. Nor is it good for bike-sharing programs. The city needs a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly culture, and the look of a bike graveyard will eventually harden public opinion against having cheap bikes at the ready.
Public spaces are shared spaces, and bike companies must honor that even if their customers don't. We'd hate to see bike-sharing fail because bikes have become urban litter. Fortunately, that is a fate that riders, bike companies and the city can easily avoid.
In a city that has few alternatives to the automobile, bike sharing fills needs. For some, it provides a partial solution to Dallas' vexing first-mile, last-mile connections for mass-transit users. Curious tourists use them to explore the core of the city. Aspiring entrepreneurs even use them to earn a few bucks.
The best example we've seen recently is a curb painter who uses the bikes to run his "small business."
Dockless bikes self-lock and can be left anywhere, on a sidewalk or in a park, which is a blessing and a curse. Without the need for expensive docks, a new bike company can appear almost overnight. And by opting to let free-market competitors duke it out without stiff city regulations, Dallas has reaped benefits.
In less than six months, Dallas has gone from the largest American city without a bike-share program to attracting five companies and an estimated 20,000 bikes en route to becoming the largest bike-share city in the nation. And two other companies are kicking the tires on Dallas.
Success is wonderful, and the marketplace will sort itself out -- if rampant clutter doesn't kill progress. A few simple fixes right now can make sure that doesn't happen.
Establish strategically located bike racks or paint sidewalks with "leave bikes here" boxes to encourage riders to be more thoughtful about where they drop bikes. This is something neighborhood groups and business could do.
Put limits on the number of bikes that can be on a street corner and require the companies to move a portion of their bike fleets from downtown into the neighborhoods.
Tap technology to encourage riders to return bikes to authorized places. In Singapore, a bike-share company uses a geofencing app to guide users to designated parking areas. Chronic abusers are locked out of the system; responsible riders get discounts.
Require companies to pay a franchise fee, deposit or bond to cover cleanup costs and use of the right of way and to improve mobility infrastructure. The city also should have access to aggregate ride data to better shape broader transportation investments and quality-of-life improvements, such as where to put bike lanes.
Dallas now has a bike-sharing program. Let's make sure we're all pedaling in the right direction.