Jim Schutze
How are bike rentals half as bad as cars, even when they're all piled up in a jumble? Especially when they're piled up in a jumble?

Bring on Bike Sharing. Jumbled or not, They're Way Better Than Cars.

Oh, right, I’m so offended by all those terrible bike-share bikes showing up around town, polluting the landscape by their unaesthetic presence. No, I’m not. You know what does offend me? Cars. Trucks. Last time I checked, bikes weren’t giving kids leukemia.

Check it out. The regional nonprofit clean-air advocacy group, Downwinders at Risk, has been reporting for three years on research into leukemia among children who live near busy roads. The rate is 50 percent higher for kids who grow up near dense vehicular traffic than for children who don't. We’re talking about mainstream research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

I don’t want to sound flip about something as horrific as childhood leukemia, but as far as I know, nobody has ever linked bicycles to childhood leukemia. The evidence of the CDC research is that the fewer cars we have on our streets, the less childhood leukemia we will see. I hope those stacks of unused bikes are starting to look less offensive already.

We live on a knife’s edge here of falling into permanent, mask-wearing, Beijing-level air pollution anyway. Since all of our state agencies, and now probably the feds as well, are devoted to lying to us about environmental risks, we have to look outside government for any shred of useful knowledge. The best regional site I know of is Downwinders at Risk.  Read its Oct. 28, 2017, piece, “Mysterious Catastrophic Air Pollution Episode”  if you really want to get your socks scared off you.

OK, OK, forget pollution. Maybe we figure some asthma, some childhood leukemia, a little bit of lung cancer are a small price to pay for being able to drive around in our cars. What about cars killing us in crashes?

We talk about murder rates all the time and scare the wits out of ourselves worrying about getting murdered. Why don’t we worry the same amount about getting killed in car crashes?

In 2016, murderers in Dallas took the lives of 163 people. The same year, car drivers in Dallas killed 192 people. We could save more lives in Dallas by getting rid of cars than by getting rid of murderers.

And fatal crashes are the tip of the iceberg. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, in 2016, car wrecks inflicted “incapacitating injuries” on 1,137 people in Dallas. Another 5,296 people suffered other types of injuries. There were 35,433 car wrecks total in the city that year.

Nikki Williams
Between air pollution and wrecks, cars are way worse for us than shared bikes.

But, oh, for sure, let’s not have a bunch of nasty, idle bicycles lying around junking up the landscape. Let’s really focus on the excess bicycle problem as if our lives depended on it, which they do not.

What our lives quite literally do depend on is getting rid of cars. Cars suck. Cars are stupid. Think about it. According to Toyota, a Camry weighs between 3,241 and 3,571 pounds. We have devised a transportation system in which every drunk, walleye and geezer in the city can hurtle around at will at high speeds in a ton and a half of steel, and our best chance of surviving them is to duck.

Deeply ingrained in the ventral visual cortex of the American brain is the notion that all people have the right to get to work in their own cars if they feel like it, even if doing so exposes hundreds or even thousands of other people to ruin, mangling or death. We need to cauterize that part of the brain.

Should the shared bikes be placed in nice, neat racks so they all stand up straight in uniform rows instead of lying around, sprawled on parkways and straddling the sidewalks? Sure. Maybe. OK. But not if imposing requirements like those on the bike-share companies will make their business uneconomic.

We should want the bike companies to make tons and tons of money.

We should want the bike companies to make tons and tons of money. Oh my God, here it is, all of it, everything we’re supposed to believe in — capitalism, market forces, entrepreneurial cleverness, innovation, technology — all of it coming to our rescue, saving us from poisoning the children and smashing into each other in hurtling ton-and-a-half coffins. Why aren’t we celebrating?

Next year, the Dallas City Council is supposed to consider adopting a set of rules to regulate the bike-share  business. Already in some of the murmurings from City Hall, I hear the small, grating sound of official mice gnawing at the wires of freedom — complaints about how many bikes seem to be out there already and what if there are more and how messy they are and what about that picture online from China of a whole city dump full of bikes?

Well, what about the Chinese dump full of bikes? Isn’t a dump full of bikes better than childhood leukemia? Isn’t it better than more than 1,000 people a year in the city suffering incapacitating injuries in car wrecks?

All right, you’re right, you make a good point: Bikes can’t replace cars. Not in the foreseeable future and not until more Americans perfect their sense of balance. But bicycles generally are a move in the right direction, and cars are not.

So what about this as an approach for the City Council to consider adopting in its deliberations? What about inviting the bike companies here? Why not start out by asking them what the city can do to make their ventures more successful?

We should want to see more and more people on shared bikes and fewer and fewer people in cars. Any regulation or fix we propose should be sharp-penciled against cost and weighed in terms of whether it will help the bike businesses flourish. If they flourish, we flourish. If we run them off, we’re idiots.

Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.

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