City Hall

Dallas City Hall Takes a Back Seat on Bike Share. Thank God.

The so-called bike share program at Fair Park may be a scarcely utilized disaster. That doesn’t mean that a well-considered bike-share system, with stations placed strategically at points throughout the central city so riders can travel from where they are to a place they might want to go (rather than circling pointlessly around a sweltering expanse of concrete) is doomed to failure. As a matter of fact, this was one of the loudest objections to the City Council’s decision to pay for two bike-share kiosks at Fair Park. Such a transparently stupid idea could only hamstring the city’s efforts to put a more robust system in place which, council members were told, was imminent. Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan stepped to the microphone during the March 2014 council discussion to predict that requests for proposals would be going out in a couple of months and that the system would be up and running within a year.

Well, March 2015 has come and bike-share has failed to materialize. This in and of itself isn’t much of a surprise. Things move slowly at City Hall, and it’s probably unfair to hold the city to a completion date blurted out by a city staffer during an interrogation by notoriously uncivil elected officials. The surprise is how completely bike-share has dropped off the radar. Since the discussion last March, there’s been nary a peep. Perhaps it had been kneecapped by the awfulness of the Fair Park experiment. Perhaps it had simply fallen into bureaucratic purgatory where innovative policy ideas go to languish.

As it turns out, citywide bike share is still very much alive. It’s just not the city that’s doing it.

Jared White, a senior transportation planner with the city, says the project is now being spearheaded by Downtown Dallas Inc., a downtown-promoting nonprofit that works closely with City Hall on a variety of issues and funds the Segway-riding safety patrols. The decision was a practical one. For one, White says, the city had no money for bike-share. DDI also has the connections with the various stakeholders, public (i.e. the city and DART) and private, whose buy-in a successful bike-share system will require.

Kourtny Garrett, the DDI staffer heading its bike-share efforts, offered a brief comment on the project status via email:

DDI has been working for well over a year with the City of Dallas and partners like Uptown Dallas, Inc. to create a financial, operational and management model for bike share that would operate as an independent public-private partnership, with our support during start-up. We currently have a plan that creates a “phase one” system with the ability to expand city-wide once the first phase stabilizes. We’re looking toward this fall to potentially hit a significant milestone related to funding, at which point we’ll have a great deal more to talk about.
White has a few additional details. While it’s too early in the process to know the precise location of stations, the fare structure, and such, the general outlines are taking shape. According to White:

-The project will be funded with private money. DDI is in negotiations with a potential name sponsor that will pay for a substantial portion of the up-front costs. The identity of the sponsor is a secret, though White’s description of it as a major corporation headquartered in downtown Dallas would seem to leave only a couple of likely options.

-White expects the negotiations with the potential sponsor to wrap up by the end of the summer. If an agreement is reached and everything else goes as planned, bike-share could be downtown by next fall.

-The initial phase will probably cost in the $2-$3 million range, which will pay for around 300 bikes in the neighborhoods you’d expect: Downtown/Arts District, Uptown, Victory Park, the Design District, West Dallas/Trinity Groves, North Oak Cliff, the Cedars, South Dallas/Fair Park, and Deep Ellum.

-For some stations, the city will dedicate sidewalk or right-of-way. Others might go on DART property, which has been in on discussions and is already touting bike-share in promotional materials as a potential “last-mile” link between transit stop and final destination. In areas where the sidewalks are too narrow or there’s no DART station, DDI will probably negotiate with private property owners for space.

Given the city’s track record with bike-share, it’s probably for the best that a third party insulated from the inevitable But-I-want-bike-share-in-my-district! complaints of council members, potential transparency issues notwithstanding.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.