For Eric Burton, the sidewalks of his Bryan Place neighborhood have always been a hazard. Burton, left blind by a degenerative eye condition, struggles daily with paths that are uneven, buckled and cracked, but he's learned to deal with it. Over the past seven months, however, a new obstacle has cropped up in his neighborhood and others around downtown Dallas — the bike-share bikes, all 18,000 of them.
On Dec. 30, as he was walking near the corner of Bryan and Liberty Streets, Burton tripped on a bike that had been dropped on its side, right in the middle of the sidewalk.
"I've been dealing with [the bikes] for quite awhile. I'm not a complainer, my life is what it is," Burton says. "The problem arose when I actually fell over one of these things. I really screwed up my knee, partially tore my ACL, screwed up my ankle pretty bad and spent New Year's and the next month laid up."
Burton doesn't want to sue LimeBike, the brand of bike he tripped over, or kick the bikes out of Dallas. He considers them a good thing, . He does, however, want to make sure people know, especially when the bikes are left off their kickstands or in the middle of the sidewalk rather than along the curb, they create a real hazard for the those who are blind or have impaired mobility.
"I just want to raise public awareness on behalf of those who are disabled, on behalf of those who are walking their dogs," Burton says. "Imagine avoiding dog poop on the sidewalk, just scattered everywhere, as a sighted person. Your freedom is kinda impeded because you have to pay really close attention to where you're walking because you don't want to step in the dog poop. That's my life walking out here."
LimeBike says that it's doing all it can to make sure that its bikes are safe for riders and everyone else in Dallas.
"It is increasingly important we continue to encourage and educate residents and visitors about responsible parking habits so that we ensure continued access for everyone in Dallas," LimeBike spokeswoman Mary Caroline Pruitt says. "After the bike is unlocked, the LimeBike app instructs riders how and where to responsibly park, between the pedestrian-designated sidewalk and the street curb, or next to a bike rack. There is also a map in the LimeBike app that visually shows our riders how to properly park."
Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston, who represents Burton and is on the committee crafting regulations for the five bike-share companies operating in the city, said that solving problems like Burton's comes down to public education about what to do with the bikes, as well as regulations that encourage the bikes are parked unobtrusively. Temporary rules issued by Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax say that the companies themselves should not drop off bikes on sidewalks narrower than 10 feet.
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"The companies need to make sure they're policing themselves as much as possible, but I think it all gets taken care of in the new regulations," Kingston says. "The companies are already starting to do more public education, so that people don't leave them where they're going to be a problem for visually impaired or otherwise disabled people."
Additionally, Kingston says, the franchise agreements the city plans to work out with the bikeshare companies will likely include penalty fees for bikes left in the wrong place. It will be up to the companies if and how they want to pass those fees down to riders, Kingston says.
Unfortunately for Burton, city regulations aren't set to be worked out until the fall, because Dallas city staff wants more warm weather riding data before it decides things like a potential cap on the total number of bikes or the number of bikes allowed to be staged in a certain area.