On Thursday afternoon, a dozen or so journalists stood in an awkward semi-circle near the Women's Museum at Fair Park, gazing at Dallas' first bike-share station. They had been promised that Mayor Mike Rawlings would be there at 3:30 p.m. to take the inaugural ride on one of the gleaming blue bicycles arrayed on the docking station before them, but the designated time had come and gone with no sign of the mayor. Dallas park director Willis Winters, the only punctual city official, stood on the fringe checking his email and looking not particularly eager to steal the show.
The reporters waited, grousing idly about the temperature, which hovered in the mid-30s. And they waited some more. Initially, the bike-share program at Fair Park was scheduled to go live early last summer, when it was still warm. But delays, including objections from the Dallas Landmark Commission over the location of one of the docking stations, delayed the unveiling to the fall, and the State Fair precluded an October debut. Hence the launch on the day of the season's first freeze.
The Feast of Sharing happening on the far end of the Esplanade provided a steady trickle of passersby to cast befuddled glances at the row of shiny new bikes and the reporters and cameramen who were staring at it. A few paused to satisfy their curiosity.
One guy in a red vinyl jacket and a Jumpman hat tried to process the purpose of the bikes. So you pay money to rent a bike -- $5 for the first 30 minutes, $2.50 for every half hour after that -- and then, because Dallas' only other bike share station is right next to the Texas Discovery Gardens, you just ride it around Fair Park? "That's crazy," he muttered, clearly at a loss to divine what anyone could possibly want to see at Fair Park.
At 3:54 p.m., as reporters were starting to mutter about hazard pay, there was an excited announcement from one of the Fair Park staffers who had recently arrived: The eagle was aloft and would alight at approximately 4 o'clock. Like clockwork, a Chevy Suburban, presumably heated, pulled to a stop and disgorged the mayor and City Councilwoman Carolyn Davis.
"It's a beautiful day for a bike ride, guys!" Rawlings gushed as he strode buoyantly toward a waiting bike. He was wobbly for his first few feet -- it was his first time on a bike since hip surgery, he explained later -- but hit his stride during a quick down-and-back to the Fair Park fountain.
The sight of Dallas' highest elected official pedaling gleefully in front of a gaggle of reporters was irresistible. "Hey! Mayor Rawlings! You still got it, my man!" a man shouted, rushing over to shake his hand.
Dismounting, Rawlings said it had been an uncommonly smooth ride and declared the he might bring
Mickey Micki, his wife, to Fair Park during Thanksgiving.
"I was just in London, and these were all over the place," he said. As if to head off critics who have complained that the new Fair Park-only system, with two stations that are essentially in the same place, is a perversion of the basic concept of bike-share, i.e. a practical network of stations that people can use to travel from point a to point b, he continued. "We want them all over Dallas, but this is the perfect place to start."
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Fair Park, which is all but deserted for 11 months of the year, almost certainly isn't the perfect place to start, but Rawlings gave his best sales pitch. The bikes are nice, sturdy, made to last. "I can take this to go get a pizza?" he asked Friends of Fair Park Director Craig Holcomb, nodding toward the Pizza Lounge across Grand Avenue. Why he would pay $5 to cover a quarter mile that, given the DART tracks and multiple lanes of Grand Avenue traffic that would have to be traversed, would be much easier to walk? That question wasn't answered. The point was riders are allowed to take the bikes off of Fair Park property, even onto the DART train, Holcomb says, so long as one doesn't mind adding the cost of a train ticket to the bike-share charges being racked up on one's credit card every half hour until the bike's returned to Fair Park.
Rawlings even put a positive spin on the near-freezing unveiling, explaining that his time in the restaurant business taught him the benefit of a "soft opening" to work out kinks and build excitement. You "don't launch on Labor Day," he said. "This is the perfect time."
And just in case the car-loving, cold-hating Dallas public doesn't agree, Holcomb announced that the first half-hour will be just $2.50 through January 1. So really there's no excuse not to drive down to Fair Park and ride a rented bike through the sprawling Art Deco complex, except that it costs money, is at Fair Park, and is really kind of pointless.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.