even in calmer times
have I ever
bicycling through that
—-Charles Bukowski, Paris
As Dallas finally fitfully stumbles into the twenty-first century one desperately needed innovation is a useful, healthy, bike-sharing program. Fort Worth has one – it’s pretty cool and it seems to be working. Over here, on the east side of the Metroplex, things are not going so swimmingly.
There seems to be some work going on behind the scenes. The first obstacle to be removed was the City’s helmet law (how can you rent a bike with a helmet?). It was amended to only apply to children.
A bike sharing stand then appeared as if by magic in downtown – but it is a private enterprise; only open to the company’s employees. A very cool idea – but it doesn’t do the general public any good.
Finally, late this year, the city opened two bike sharing… actually, more like bike rental stands in Fair Park. It barely made a notice. The problem is in the size – with only two stations, both on the Fair Park grounds – it isn’t useful for transportation. It isn’t useful for anything, anyway.
The local press jumped on the anti-bandwagon – dubbing the effort the World’s Saddest Bike Sharing Program. And it is.
But that is more than a little unfair. They were careful to insure that these two stands would be compatible with the system that the City eventually installs (they are a B-Cycle system, the same ones used in Forth Worth and many other cities). I prefer to think of this as a tiny baby step – the first toe in the water. When Candy and I were down in Deep Ellum visiting the Kettle Gallery for some art and Cane Rosso for some pizza I spotted a couple of B-Cycle bikes locked up outside a restaurant. Somebody was using the things.
In keeping with this hopeful, positive attitude, I think that it’s important to do something positive, so I decided to go down to Fair Park, rent a bike, and report about it here. The day was coldish, with spitting bits of drizzling rain – so I put on some Gore-Tex and headed out.
I locked my folding bicycle up behind Craft and Growler and walked into Fair Park. I suppose I could have ridden my bike right up to the bike rental stand – but that seemed too odd, so I walked a little bit. There is a bike stand near each of the two Fair Park DART stations – so you could take the train down and grab a bike with ease.
Getting a bike is easy. Eventually, the system will require a membership, but that doesn’t make sense with only two stations in a tourist destination. All you do is swipe a credit card and take a bike. So that’s what I did.
The bikes are really nice (made by Trek). Of course, they are heavy, but this isn’t racing, it’s transportation. They have step-through frames, which is nice when you are riding in street clothes. I thought they were single-speed, but they have a nice three speed internal geared hub. I wouldn’t want to climb a mountain with one, but it works fine for tooling around the city. The seat is wide and the handlebars upright – the seat adjusts easily, and the bike should fit pretty much everyone.
There is a heavy utilitarian basket on the front. The bike had lights, good brakes, and a bell. It also had a built-in cable lock, but I wasn’t able to figure out how that worked (OK, here it is).
I rode off around Fair Park, looping around looking at the murals, sculptures and Art Deco architecture. I even tooled by the Texas Woofus a couple times for good luck. I rode by the Leonhardt Lagoon and visited the second bike rental stand. In theory, I could have left my bike there – eventually that’s the idea – to ride from stand to stand, leaving the bikes for others while you do what you need to do. I didn’t see anyone else riding a rental bike, but there were three or four empty slots at each stand. I don’t know if that means that the other bikes were out or if they are just empty spots.
Turning, I mostly retraced my route back around and back to the starting point, winding around when I saw something interesting until I put in about five miles. When finished, all you have to do is push the bike back in the stand and it’s good to go for the next customer.
So, I had fun. True, it was about the same amount of fun that I would have if I rode my own bicycle around Fair Park on a cold, rainy day, but it is another option. Now we need a city-wide system that would reach a critical mass. I can imagine a B-Cycle station at critical DART rail stations, the Arts District, Klyde Warren, Trinity Groves, Main Street Garden…. That is a vision of the future.
For now, as soon as the weather warms a bit I’d like to organize a writing marathon/photo trip/bike ride around Fair Park with rental bikes along with maybe a few folks on their own rides. That’s the ticket.