This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

“How dare you laugh,” Mr. Thomas said. “It was my house. My house.”

“I’m sorry,” the driver said, making heroic efforts, but when he remembered
the sudden check to his lorry, the crash of bricks falling, he became
convulsed again. One moment the house had stood there with such dignity
between the bomb sites like a man in a top hat, and then, bang, crash, there
wasn’t anything left—not anything. He said, “I’m sorry. I can’t help it, Mr.
Thomas. There’s nothing personal, but you got to admit it’s funny.”
—-Graham Greene, The Destructors

Destroyed V-Bike, Arts District, Dallas, Texas

I found this destroyed V-Bike when I was taking a photo of the mural called “The Storm” on the Ace Parking Garage at 717 Leonard Street for yesterday’s blog entry. If you look in the lower right portion of the photo of the mural you can see the bike, sort of – gives a sense of scale.

The full mural (previous photo center bottom) – Ace Parking, Dallas, “The Storm” Art Mural on Ace Parking Garage at 717 Leonard Street

If you live in Dallas, you are used to seeing bike share bikes broken all over the place. This one was in particularly bad shape – it looks like it was torn apart by a T-Rex. I assume it was run over – hopefully nobody was riding it at the time.

I have wanted to write about the saga – the rise and fall – of the bike sharing movement in Dallas, but it is/was too complex/bizarre/exciting/sad and kept changing – writing about it was like nailing jelly to a tree.

This Texas Monthly Article is as good a summary as you will read. In short, four or five companies jumped on the Dallas dockless bike share bandwagon and tried to stake out territory by putting thousands upon thousands of bikes out on the streets and sidewalks. They were everywhere. Then, there was a predictable crash and now you rarely see a rideable bike – except a lot of homeless have hacksawed the locks off and are riding them for free. Where the bikes failed they were replaced by electric scooters – which seem to be more practical for a few reasons.

I have mixed feelings – of course I loved the idea of the dockless bikes, freedom and anarchy and all that, even though I couldn’t imagine actually riding one (I have one of my personal bikes with me almost all the time in Dallas). The highly regulated bike share in New Orleans seems to work very well (though that is a tourist city – something completely different). And I do find the scooters useful.

So I’ll just be sad at the torn up bikes. Especially the V-Bikes – they were assembled locally and have some interesting innovations – single front fork blade and chainstay, enclosed shaft drive, and no-flat tires for example. They did have one fatal flaw though – the seats weren’t adjustable and I am too tall and couldn’t ever ride one.

Two V-Bike share bikes flanking my vintage Cannondale at Mockingbird DART station, Dallas, Texas

Shaft drive on a V-Bike bike share bike.

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Cycling Through a Blast Furnace

“Just as the Mediterranean separated France from the country Algiers, so did the Mississippi separate New Orleans proper from Algiers Point. The neighborhood had a strange mix. It looked seedier and more laid-back all at the same time. Many artists lived on the peninsula, with greenery everywhere and the most beautiful and exotic plants. The French influence was heavy in Algiers, as if the air above the water had carried as much ambience as it could across to the little neighborhood. There were more dilapidated buildings in the community, but Jackson and Buddy passed homes with completely manicured properties, too, and wild ferns growing out of baskets on the porches, as if they were a part of the architecture. Many of the buildings had rich, ornamental detail, wood trim hand-carved by craftsmen and artisans years ago. The community almost had the look of an ailing beach town on some forgotten coast.”
― Hunter Murphy, Imogene in New Orleans

Every year during the New Orleans Writing Marathon I make a point of crossing the Mississippi River on the Algiers Ferry. This year a group of poets decided to walk through the French Quarter and make the crossing. I’m no poet, but the rules aren’t too strict, so I tagged along.

I love riding the Ferry, though I have done it more than a few times. The Algiers Ferry moves cars, pedestrians, and cyclists from the dock at the foot of Canal Street across to the town of Algiers on the West Bank. Even though you are going from the Eastern half United States to the West, due to the twisting river the boat actually goes sort of in another direction. There is something about crossing the Mississippi, though I always think of the ferry as the spot where John Goodman’s character committed suicide in the series Treme. If you’ve ever seen the film Déjà Vu this is the ferry the terrorists attack.

The day was incredibly hot and humid and we maneuvered our route to the ferry to use as much shade as possible. The trip across is two dollars, cash only, no change – I always take a stack of ones and quarters with me when I go to New Orleans for the ferry and the streetcar.

Saint Louis Cathedral from across the Mississippi River at Algiers Point

Two women and a dog In the middle of the river on the Algiers Ferry.

On the Algiers side we went to a trio of spots to write. First was breakfast at Tout de Suite Cafe, which was very good. Right next door was the excellent cafe/coffee shop Two Birds, One Stone – they had a back room full of pinball machines and big tables, a perfect place to write. The young owners were very accommodating to our group – I want to visit again and recommend you do too. I wrote snippets of text at both, then we walked on to Congregation Coffee Roasters for a third stop. I decided to churn out a poem, since that was what everybody else was doing.

Rented Furniture

A worshipped monolith
made of translucent plastic
red and stained
a machine of fire and water

A cylinder, a totem
raised on a dias of wood
life that needs washing
escape and revelation

We didn’t make the payments
and they took the furniture
when we were gone
and returned to find
an empty room, with
only a bong on a wooden
wire spool table

It was still fairly early, but some of the others had to get back to do a radio broadcast – everybody piled back on the ferry for the trip back.I was distracted by two bike share rental bikes at the ferry terminal and, checking the map on my phone, discovered there was a bike trail on the top of the river levee on the Algiers side – so I opened the app on my phone and unlocked a bike – deciding to go for a ride.

New Orleans Bike Share Bike

The New Orleans bike share bikes are built like a tank, and as heavy as one – but the city is flat so that doesn’t cause too much of a problem. It took me a minute to find the control and downshift so I could climb onto the Levee and the swept handlebars took some getting used to. But soon enough I had it all in control and was moving down the smooth levee trail.

I rode south (or more exactly, downriver – the Mississippi curves) for a few miles, down past the Naval station. It was fun – the view of the river and giant ships and barges on one side – the picturesque streets of Algiers on the other. The path sort of petered out and I rode back, past the ferry station and upriver to the giant double bridge… the Crescent City Connector. That was about seven miles and about all I felt up to, so I rode back to the ferry and parked my rented bike.

It was a lot of fun, but there was one problem. It was so hot. It was like riding through a blast furnace. There was no breeze at all – no cooling relief coming off of the river. The top of the Levee is very exposed, not a bit of shade. The burning sun, the boiling air, and the famous New Orleans summer humidity made for a sweaty, exhausting ride.

I was so worn out that when I made it back across the river I was lazy and took a streetcar through the French Quarter (still had a dollar bill and a quarter) back to where we were meeting. A long day, a hot day, but a nice time.

Can’t wait to go back.

I Try the World’s Saddest Bike Sharing Program

never
even in calmer times
have I ever
dreamed of
bicycling through that
city
wearing a
beret
—-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.

B-Cycle Bike Share stand, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

B-Cycle Bike Share stand, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

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.

Bike Share is near all the beautiful Art Deco art and architecture of Fair Park

Bike Share is near all the beautiful Art Deco art and architecture of Fair Park

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.

Three speed internal gear hub.

Three speed internal gear hub.

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.

The bike share bike next to Leonhardt Lagoon, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

The bike share bike next to Leonhardt Lagoon, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

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.

Faster, please.

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.

Stay tuned.