Dallas has, out of nowhere, become the bikeshare capital of North America. According to a recent Dallas Magazine report, the city now has nearly 20,000 bikeshare-related bicycles in circulation. This is nearly double the total found in the denser cities of Seattle and New York, which have 10,000 and 12,000, respectively. Based on a recent city meeting, Big D could also become a future leader in figuring out how to sensibly regulate the upstart industry.
On February 26, transportation department staffers announced that the city will begin working with bikeshare companies on new regulations. The backstory on how Dallas got to this point is fascinating.
In August of 2017, Dallas allowed private bikeshare operations in the city, opening the way for Limebike, Ofo and other companies that manage dockless systems. Rather than following other cities - by regulating in advance, and rolling the industry out slowly - Dallas did the opposite. It allowed the industry to sweep in suddenly, under the promise that it would pass regulations later, once problems arose.
This hands-off mentality has created a bikeshare explosion; Dallas has earned its 20,000-strong, "bikeshare capital" title in just seven months. A Dallas Observer heat map shows that most of the activity is centered in Dallas' core urban neighborhoods, including downtown, Deep Ellum, Uptown, and some areas around the Katy Trail.
The sudden influx has caused some problems, though. Since the roll-out, there have been over 1,400 complaints to the city's 311 service. Common ones are that the bicycles create clutter on sidewalks, get piled inside parks, or end up in odd places, such as the city's rivers and lakes.
The city will review these problems, and expects to have regulations passed later in 2018. The nearby suburb of Plano, which also began a pilot experiment with private bikeshare, passed regulations just this week. Included are limits on where bikes can be parked, and mandates that companies must respond to resident complaints about clutter.
Whether Dallas' regulations eventually mirror Plano's, the approach that the city has taken so far - allow growth now, regulate later - is a sound one. The fact that this hands-off mentality has led to explosive ridership suggests a promising future for the industry at large.
Dallas, after all, is a hot, sprawling, car-oriented city that would not seem conducive to bicyclists, much less the condensed network of bicyclists needed to support bikeshare. And yet clearly there is market demand.
If the same mentality were applied in denser cities, one could just imagine the critical mass that would unfold. But private bikeshare is heavily regulated in San Francisco, and not even allowed in New York City or Chicago.
[This article was originally published by Forbes.]