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Dockless bikes promise the future of transportation, but litter the city of Dallas

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DALLAS — Colorful fixed-gear bikes litter the city’s streets here.

They’re in Uptown, where 20-somethings sip craft cocktails on breezy outdoor patios, and in White Rock Lake, where moms in yoga pants meet to push strollers. From the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, bikes are visible in the Trinity River below. The bikes are everywhere downtown, leaning against cement planters, outside parking garages and cafes, lined up at Dealey Plaza.

The bikes belong to companies that are hoping to change how people get around cities. Dockless bike-share startups, already common in China, have been making their way into the U.S. The idea is simple and utopian — easily accessible, low-cost bikes that people can grab, use and leave just about anywhere.

The problem, however, is they do leave them anywhere — and everywhere.

With at least five companies having introduced their services to Dallas, there are thousands of these bikes throughout the city. They clog sidewalks and pile up on street corners. Mayor Mike Rawlings, the former CEO of Pizza Hut, likened them to the tribbles from Star Trek, saying they “asexually reproduce or something.”

The problem with the bike shares echoes some of the larger issues that tech companies have begun to face head on — that a small number of bad actors can cause serious headaches for services created with the best of intentions.

Dallas isn’t the only city weighing the costs and benefits of dockless bike startups. Washington has worked through its own experiment with dockless bikes. One Hong Kong-based startup had to leave France after the “mass destruction” of its bikes.

Training wheels

It all started last summer. Suddenly, shiny new bicycles in the colors of exotic birds were scattered in high-traffic areas throughout Dallas.

At first they were only near parks and grocery stores, but soon they were lined up in dining districts and outside museums. Then they made it onto hiking trails and into residential neighborhoods. The city toyed with the idea of a stationed bike-share model, but couldn’t muster the initial investment capital. Dockless bike-sharing was the perfect, financially forgiving compromise.

The premise is simple: You spot a bike, download an app and enter your credit card number. The bike is remotely unlocked, and the user rides away. Most companies charge about $1 an hour; many promise the first ride free.

Within a few months of the rollout in Dallas, bike-share companies were basking in the city’s hands-off approach, ramping up their fleets and duking it out for market share. By January, there were five major competitors: Limebike, VBike, Spin, Ofo and MoBike.

Nobody knows for sure how many of these bike-share bicycles are loitering in the streets right now. A columnist at The Dallas Morning News has estimated 20,000 or so, and that’s the number people in the industry use. But listening to people complain about them, the estimates often range anywhere from “a crapton” to “a bazillion.”

Whatever the exact number, Dallas now has more dockless bikes than any other North American city in America, and in January, residents filed more than 260 complaints about them. That same month, Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax sent out a memo hoping to put the brakes on the situation. The message instructed bike-share companies to start moving bikes that had been dropped in inconvenient places, or, ominously, the city “may be left with no choice” but to remove them.

By then, pictures of massive bike-share graveyards in China had been widely disseminated. Citizens had no trouble transplanting that vision of a post-apocalyptic-looking nightmare onto Dallas.

Philip Kingston loves the bike-share. He’s a progressive-minded attorney serving his third term on the Dallas City Council, and he has a history of advocating for both bikes and new technology. When cab companies tried to get Uber banned from Dallas in 2013, Kingston was one of the ride-share company’s biggest advocates.

He said he can understand the issues people have with the bikes, but that he believes it to be a generational issue.

“There’s a huge sentiment among people, especially older people, of ‘everything in its place,’” Kingston says. “The idea that someone would leave a bike somewhere when he or she is finished with it violates a sense of order.”

Kingston said support for the dockless bikes breaks down mostly by age. Younger people generally like them, older people don’t, and the line is “about 49 years old,” he said. Kingston also isn’t too concerned with the “eyesore” complaint. He points to another brightly colored, ubiquitous object found throughout the city: the trash bin.

“Every week, they wind up in the road ways, they get vandalized, they get hit by cars,” he says. “I get zero complaints about this.”

The need for speed

It’s easy to see why Dallas agreed to take bike-share companies for a spin in the first place.

Hassle-free rentable bikes lead to fewer cars on the road, which leads to shorter commutes for drivers, which leads to less pollution — especially good, since Dallas is the 13th-most polluted city in the U.S.

But when people see the well-intentioned bikes pushed into creeks and blocking sidewalks, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps technology hasn’t contributed to this aspect of human behavior: the irresistible urge some people have to kick over a standing bike, or the desire to throw five into a creek.

A few Instagram accounts, like @dallasbikemess and @bikesharenightmare, are dedicated solely to sharing photos and videos of bike-share bicycles that have been knocked over or left in strange places: the side of a highway, behind a dumpster, in a tree. Not long ago someone sawed one in half and turned it into street art in the Deep Ellum neighborhood. And everyone has heard stories about kids who hacked the bikes — literally hacking off the black boxes locking the back wheel — to ride them free.

Maybe people react childishly — like kids experimenting with new toys — to new-fangled tech solutions. Or maybe Dallas is disproportionately populated by jerks.

Anthony Fleo, Dallas general manager of LimeBike, dismisses that idea completely. These are minor growing pains, he contends, easily fixed with a little user education. He says that vandalism has affected less than 3 percent of the 10,000 LimeBike fleet.

Kris Alborz, general counsel for VBikes, calls the bike mess an “eyesore.” He says that his company has downsized where necessary, and that the competition —is the problem.

“Our competitors are here to flood the market,” he says. “We feel like we’re the only ones playing by the rules. I guess that’s the difference between your mom-and-pop shops and big corporations.”

LimeBike said that ridership has doubled since last month, and Ofo reported 100 percent growth in March. Those are good indications that even if people hate the bikes, someone’s riding them. And numbers like that yield plenty of ride-related data, which the companies say they’ll share with the city of Dallas. By figuring out where people are riding and where bikes should be concentrated most, city officials can use the data to build bike infrastructure, identify transportation deserts, and work on easing traffic congestion.

The bike-share companies are also working on new solutions to improve their services and keep bikes from becoming a nuisance. There’s been progress on sensor technology that will allow companies to detect when a bike is on its side (presumably so they can dispatch someone to go set it up) and in-app parking zones. There’s been talk of leveraging fees for improper bike placement. To counter vandalism, Everett Weiler, Dallas general manager for Beijing-based bike-share Ofo, says that his company is striving to make its bikes sturdier. LimeBike has released cute instructional videos designed to grab users’ attention. And Dallas plans to pass regulations this year, but it’s not clear yet exactly what those will be.

In the meantime, the companies in Dallas are already gearing up for the next big thing in transportation-share technology: dockless scooters, which are already piling up on the streets of San Francisco.



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Breonna Taylor: Armed civilians are demonstrating their power in wake of decision over her killing | US News

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Louisville is a tinder box of rage and frustration.

Protesters have been taking to the streets for 121 nights since Breonna Taylor was killed.

This week the city has been in a state of emergency, roads closed and businesses barricades. Military personnel line the streets, armoured vehicles patrol the airport and protesters hold vigil at a square, waiting for curfew to fall before they march.

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There have been tense stand-offs in Louisville
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Protesters are armed and demonstrating their power

But there’s another group who’ve started to make their presence felt in the past few days – loaded with rifles and army fatigues they look like active military personnel.

But they are in fact a far-right group who call themselves the Oath Keepers, described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the US.

We find them in the car park of a hotel. There are about 30 of them and the protesters marching by are immediately aggravated by the sight of them.

The anti-government group insists they’ve been invited here by business owners. The founder, Stewart Rhodes tells me: “We’re here to protect businesses and apartments. We’re also here protecting residents.

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“We don’t want to say who they are or where they lived because they’re afraid. We’re protecting life and property.”

The crowd that’s started to form around them is clearly incensed.



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There are tense exchanges playing out everywhere as the two sides face off.

One member, George Douglas Smith Jr, tells me he won’t raise his gun unless damage is done. He said: “What they do in their organisation is fine. Unless they try to turn the buildings down.

“I made a solemn oath to the store owners that I won’t let that happen even if this crowd beats me downs and kill me.”

It is an austerely incongruous sight, but it’s become painfully commonplace in the pockets of tension around America that seemingly keep emerging. A nation where heavily armed civilians feel emboldened to demonstrate their power.

It constantly feels like the mood and risk can radically shift at any moment.

The protesters eventually make their way out of the car park, many encouraging each other not to rise to the bait.

For another two hours, they walk around Louisville. They eventually make their way to a church where they’re welcomed in and offered refreshments.

The police keep watch on the edge of the grounds. It is a far less disparate and chaotic scene than some of the skirmishes and arrests we witnessed the night before, when two officers were shot.

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But it’s a constant game of cat and mouse that’s hard to imagine any resolution to right now.

Twenty five minutes out of town, we meet neighbours of Breonna Taylor who were there the night she died. They’re incredulous at the grand jury’s decision not to charge any officers with her killing.

Deja Moore lives opposite Breonna’s apartment. She tells me there were gun shells all around her door and she could see Breonna’s body.

The attorney general said the police announced their presence. But Deja is emphatic that she and others didn’t hear it.



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She is exasperated at the lack of progress on racial justice in America, but defiant too.

“Honestly a change needs to come. Whether they like it or not it’s going to turn violent. We’re upset, angry, disappointed and if they won’t change it we will,” she said.

Quite what the change looks like in a country where it’s proved so illusive, is very unclear.

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Evel Knievel’s son sues Disney over Toy Story 4 character | Ents & Arts News

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Evel Knievel’s son is suing Disney over a daredevil character in the animated film Toy Story 4.

Kelly Knievel has held the publicity rights to his father’s name since 1998, according to his US District Court filing in Las Vegas.

The federal trademark infringement lawsuit claims that Disney-owned Pixar did not ask permission to use his father’s likeness when creating the character Duke Caboom.

American daredevil Evel Knievel (1938 - 2007) makes a motorcycle jump over thirteen AEC Merlin buses at Wembley Stadium in London, 26th May 1975. The stunt ended in a crash in which Knievel broke his pelvis. (Photo by Kypros/Getty Images)
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One of Evel Knievel’s most famous stunts was at Wembley Stadium in London in 1975

Knievel is seeking damages of more than $300,000 (£235,000) over allegations including false endorsement and unjust enrichment.

The 60-year-old said: “Evel Knievel did not thrill millions around the world, break his bones and spill his blood just so Disney could make a bunch of money.”

Duke Caboom, voiced by Keanu Reeves in last year’s film, was a 1970s toy who rides a motorbike and is “Canada’s greatest stuntman”, the lawsuit said.

Knievel was famous for stunts such as a motorbike jump over a row of buses at Wembley Stadium.

He was seriously injured many times during 75 motorbike jumps, but died from lung disease in 2007.

An Evel Knievel toy was released in 1973 with a white helmet and jumpsuit, with a motorbike that could be propelled with a wind-up device.

Disney and Pixar released a similar Duke Caboom toy along with Toy Story 4.

The toy also featured in McDonald’s Happy Meals.

Evel Knievel was seriously injured many times during 75 motorbike jumps
Image:
Evel Knievel was seriously injured many times during 75 motorbike jumps

The lawsuit claims consumers and film reviewers “universally caught on to the connection”, despite the film company and Reeves avoiding any comparison.

Jeffrey R Epstein, corporate spokesman for The Walt Disney Co, described Knievel’s claims as meritless, saying the film company will defend itself vigorously.

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North Korea troops shot dead South Korean official and burned his body, Seoul claims | UK News

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A South Korean government official was shot and killed by troops in North Korea who set his body on fire over fears he might be carrying coronavirus, officials in Seoul have claimed.

The South’s defence ministry said the 47-year-old government official had been killed and his corpse burned after disappearing from an inspection boat in waters off the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday.

South Korea‘s President Moon Jae-in called the killing a “shocking” and “unpardonable” act and demanded the North punish those responsible.

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South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called the killing a ‘shocking’ and ‘unpardonable’ act

North Korea sent staff in gas masks aboard a boat near the man to find out why he was there on Tuesday afternoon, South Korea’s Defence Ministry said.

Later in the day, a North Korean navy boat arrived and opened fire at him, they added.

Sailors from the boat, wearing gas masks and protective suits, then poured petrol on his body and set it on fire, the ministry said, citing intelligence gathered by surveillance equipment and other assets.

It is unclear what caused the official’s death and whether he died after being shot.

Citing intelligence sources, the South’s military said the unidentified man appeared to have been questioned at sea – north of the border and around 24 miles from where he went missing – before he was executed on an “order from a superior authority”.

If confirmed by the North’s officials, it would be the first time that North Korea has killed a South Korean citizen in its territory since 2008.

The South Korean government did not know how he came to have crossed the border, but a defence official said the man may have been trying to defect to the North.

The demilitarised zone separating North and South Korea
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The demilitarised zone separating North and South Korea

The official said the man was wearing a life jacket on a small floating object and that the military had obtained information that he wanted to go to North Korea.

“Our military strongly condemns such an atrocity, and strongly demands North Korea provide explanations and punish those who are responsible,” General Ahn Young-ho, who is in charge of operations at the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

Officials believe that military in Pyongyang may have decided to kill the man in line with stringent anti-coronavirus rules that involve shooting anyone illegally crossing the border.

North-South relations are expected to sour further as a result of the killing.

In June, North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its territory in protest against South Korean civilians sending anti-North leaflets across the border.

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