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Thursday, 30.05.2024
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Kiosks could provide free internet access, generate revenue for city. Some find them distracting, unnecessary.

Dallas leaders are considering placing interactive, digital kiosks along sidewalks, a growing initiative in cites throughout the U.S.

The City of Dallas Department of Public Works has started community engagement efforts to share the vision and benefits of a citywide digital kiosk program and receive feedback from stakeholders, according to a March 26 presentation to the city council's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The kiosks could provide free community Wi-Fi, wayfinding and community branding, security cameras, 911 panic buttons, transit data, advertising and public alerts, the city says.

The city has not selected a vendor. But IKE Smart City devices made by Ohio-based Orange Barrel Media LLC have been a popular choice in other cities, from Houston and San Antonio to Baltimore, Miami and San Diego.

This isn't a completely foreign concept for Dallas. In a separate initiative, Smart City Media LLC worked with Dallas Area Rapid Transit in 2020 to begin installing 300 digital kiosks at transit stations.

Ali Hatefi, director of Dallas' public works department, said the devices would be at no cost to the city and generate revenue, but he didn't have exact numbers. Vendors may foot the cost of installation and management.

In Baltimore, for example, IKE Smart City in 2019 "gifted" its kiosks to the city and paid to install and manage the kiosks under a contract with the city, in exchange for a share of advertising revenue.

Houston officials in 2022 estimated the city would receive between $11 million and $50 million in advertising revenue from its IKE kiosks over a 12-year period, according to Community Impact.

City tried this last year

Dallas staff started pushing to bring on a company to install such kiosks last year, but it was quickly contested and went back to the drawing board.

In May 2023, the Department of Public Works briefed the same committee on a plan to issue a request for proposal for vendors to install, operate, maintain and share revenue on interactive digital kiosks within the public right-of-way.

The city posted the RFP that month after hearing positive feedback but during the proposal process concerns were raised that no public input was sought before the request was issued, according to a city memo. City staff decided to nix the solicitation, which city council approved, to allow for that to happen.

"That was my request to staff because I had heard grumblings within the council — not enough information, not enough engagement with the community — and I agree with that," Omar Narvaez, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a March 26 meeting. "And then [District 14 Council Member] Ridley came to me and asked for something similar."

Narvaez said it was unfair that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee does not have a representative from the central business district, and said there will be a need to engage the urban core, public improvement districts, chamber, Visit Dallas, retail property managers, vendors and technical experts as discussion begins. He also said the final contract needs to be completed before city council's recess in July.

"I also would like the engagement period to take place within the next 60 days, because a lot has already been done by staff, but we need to make it more robust, and we need to get it right," Narvaez said. "And we don't want to put anything out there that makes our stakeholders, our residents, everybody across this entire city feel as if we're shoving something down their throat without listening to them."

It's not yet clear where in the city the kiosks would go. Hatefi said that once a contract is executed with a vendor, the city will have to finalize the placement to ensure they're not in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Hatefi said the city may wrap up community engagement by the end of April, restart the solicitation in May and be ready for council consideration by June.

Concerns about placement, privacy

When working their way through city processes, the smart boards often catch criticism, largely around where they are placed.

In Detroit, concerns also arose about the use of high-definition cameras that can be mounted on IKE kiosks, but that city deployed its kiosks without cameras, the Detroit News reported.

In Houston, residents feared the machines would distract drivers and bikers and harm the scenic character of scenic neighborhoods and parks, Community Impact reported. An IKE official at the time said the kiosks are placed specifically in areas with reduced speeds near traffic lights, according to the outlet.

In the committee meeting, Ridley, who represents parts of downtown Dallas, said he has received at least six letters from significant stakeholder organizations opposed to the idea of the kiosks.

"There is significant concern, particularly in my district, which I know will be the target for these kiosks," Ridley said. "This is a significant issue in the community that needs to be fully discussed and vetted before we move forward."

It was unclear from the meeting what concerns exactly Ridley was referring to, but other council members shared several points.

Cara Mendelsohn, who represents Far North Dallas' District 12, expressed frustration with the existing circular non-digital ad displays already found along Dallas streets.

"What they [are] is an impediment for the pedestrians and a visual block for the vehicles, for the drivers of cars, so pretty much everyone hates them," Mendelsohn said.

Mendelsohn said she doesn't understand why staffers are pursuing the digital kiosks when so many in Dallas have smartphones that can access the same information.

"Everyone has at least one phone they're walking around with and the kiosk literally looks like a big phone," she said.

District 10 Council Member Kathy Stewart said the conversations reminded her of debates over electric scooters in previous years where scooter companies wanted them in areas that did not make sense. She said the location selection process should consider property owners, other stakeholders, sidewalk width and the historic nature of areas.

"There will be neighborhoods and parts of our city that will embrace them, and that's perfect and good, and we should go for that because it is necessary," Stewart said. "But there will be places and neighborhoods who will say this is not appropriate."

More engagement encouraged

District 7 Council Member Adam Bazaldua, who represents parts of South and East Dallas, praised the kiosks for providing free internet access to those without cell service and being able to promote small businesses and public service announcements.

"Providing free Wi-Fi throughout Fair Park, having an interactive kiosk that can highlight things that the city of Dallas wants to highlight for the 5 million visitors that we have come through the State Fair of Texas, that alone to me is something to fight for," Bazaldua said. "This is something I wholeheartedly support."

District 9 Council Member Paula Blackmon said the upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup matches in Arlington, which will bring more visitors to the city, create a need for such kiosks to and could direct tourists to local restaurants and attractions. Bazaldua also mentioned World Cup preparation as a reason to move quickly.

Blackmon also said the city should use this as a way to monetize its assets and help connect communities.

"I don't see why we shouldn't entertain this as a modern city," Blackmon said. "This is about promoting Dallas, and we are on stage now, but wait 'til FIFA comes and it's going to be magnified. That's international, and so I want us to be prepared."

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Mitchell Parton

Quelle/Source: Dallas Business Journal, 29.03.2024

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