Bikeshare Blowout

Bikeshare Blowout

The meltdown over dockless bikeshare in San Diego is in full swing, but it’s somewhat expected in a city where cars come first – often at the expense of other travel modes. A common argument against dockless bikes has been that the bikes are in the way, which they sometimes are, since many of our sidewalks aren’t wide enough to accommodate a parked bike and pedestrians. But it’s remarkable that pedestrians and bike share users are fighting over the last sliver of public space. Nearly all of our public street space has been taken by motorists to drive or park their personal vehicles (often for free):

The more I hear the “bikes are in the way” argument, I think it’s really just a smokescreen for “we don’t want bikes, period” – a perspective many San Diegans hold unfortunately. For example, here’s someone outraged over the mere presence of dockless bikes, and actually counted how many they saw. The fact that there were far more (and larger) private vehicles being stored on our public streets went unnoticed:

I know Nextdoor is often a forum for some of our most self-interested neighbors, but the above sentiments are probably shared by many among our city’s in-power group (motorists) who view the presence of public bikes as a threat to their perceived ownership or dominance of our public space. Disclaimer: I drive too. But articles with headlines like “Will bike and scooter shares overpopulate La Jolla?”, as thousands of cars choke La Jolla’s streets makes you wonder – how did people’s perspectives get so warped?

Well, as this Dallas Magazine article points out, “Many of the problems of bike share are really problems with a city whose streets are built for cars, not people. The safety and ‘nuisance’ hazards associated with cars—pollution, fatal accidents, neighborhood-destroying highways and parking lots—are worse than anything an electric scooter or share bike are capable of.” Or as CityLab notes, “Much of the LA region’s built environment is designed to accommodate the presence of private vehicles and to punish their absence”.

These dockless bikes and scooter programs reveal not only the control many motorists feel they have over our public streets, but also their dim view of those who aren’t driving. Many motorists assign and perceive status based on how expensive a person’s car is. If you’re not even driving, imagine just how low on the totem pole you are to these folks.

As auto transportation does massive harm to our environment, climate, health and communities (we literally tear down lower-income urban neighborhoods by ramming freeways through them), motorists are instead freaking out over the potential of kids tripping over a bike. This same Mission Hills resident and North Park business owner penned a laughable Union Tribune commentary fretting over potential injuries from scooters, while somehow omitting the fact that 20-50 million people are injured or killed each year globally by drivers. There are plenty more of these: “Is Southern California’s ‘dockless’ electric scooter fad a public safety hazard?”; “Dockless bikes – are they safe or will someone get hurt?”;
“Dockless bikes and hepatitis” (You’ve done it again, Reader!)

Fortunately there have been several positive pieces on the bikeshare boom, such as this one in Uptown News that explained how critical bikes are to the first and last-mile needs of public transit users (something many motorists are simply unable to comprehend). The Union Tribune also included favorable commentaries from Circulate San Diego and the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition. Bikeshare may even expand to North County.

But for every positive bikeshare article or commentary, there are some real head-scratchers, like the “environmental”, “progressive” residents of Ocean Beach railing against a public program that is good for the environment and transportation equity. In La Jolla, a resident advisory board disregarded the “advisory” part and stated that only they could give “permission” for what types of bikes could be allowed in their community. This group had earlier opposed docked bike share also. And the Little Italy Association wants a city-wide ban on dockless bikes until they and parking districts can “find” docking areas for them. That’s called docked bike share – which these groups also opposed due to parking impacts.

You don’t need to make it any clearer folks. What you’re really saying is, “no bikes, period”.

The notion that public bikes left in public spaces is litter is another common argument against dockless. Many have cited a Chinese dockless bike junkyard should mean no public dockless bikeshare, anywhere, while somehow overlooking a much, much larger Chinese auto junkyard:

Leaving a bike on the sidewalk is no more ‘litter’ than how our public streets are littered with parked cars – often illegally. In this case, a rideshare driver is both blocking a bus stop and decreasing visibility at an intersection:

This brings up another dockless criticism: that private bikeshare companies shouldn’t be allowed to use public infrastructure. Isn’t that exactly what Uber and Lyft are doing?

Instead of freaking out about other modes of transport becoming more readily available, maybe we should reclaim some public space from our motorist overlords by heeding this advice:

If scooters proliferate, planners have all the more reason to reclaim pavement from cars, creating more sidewalks, bike lanes, or, indeed scooter lanes. Scooters might warrant further transit investments as they widen the traditional walk-sheds of transit stops. They might influence parking requirements and warrant the conversion of on-street parking spaces into scooter corrals. Or maybe they’re benign enough, and our existing streetscapes accommodating enough, that we can indeed let them evolve organically and not freak out about them.

The sheer number of new bicycle and scooter share rides happening as a result of these programs is an incredible game-changer for San Diego. But the response from city staff and leadership has been to delay the Downtown Mobility Plan by at least 5 years (after using it as an excuse not to work on any other bike lane projects in the city), while demonstrating a clear lack of support for bike infrastructure. This, as it trumpets a Climate Action Plan projecting an 18-fold increase in bike commuters for much of the city. You can’t realize your goals when you’re actively working against them.

15 thoughts on “Bikeshare Blowout

  1. Great points Bill, thanks. I agree that a more predictable rollout might have helped, but then I think about all the opposition to the predictable rollout of DecoBike (we had the same problem with the docks too BTW). You just can’t win with some folks.

    I’m still surprised by the “I hate them!” comments I hear from people. There is a strong dislike toward any change by a lot of people in our small-town mindset city. But for every one of those folks, there are many more I see using the bikes.

  2. Thanks for being the voice of reason on this Paul. The reaction against these bikes and scooters is an emotion looking for a reason. Even some progressives have been critical, such as Seth Coombs CityBeat editorial arguing that they interfered with wheelchair use of the sidewalk. I walk downtown everyday and have yet to see an instance where they obstructed enough of the sidewalk to block a wheelchair. They arrived so quickly and visibly, that I think it upset our need for stability and predictability. Also, it seemed like they bypassed the usual wrought process, especially for something in the public space. I admit, I had the same feelings at first, and had to sort out my thoughts on them. As you have pointed out, the criticism against them applies 100 fold to cars and these dockless vehicles offer the potential to pull at least some people out of their cars/eliminate some car trips, and encourage transit usership by filling the “last mile” gap. Critical mass is what makes these bikes/scooters work. Thus regulations must be careful to neither reduce their number nor their convenience. Ironically, much of the opposition to bike-shares was to the stations but now the same crowd criticizes dockless vehicles for not being docked. I paid for Deco-bike/Discovery for two years, but unfortunately, the station release mechanisms never worked well and was always frustrating. In contrast, these bikes are much quicker to use.

  3. FJL, are you an advocate for safe bike/scooter infrastructure? Because most of our streets are simply unsafe to ride on because they’re dedicated to free car storage and moving autos as quickly as possible.

    Pacific Beach residents and merchants raged at the prospect of having to pay for curbside parking – much less give any of it up for safe scooter/bike infrastructure. We wouldn’t be fighting for sidewalk space if there was an equitable distribution of public street space, with dedicated bike lanes.

    You said, “Someone will get hurt. Someone will be struck by a rider on a sidewalk.” FJL, many people are hurt/killed everyday *already* by reckless and distracted drivers. Where’s your call for more enforcement of motorists? Surely you’ve had to dodge right-turning drivers who only look for oncoming cars, and not for pedestrians to their right (I certainly have). Instead you’re focused on enforcement of a group that poses far less danger to others than drivers, because of their *potential* for injury.

    Is all of this coming from living in a culture where cars come first (and often only), and where we watch hundreds of hours of car commercials in a lifetime?

  4. I’m someone who walks/jogs over 45 miles a week on Garnet, Mission, the Boardwalk and the bay. The fact is that it gets old dodging scooters on the sidewalks, especially the narrow parts of Garnet where we ceded 4 feet of the sidewalk to a business. 99% of the riders do NOT have a helmet. Some parents have been seen doubling up on a scooter with their child in front. And early evening and night they are parked just about anywhere, hopefully to be moved in the early morning by their caretakers. It is out of control. It is dangerous. Someone will get hurt. Someone will be struck by a rider on a sidewalk. We need more enforcement of existing laws, more signage about the rules, and all of the bikes and scooters on the street where I truly believe they are safer for all.

  5. Thanks for your comment April! I agree about securing some street parking for bike storage.

    I would recommend passing your suggestion along to the Pacific Beach Planning Group: http://www.pbplanning.org/who-are-we/contact-us/. Also the PB Town Council: http://www.pbtowncouncil.org/contact/.

    There was a meeting about dockless bikeshare at Town Council Wednesday: http://www.cbs8.com/story/37782078/public-nuisance-bike-share-backlash-as-cities-say-theyve-had-enough

  6. As a PB resident and I ride my bike over car, I do like the idea of bike share. I have noticed over the past week that the scooters and bikes have been left more responsibly (messages are being heard?). My suggestion on the bike share litter is that the city should secure 1 street parking spot every 2 blocks for bike share purposes. I would be happy to have the spot in front of my house secured for bike share. We have 20+ year olds that live close to the beach and they use bike share all the time, so they don’t lose there parking spot. Win Win!

  7. Thanks Rosie! Couldn’t have said it better myself. I guess we just have to voice our support to city officials to let them know we haven’t all been car-brainwashed.

  8. I live in PB and the residents here are using these services all the time. Some are probably cutting car or Uber trips, others going to the bus stops. Bike theft is huge here so people probably appreciate not having to worry about locking their bikes up and they don’t have to worry about maintenance or storage either. People are legitimately using them to go places just like people use their cars to go places. This fact shatters the common narrative they’re toys or for recreational use only. The naysayers forget those who can make these short trips not using a car are doing some part in easing congestion for everybody else. Most motorists are only transporting themselves and a small amount of cargo anyways. The rest is wasted space. Many of these trips could be replaced by an e-bike and the rider would barely break a sweat. They of course still have the choice to use whatever form of transportation they want but they accuse anybody promoting something different for trying to take that away.

    A lot of the whiners claim only tourists visiting the beach use them (as if they don’t need to go places too?) and take business away from the rental shops. The rental shops and bike share are two entirely separate operations and business models though so it’s hard to believe they’re really having that many issues. Rental shops complain about competition and demand we worship them because they’re “local” and they’re “small businesses” yet if they’re really being beat down, why don’t they do find their bootstraps and compete? Their actions of demanding government protection and at the same time manipulating the emotions of locals with fact-less claims shows what cowards they are. If they want protection they need to prove to the public they need it to stay afloat.

    Despite all the noise on ND claiming otherwise, I’ve only seen two instances of bikes or scooters actually blocking sidewalks. One was parked on a handicapped ramp at a shopping center leaning on the railing, which I moved. The second one was an e-bike that was originally in the gutter but over this last weekend it ended up on the sidewalk. I’m assuming someone either moved it to claim they were being placed there intentionally or someone moved it to park a car there.

    Being fair to the concerns of those complaining, I’ve seen only one scooter rider wear a helmet and lots do ride on the sidewalk. The boardwalk is its usual mess of unpredictability. But perhaps if everybody quit beating the “roads are for cars” drum, things would get better. A lot of people had non-motorized kickscooters at one time and were instructed by parents or society that they belong on the sidewalk away from cars. Same happened with most people with regards to bicycling and as a result it’s the default belief that streets are for cars and not people.
    I think we’ll see more compliance with the no sidewalk and helmet laws soon as more and more learn. Bird and Lime can use their app to push messages or notifications too to remind users to properly operate and store the devices. Same with the bikes.

    Of course in the last week how many people have been killed or injured in Southern California alone by a distracted, impaired, or non rule obeying motorists? The most radical of the naysayers will never touch this issue. Nor will they touch the rampant issues of blocking sidewalks (extremely common in PB) with their own cars, blocking driveways, the illegal storage of private property on public right of way (parking for more than 72 hours) or the rampant number of vehicles on the public roads with expired tags from 2017. It might just be a shocker to them that some people who drive cars also break rules and cause problems.

    Again thanks for writing this, we need more level headed fact-based writing here about transportation issues. Most of the local media is only looking for hits and advertising money and not for rational thinking.

  9. Thank you for saying so eloquently what has been festering in my brain since they were first dropped off. I know as a bike advocate, all of these arguments are really just people’s obsession with cars over people which has been ingrained by our government policies for decades. I hope the companies and the City don’t cave to the NIMBY bitching.

  10. MONEY !!!
    The consumer economy requires constant flow of money … gas, new cars, motorized “toys”…. and the ocean absorbs the carbon.

    Bikes, roads, cars, flat paths for all forms of multimodal / mobility assistive devices !

    Education — even Paint on the Streets informs drivers and multiMs to Share. But, no big Construction Money in this … hmmm.

    But, our city, state and federal governments are all sucking at the Petroleum Tit. And, we’re All Paying For It! Even the Mid-Coast Trolley is being built without ONE Accomodation to get folks from the East side of 5 to the West!
    $2.2 Billion dollars … but no $$ for FlatPath Bridges, Tunnels, Paths, Connectors, WAY Finding,
    All the “Soft” infrastructure that costs little and doesn’t feed the greed economy.

    WE are the government.
    Think global.
    ACT Local.

    Strength and peace

  11. Thanks Frank, those are good points. I probably have a more extreme view than most, but these criticisms come off to me as a power trip by folks who will say anything critical of a mode of transportation that they don’t use/like. Why not complain about aggressive, distracted or DUI drivers, who are putting far more people at a far greater risk of harm? Because they feel our public space is for their mode of transport only and are threatened by the common sense approach to fixing the “bike litter” and helmet issues: allocate a small amount of our public space to safely ride and store these other forms of transportation. It’s fascinating that most people can’t even consider this, because we’ve just accepted that motorists/cars should be always be accommodated, everywhere – but not any other travel modes.

  12. Thanks for writing this, it was well needed. Another thing to mention, as I’m sure you’ve seen on Nextdoor are the comments on riders with no helmets. It seems some people just want something to whine about .
    While the scooter riders are legally required to wear helmets, bicyclists over 18 are not.
    I don’t understand why these people are so concerned about others wearing or not wearing helmets either way. Someone blocking a sidewalk or riding in a dangerous manor is one thing but what difference does not having a helmet make? They don’t prevent crashes (riding safely and operating according to the rules of the road does though) and most injuries from bicycling or scooter riding aren’t head injuries anyways.

  13. Thanks for your comment. I addressed that bikeshare junkyard photo in my post by posting an even larger China junkyard photo of cars.

    Again, I’m not sure why there’s a double standard – cars are disposable, but bikes aren’t? Especially as cars leak oils, etc into the ground in these yards, polluting the groundwater. If disposing of cars has a much worse environmental impact, why are we focused on the much smaller bike problem as a reason to prevent/over-regulate bikeshare?

  14. I’m all for bikes, but even I have to say that sometimes these dockless bikes are being left too haphazardly. I’m not sure if the bike companies are doing constant sweeps like bird (scooters) is to corral them all back to more centralized spots, but I hate seeing bikes left in the bushes of freeway onramps or as in the first picture shoes, on the street. Perhaps the latter could be addressed by just having more bike parking zones. But I do think the bikeshare companies need to be more accountable before we get to something like this: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/25/chinas-bike-share-graveyard-a-monument-to-industrys-arrogance

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