Debate Over Dockless Bikes Continues: ‘The Bikeshare Blowout’

by on March 26, 2018 · 19 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Paul Jamason / San Diego Urban / March 18, 2018 

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 (motorist) 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?”;

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.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar ZZ March 26, 2018 at 2:17 pm

Thank you for the great article Paul, agree 100% with all your points!

When you reclaim public spaces for people not cars, good things happen. We see this every week on Newport when it comes to life for the farmer’s market. Speaking of which, it has become so jam packed lately it is at times uncomfortable. Let’s either make it twice a week or expand the amount of space. The expansion into the big Appletree parking lot is already a clear success.

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Avatar Geoff Page March 26, 2018 at 2:54 pm

This article shot itself in the foot with the ridiculous assumptions about San Diegans and motorists. It sounded like it was written by a militant cyclist and not an honest assessment of the situation. I’ve copied some quotes from this story below and if the writer wanted to get people on his side he did a poor job of it.

“I think it’s really just a smokescreen for “we don’t want bikes, period” – a perspective many San Diegans hold unfortunately.” Really? San Diegans don’t want bikes? I would guess almost every San Diegan has a bike.

“the above sentiments are probably shared by many among our city’s in-power group (motorist) who view the presence of public bikes as a threat to their perceived ownership or dominance of our public space.” Our city’s in-power group is the motorist?

“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.” Punish the absence of private vehilces? I’d love to hear an explanation for that one.

“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.” Oh, please, this is ridiculous.

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

“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:” Motorist overlords? Come on.

The writer missed the point with the dockless bikes. We woke up one morning. literally, and the streets were crowded with brightly colored dockless bikes everywhere with no discussion and no advance notice. The whole thing was handled stupidly and arrogantly. It doesn’t have a damn thing to do with people hating bikes.

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Avatar Chris March 26, 2018 at 5:27 pm

I agree with you about the author’s melodramatics. In fact I have a hard time believing he actually believes is very own words.

All that being said, are there really so many that honestly didn’t know these bikes were coming? I remember reading and hearing about them since September.

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Avatar Geoff Page March 27, 2018 at 10:39 am

Chris, I don’t doubt that you did read about them. I never saw anything myself and I do follow the news. And, judging by the outcry, I can only say the advance notice was not done well enough. I was listening to the news this morning about Little Italy and their dissatisfaction and they expressed that there was no advance warning or preparation for this happening either. I am curious though, do you recall where you read about them?

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Avatar Chris March 27, 2018 at 2:59 pm

I remember first hearing about LImebike when they launched in Imperial Beach back in September and the piece mentioned that they would be coming to San Diego itself early the following year. I also remember reading about them in the UT also in September (can’t fine the link tho).

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Avatar Chris March 27, 2018 at 5:28 pm

Ooops. I heard it listening to KPBS on the way to work.

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Avatar Denine Hunt March 26, 2018 at 5:24 pm

I am encouraged by the many bike share/scooter options now available. I agree the rollout was less than ideal but I am already seeing things level out a bit. I’m sure the companies are paying close attention to which areas of the city are experiencing the highest demand for the bikes and which are not and will make adjustments accordingly. I own my own bike but not one with an electric assist to navigate some of the hills. I actually saw a guy who looked like he was headed to work pedaling up that super steep hill on Laurel near Balboa Park. Wow!

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Avatar Dan beeman March 26, 2018 at 6:34 pm

When I see all the photos of share bikes in HUGE piles & lots in China, I do feel a bit dumped on. Who is responsible for share bikes/scooters? How are homeless affording? When will MTS get into this too? In everything else, but ride “share”. We need more safe lanes to ride in. Less speeding in residential zones. More bike racks on buses & trolleys. Higher penalties for harming cyclists & pedestrian’s. Vehicles & owners need to be more responsible…never seemed to be charged??? Charges & jail time makes other drivers wake up! Put down phone, then drive, walk, bike!

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Avatar Geoff Page March 27, 2018 at 10:44 am

Dan, when you say drivers never seem to be charged, it may be because the cyclists or pedestrians are at fault. I came the closest I have ever come to hitting someone in 49 years of driving two weeks ago when a cyclist ran a stop sign. Luckily, I saw him out of the corner of my eye and slammed on the brakes just as he was in front of my full size all white Ford Econoline van. He was barely three feet from my grill. My dog slammed into the dashboard. He never stopped, never looked back, never acknowledged his mistake. It ain’t always the motorist’s fault.

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Avatar Chris March 29, 2018 at 6:46 pm

I would agree there needs to be stiffer penalties for drivers when the driver is actually at fault. There are other times when it IS the cyclist or pedestrian.

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Avatar Toolpusher March 27, 2018 at 1:20 am

Strawman argument. Let’s ignore the real issues with dock-less bikes because cars are far worse.

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Avatar mjt March 27, 2018 at 4:14 am

I am on my fourth e-bike and love it to death. I dislike cars intensely and for the last four years have used about a tank of gasoline per year in my car.
Having said that this bicycle barrage of bullshit littering the streets and private property is ridiculous. Car are controlled, insured and spoken for. I personally lean towards anarchy but observing this current bicycle pollution on every corner is chaos.

This is not just a bicycle vs car issue, it is about homeowners, pedestrians and safety.
Your show a junkyard of cars, also show a bike pile in China and the problems they are experiencing.

My solution to this current debacle is throw the bums out.

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Avatar FJL March 27, 2018 at 7:18 am

OK this is about bikes but I must say…One way or another, the police crack down on Garnet this past weekend was welcome. Don’t know what kind of revenue the city gets from the tickets or if mostly warnings were issued. I still believe someone is going to die or be badly hurt soon riding scooters without a helmet or doubled up.

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Avatar Debbie March 27, 2018 at 9:46 am

One more thing to entertain the tourists and encourage VRBO. If you want to ride a bike you usually have one , no?

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Avatar Michael March 27, 2018 at 11:11 am

I don’t leave my bike locked around OB due to bike theft. I’ll ride to PB but there are too many criminals and vagrants to leave valuables locked up outside.

I use the dockless bikes to get around OB or I’ll just ride to PB. Otherwise, I don’t really go to the restaurants on Voltaire or further down Sunset Cliffs.

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Avatar triggerfinger March 29, 2018 at 2:23 pm

Terrible writing.

So you just assume everyone with any criticism is just masking their contempt for bikes in general? They make your straw-man argument?

Allowing bike-rental companies to dump these all over our sidewalks with no plan or place for them is about as nonsensical as dumping soup on the homeless without any bowls.

Alternative transportation is a good thing. But the city and the rental companies need to put in a serious effort to make this work before it self-destructs.

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Avatar Chris March 29, 2018 at 6:50 pm

I think the author is just being Shakespeareian drama for it’s own sake.

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Avatar Geoff Page March 29, 2018 at 3:00 pm

“Allowing bike-rental companies to dump these all over our sidewalks with no plan or place for them is about as nonsensical as dumping soup on the homeless without any bowls.”

I like that analogy, Triggerfinger, well put.

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Avatar retired botanist March 29, 2018 at 3:22 pm

And I’ll ditto that Triggerfinger and Geoff!

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