Bike-sharing backlash: La Jolla groups lament pop-up vehicle rentals, want meetings with City, Ofo, Lime and Bird reps

When it comes to bike-sharing in La Jolla, it’s damned if you dock and damned if you don’t.

Two new companies of dock-less bikes have rolled out in San Diego: Ofo and Limebike, and electric scooter brand Bird is also hitting the streets.

Because they do not have stations at which they are parked, some members of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group and the La Jolla Village Merchants Association lament the “littering” of these bikes in parks and on sidewalks. These boards previously disapproved of the City of San Diego bike-sharing program, DecoBike, because it had docking stations that would have taken up street parking and sidewalk space. However, the City withdrew its proposal to bring DecoBike kiosks to La Jolla.

LimeBike launched in December 2017, Bird earlier this year, and Ofo just last month. But representatives from these companies have yet to explain to La Jolla community groups what they are all about.

The bicycle and scooter companies have a similar model: They use an app to locate and unlock the vehicles. The bikes can be dropped off anywhere, but sidewalks are preferred, and they do not require or use docking stations. As such, there are not locations specific to La Jolla, but bikes could be picked up or dropped off anywhere around town. Bird recommends parking its scooters at public bike racks.

How it works

Riders download the company’s app to their cell phone and locate the available bikes based on GPS tracking. Bikes are unlocked with the app, which starts the rental. The rental ends when and where the rider decides, and bikes are left at the reached destination and locked with an on-bike mechanism.

When it comes to parking the LimeBikes, the company suggests leaving them by the sidewalk pavement, not on grass. It also advises against placing the bikes on the ground.

Ofo similarly recommends parking “anywhere outside of the pedestrian right-of-way that complies with local laws and does not obstruct traffic. You can park at any public bicycle rack.”

However, La Jolla Village Merchants Association executive director Sheila Fortune said the issue has been a “major topic” at the San Diego Business Improvement District (BID) Council, mainly because none of the BID representatives knew anything about these ride-shares before they started popping up.

“These programs were blessed by the City Attorney’s office without presenting to local groups,” she said. “These companies are not paying rent, they are taking business away from companies that are paying rent. They are not contributing to the community. They leave their inventory on our sidewalks. They’re parked anywhere and everywhere.”

She said the Merchants Association would likely discuss the new bike-sharing programs at a future meeting, but, in the meantime, “we’re all still trying to figure out what happened and where to go from here.”

Putting on the brakes

At the Feb. 26 La Jolla Parks & Beaches meeting, members decided to request a presentation from representatives who could explain the programs and the approval processes that transpired to allow them to operate in the City. Trustee Bill Robbins said he wasn’t against the bikes, but the cluttering of sidewalks. As an example, he cited Coast Boulevard South, where the sidewalk was recently expanded and repaved.

“An awful lot of people walk that way, using walkers, rollers, strollers and wheelchairs. I don’t want bikes on that sidewalk,” he said. “I’d like to write a letter to the Parks Department and the Mayor’s office, but also ask the companies, or the City, to make a presentation so we better understand what is going on. We don’t need to come up with the ultimate solution, but we need to get on board and let people know we are concerned about this.”

Agreeing, Sally Miller pleaded that the bikes not be left in La Jolla and questioned why these companies are allowed to operate without community input.

“They did not get our permission to come in and invade our town. If we let any company, any vendor, come in, it will open up Pandora’s Box to letting more vendors come and litter our sidewalks. I’m also adamant about protecting businesses that pay rent, pay taxes and are losing business. That was one of the reasons we didn’t want DecoBike, they took money away from local businesses.”

Chair Ann Dynes agreed to ask these companies to come before La Jolla’s community groups to explain their business model.

Greasing the wheels

At a press conference after the meeting, San Diego Bike Coalition Executive Director Andy Hanshaw said a presentation has not come to La Jolla because “there are a staggering number of community groups in San Diego and we are still planning on presenting to them.”

In December 2015, the City of San Diego adopted a Climate Action Plan that outlines the efforts it will undertake to achieve its proportional share of State greenhouse gas emission reductions. Part of the effort is to encourage bike- and car-sharing to reduce carbon emissions.

When introduced as the City’s first bike-share program, DecoBike, faced uproarious opposition because of its lack of locking systems, helmets, bikes not functioning properly, and bike stations taking up parking and sidewalk space. When the City stated its intent to install docking stations in La Jolla, the community rebelled, hosting forums against the idea. Locals ultimately prevailed, and the City pulled the plug its plan to bring the kiosks to 92037.

By not having kiosks, the new rental bike programs avoid a conflict with the City’s DecoBike partnership.

DecoBike was recently revamped as Discover Bike, thanks to corporate sponsor Discover card. With the sponsorship, the company shifted its focus to San Diego’s “urban core,” rather than the coastal communities, and expanded its fleet by 20 percent.

Hanshaw said what makes LimeBike and Ofo different from Discover (Deco) Bike, is the absence of kiosks and being tied to GPS tracking, which can provide more data for the City’s Climate Action Plan.

“The GPS tracking will help us determine where people are riding, and where we need bike lanes or more bike infrastructure,” he said. “We’ve found when you provide bikes at an affordable price and bike infrastructure, people will ride. Now we have more riders, which is what we wanted, we will continue to advocate for building infrastructure sooner — that is a key piece to all of this.”