Sacramento area has flat streets, cyclists aplenty. Will bike share finally arrive?

West Sacramento is negotiating with LimeBike, a startup company that is expected to offer 200 bikes for sharing in the city.
West Sacramento is negotiating with LimeBike, a startup company that is expected to offer 200 bikes for sharing in the city. LimeBike

As soon as May, West Sacramento streets could get a little greener.

The City Council agreed last week to negotiate with a Bay Area startup to place 200 bicycles in West Sacramento as part of a bike-share program aimed at encouraging more residents to ditch their cars.

Plans call for thousands of people to live and work just across the river from downtown Sacramento in West Sacramento’s Bridge District, which occupies several hundred acres south of the Tower Bridge, including Raley Field. New residents have already begun living in condos and homes that have sprouted in the the last two years.

“If you don’t have the alternatives, people … build their lives around their cars,” West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said.

The bike-share program will be owned and operated by LimeBike, a San Mateo-based company that came to Cabaldon’s attention last month when he attended the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas.

LimeBike doesn’t have the kiosks and bike racks associated with traditional bike-share options. The company instead relies on solar-powered smart locks and GPS technology in a way that allows riders to park at normal bike racks and other visible locations.

Everything from finding the bike to unlocking it to payment is done through a smartphone app. A would-be rider finds a bike through GPS, enters a bike’s plate number or scans a code into the app to unlock the bike. At the end of the trip, the rider parks the bike in a legal parking spot and presses down the bike wheel lock, which alerts the app that the ride is over. Each half-hour costs $1.

There’s no charge or risk to the city, Cabaldon said, because LimeBike owns the bikes and doesn’t need to install infrastructure. By working with city leaders from the start, he said LimeBike is trying to avoid deploying bikes without local government agreements.

In San Francisco, officials were taken by surprise earlier this year when bike-share company Bluegogo announced it was putting bikes on the street under a similar “dockless” model, potentially violating terms of the city’s contract with a different bike-share company. City leaders, saying they were concerned that sidewalks would be littered with bikes, imposed permit requirements and administrative fees for dockless bike-share companies earlier this month.

To make their point, San Francisco officials used images of Chinese cities where the dockless model has taken off. Companies such as MoBike and Ofo have dropped thousands of bikes on Chinese city streets in recent years, resulting in cautionary tales of bike piles and rampant vandalism.

In its proposal, LimeBike said it will join the West Sacramento Chamber of Commerce and issue packets for business owners with contact information for the company in case of problems. West Sacramento will be one of the first cities to work with the company, which received $12 million in venture capital in mid-March.

LimeBike’s inexperience makes Jim Brown nervous. The executive director of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates said he’s also concerned that LimeBike uses commercial bikes rather than a special design.

LimeBike says its bikes are designed “specifically for a successful bike sharing program” by Battle-FSD. The proposal said the bikes passed two international tests and a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission exam.

Brown contends that the bikes aren’t durable enough for share bikes. He said they need to be more dependable than a typical bike because riders are often inexperienced and bikes could be constantly in use.

“I want to see bike share implemented as quickly as possible but not at the expense of a system that’s safe and reliable and actually gets me where I want to go,” he said.

While West Sacramento considers allowing LimeBike on city streets, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments is close to signing an agreement with Social Bicycles, also known as SoBi, to run a regional bike-share system in Sacramento, Davis and West Sacramento. If the agreement is signed soon, bikes could be on the streets by the end of 2017 or early 2018, Cabaldon said.

Regional bike share has been in the works for several years. Between funding from West Sacramento, Sacramento, Davis and the federal government, there’s at least $4.8 million available to fund the system, plus a need for hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship.

Cabaldon said he still supports the SACOG plan, but he’s a little frustrated with the pace of the project. He sees LimeBike as complementary to the regional system.

“It could be that you use LimeBike to get to the SoBi system and take one of those across the river,” he said.

Fresno's Tea Gonzales of Pedal Junkies -- using a double-decker bike -- was one of about 125 people who participated in the 15th annual Mall2Mall Bike Ride, which started at Manchester mall and ended at Mariposa Mall near City Hall on Wednesday, M

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison