Bike sharing is coming to Sacramento. Why did that take 5 years again?

Rentable bikes sit in front of the Tubman Museum in Macon, Ga. Sacramento-area communities will have their own bike-sharing program on linebeginning in May.
Rentable bikes sit in front of the Tubman Museum in Macon, Ga. Sacramento-area communities will have their own bike-sharing program on linebeginning in May. wmarshall@macon.com

Los Angeles has bike sharing. So does Chicago and New York. Residents of puny Fort Wayne, Ind., Birmingham, Ala., and Fargo, N.D., have been able to rent bicycles with their smartphones for years.

But Sacramento?

California’s capital is just now – well, really more like November – getting a bike-sharing program. Try as the region might, it just can’t shake the slow-as-molasses, process-oriented behavior of a government town.

So last week, after five long years of conducting studies, applying for grants and generally hemming and hawing, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments announced that it finally settled on a deal with New York-based Social Bikes, or SoBi.

Starting in May, residents will be able to use the company’s app to find a manual or electric bicycle parked on a nearby rack and rent it for a short trip. The rollout will start in The Bridge District in West Sacramento. Then in the fall, it will expand into Davis as well as Sacramento’s downtown, midtown, Oak Park, Land Park and a few other neighborhoods.

For people who want to get around without having to drive, the bikes will surely be a welcome sight.

Studies have shown that bike-sharing programs tend to normalize cycling in car-centric communities, increasing the visibility of riders and making bicycling safer for everyone. The programs also tend to benefit commercial districts, by attracting more customers.

But at this point, after cities large and small have had bike sharing for years, the SoBi system will be less of a surprising amenity and more of way to fill a glaring hole.

No wonder Sacramento gets talked about like an uncool father who just started playing Pokemon Go and now won’t stop bragging to his teenage kids and their friends about how he catches them all – as if anyone cares anymore.

If Sacramento truly wants to be a place where millennials are willing to settle down, bringing their youthful energy with them, then the region’s leaders can’t continue to take five years to do something that would take other cities a year to do.

Christopher Cabaldon, mayor of West Sacramento and a member of the SACOG board, has been banging this drum for years. In fact, if it wasn’t for his impatience, it probably would have taken another year to get bike sharing rolling in the region.

The mayor ruffled some feathers earlier this month when he announced that he was pursuing a contract with LimeBike, a Bay Area startup that eschews the typical, bike-sharing model of docks and pay stations for GPS-equipped bikes, solar-powered locks and smartphone billing.

LimeBike was willing to deploy 200 bicycles in West Sacramento within weeks – an offer too good for Cabaldon to pass up. Residents in The Bridge District, a growing neighborhood of apartments and condos near Raley Field, were already mad about the city’s plans to restrict parking. Bike sharing had been promised as an alternative.

Word of Cabaldon’s negotiations with LimeBike pushed SoBi to offer a different deal to SACOG.

Gone are the docks and pay stations. Instead, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis will get a nimbler system of bicycles equipped with GPS and geo-fenced bike racks for parking. It will be a few million dollars cheaper, too. And the bikes can be deployed much faster.

In Sacramento, though, “faster” is clearly relative.