Sacramento needs bike-share program sooner, rather than later

Bicycles that are part of New York City’s bike-sharing program sit parked at a dock at the Brooklyn Navy Yards in New York.
Bicycles that are part of New York City’s bike-sharing program sit parked at a dock at the Brooklyn Navy Yards in New York. AP

San Francisco has one. So do hilly Portland, Seattle and Denver, and congested Chicago and New York. Even car-loving Los Angeles has vowed to launch a bike-share program in the coming months.

For years, though, all Sacramento, with its flat terrain and orderly grid of streets, has done is talk about it. Just like all it does is talk about finishing the city’s broken network of bike lanes.

There have been plansdetailed ones – that call for a “starter system” of more than 600 bicycles at about 80 rental stations in downtown, midtown, East Sacramento, Land Park, Curtis Park, Oak Park, West Sacramento and Davis. Plans that, for bureaucratic and financial reasons, have gone nowhere.

But with Golden 1 Center opening in a matter of months, and thousands of people getting ready to pour downtown to see Kings games and concerts, and get dinner and drinks in midtown, it’s time to do more than talk. Otherwise, gridlock won’t be a fear, but a reality.

Luckily, there seem to be some changes afoot.

Steve Hansen, chairman of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, has set a new deadline of May for soliciting proposals from bike-share operators, picking one by September and starting construction on a “starter system” soon after that.

“The goal is to have the system on the ground and operational by the end of the year,” he told a member of The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board.

This is a switch from previous plans, which called for bike-share stations to be up and running by spring 2017. Given all the development underway and new residents moving to midtown and across the river into West Sacramento, a more aggressive timeline is a no-brainer.

A robust bike-share program could do a lot to tame the chaos that passes for multimodal transportation in the central city.

Sacramento’s bike-lane network, if you can actually call it that, is a mess. Lanes inexplicably start and stop without warning. Traffic lights aren’t synchronized – for bikes or for cars – which encourages riders to skirt through red lights and ride the wrong way down one-way streets to go around the block.

Even more disconcerting, almost all of the bike lanes end at 15th Street, leaving commuters headed to government offices downtown with tough choices: Take their chances with drivers who aren’t always cool with sharing the road, or bike on sidewalks and dodge pedestrians –or, as happens too often, run into them.

It’s an ugly situation that makes biking, walking and driving a dangerous affair – and the arena hasn’t even opened yet.

With a robust bike-share program up and running, Sacramento will have little choice but to up its game and finally finish painting bike lanes on the city’s streets. To shirk that responsibility would be to invite collisions. And, for cranky drivers, there’s nothing like seeing hundreds of bikes every day, all of them the same color, to drive home the message that it’s time to share the road.

This can happen in Sacramento. Stop talking about it, and do it.