On a cool Wednesday morning, Russell Rawlings boarded a light rail train bound for the Sacramento Valley Station, just as he always does to go to work. He got off and, again, like always, guided his motorized wheelchair toward the nearby Starbucks.
But on this particular morning, he finally encountered the same thing more and more of us who live and work in the central city are encountering — a “thoughtlessly abandoned” JUMP bike parked in the middle of the sidewalk.
“I was able to sneak around it with mere inches to spare,” Russell wrote on Facebook. “But the menace factor is on the rise. How can we get some accountability here?”
Until now, Sacramento has largely avoided the kind of apoplectic rage that first erupted in the Bay Area and has spread to Los Angeles and San Diego over the sudden proliferation of shareable electric bicycles and scooters being left in yards, on street corners, leaning against stop signs and parking meters, and, of course, blocking sidewalks and ramps for people with disabilities.
It’s a miracle, really.
Uber, which owns JUMP, started dropping the candy red, GPS-equipped bikes in Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis in May. These days, there are about 600 of them trolling the streets, all for rent with a smartphone app and too often piloted by people — derisively dubbed “jumpholes” — who run traffic lights and hog sidewalks.
And yet, unlike in San Francisco, I haven’t seen any JUMP bikes floating in the American River or stuffed in one of midtown’s many trees. Nor have I heard about any being smashed to pieces, smeared with feces or doused with lighter fluid and torched.
But as a midtown resident living in the heart of JUMP bike territory, I fear that a backlash is coming — and I say this as someone who truly believes the bike-share program is one of the best things to happen to Sacramento in the three years that I’ve lived here.
By the end of the year, there will be 900 of the bikes in the region, probably in more neighborhoods. Before that happens, something has to change. I would argue that Sacramento is uniquely qualified to make that happen.
Why? In a word, bureaucracy.
Sacramento — tangled up in red tape as usual with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments — waited so long to get a bike-sharing program off the ground, that the city completely missed the boat on the now old-school model for it, which requires users to return shared bikes to stationary docks.
Instead, Sacramento happened to get its act together just as dockless technology was emerging. And because the capital city never does anything without a bureaucratic bent, we were one of the first cities in the country to sign a contract to permit such a fleet and now are among only a few with ordinances on the books spelling out how people should use them and how the companies that provide them should behave.
Meanwhile, other cities, from L.A. to Minneapolis to Nashville, are playing catch up. Startups, such Lime and Bird, dropped hundreds of electric scooters and bikes on streets without seeking a permit, forcing the cities to try banning the companies after the fact to hammer out safety rules and a permit process.
San Francisco, for example, issued a cease-and-desist order in April on scooters and is considering bids for permits from 12 different startups.
All Sacramento has to do, though, is enforce the laws it already passed — something the city has admitted it’s not doing when it comes to traffic enforcement and fining people for locking JUMP bikes to poles instead of a bike rack. Then again, it’s not like the city has actually provided enough bike racks or completed the haphazard network of on-street bike lanes so people don’t have to ride on the sidewalk.
City Councilman Steve Hansen said the city is working with JUMP to teach riders about good etiquette, using messaging that would appear in the app and on the bikes. A little common sense and awareness by those of us who use JUMP bikes wouldn’t hurt, either. All of which would make Russell very happy.
“Sidewalks are public space,” he so aptly wrote. “Sidewalks are transportation, too.”