Foon Rhee

Bike sharing is almost here. But Sacramento, we have a new problem

Bike sharing is a great idea, but it took forever to reach Sacramento. It took so darn long that the city now must try to prevent new pitfalls in the changing industry – bicycles ditched on sidewalks, bike paths and in parks.


It also took quite a while for the City Council to come up with compromise rules for bicycles on sidewalks. So the last thing we should want is to make Sacramento less safe for pedestrians.

Last week, the council’s Law and Legislation Committee unanimously approved a proposed ordinance that would ban anyone from leaving bicycles on their side or in any way that blocks sidewalks or bike paths. While it would apply to all bicyclists and all bike-share businesses, the rules are aimed mostly at companies with self-locking bicycles that can be left anywhere, not just at docking stations.

Earlier bike-sharing technology used docking stations, like those in Oakland, San Francisco and other cities across the United States and Europe. But now the bike-share industry – led by startups such as LimeBike and Spin – is speeding toward cheaper systems, using GPS-equipped bikes with solar-powered locks that can be located and rented with a smartphone app.

These bicycles can be parked anywhere – and that’s the problem. So city officials want to make sure they are out of the way of pedestrians, vehicles or other bicyclists, and don’t become an eyesore or blight in neighborhoods. “We want to be very, very careful,” says Jennifer Donlon Wyant, who is overseeing bike sharing for the city.

Under the proposed rules, bike-share companies would have two hours from when they’re notified to retrieve stray bicycles. If companies don’t comply, they could get fined or their permits suspended or revoked. The city would impound the bicycles.

In cities such as Seattle and Washington, D.C., self-locking bikes have been left in the middle of sidewalks, leaning against trees and light poles, or abandoned in parks and parking lots.

City Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents midtown and downtown, pushed for the regulations to stop any of those problems coming to Sacramento. At his urging, the committee added a 15 mph speed limit to enhance safety, since some bicycles will have electric power and helmets won’t be required.

Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates supports the ordinance. It’s mostly interested in expanding bike sharing. Jim Brown, the group’s executive director, says widespread use of self-locking bicycles is so new it’s not clear whether riders will be able to find them quickly and reliably enough to be frequent customers.

WALKSacramento backs the ordinance, too. Its focus is pedestrian safety and its executive director, Kirin Kumar, says bicycles and other obstructions are especially dangerous for the elderly or infirm using scooters or wheelchairs.

These rules, which will go before the full council in February or March, probably make the best of the current situation. But it does make you wonder what would have happened if City Hall had partnered earlier with a company that uses traditional stations. That, however, would have meant using city rights-of-way and also might have required some city money for up-front costs when none is set aside.

The city’s official position is that it wants an even playing field for all bike-share companies that want to operate in Sacramento while also making sure that riders get safe bikes, and protecting access and safety for all residents – all at no cost to taxpayers. But these detailed rules could discourage companies from coming here.

The first company in Sacramento will be Jump (formerly Social Bicycle), which is under contract with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and will be rolling out bicycles this spring in Davis and West Sacramento as well. Jump is supposed to provide about two parking spaces for each of its bikes. In Sacramento, it’s possible that Jump bicycles will be allowed at city-owned racks in the center city – taking spaces away from other bicycles – but only at Jump racks in outlying areas.

We’ll see how that works out, and how many other companies apply for permits. With our weather, topography and lifestyle, Sacramento should be one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in America. More bike lanes and paths are part of that. So is bike sharing, and if we had to wait this long, the city should at least get it right.

Foon Rhee: 916-321-1913, @foonrhee