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The bike share cometh

Posted: January 16th, 2015 | Columns, Communities, Featured, The Spoken Word | 1 Comment

Hutton Marshall | The Spoken Word

Hark! San Diego’s long-awaited bike-share program has at last begun installation throughout the city.

Regardless of the fact that it’s being installed over a year late, it’s undeniably exciting that San Diego can now join the ranks of other environmentally friendly cities relying on — and profiting off of — the practical, semi-stylish beach cruisers of Decobike, the company overseeing, implementing and doling out $8 million for the program.

As 2014 came to a close, more than 180 solar-powered stations began popping up around San Diego’s most populated, tourist-friendly areas — neighborhoods with words like “park” and “beach” in the name — and soon 1,800 Decobikes will fill them.

Decobikeweb

Decobike’s logo will soon be a familiar sight around town (Photo by Mark Morgan/flickr)

For San Diegans, they’ll provide quick, clean transportation around Downtown, Uptown and the beach neighborhoods. Tourists will get the same, but they’ll probably ride their bikes to somewhere crummy like TGI Fridays. But really, while Decobike expects the majority of ridership will come from locals, a greater portion of revenue will come from tourist usage. The pricing system favors memberships over one-time usage fees.

The first 1,500 people to sign up for Decobike will get their annual Standard Membership for $99, which saves you $26. That gets you unlimited 30-minute rides and divides out to about $8 a month, for those who left their calculators at home. The Daddy Warbuckses among us can pay about $200 and spring for the Deluxe Membership, which allows for unlimited 60-minute rides. You could also forego a membership and just grab a Decobike and go, but that costs $5 every 30 minutes.

City employees, in addition to the early birds, will also get a membership discount. This bends my spokes just a little bit, because it seems like if you’re going to give discounts to a large group of people — such as the sizable workforce of the city of San Diego — you might instead give it to those who see even the $99 membership as an unaffordable expense.

I asked Decobike representatives about this, and they deflected me back to the fact that Decobike is a privately owned company making the sole investment in installation and operation. Well, so is New York’s Citi Bike, which manages to offer $150 memberships to low-income users at almost one-third of the price.

So sure, a private company is never obligated give out discounts, but so long as it is doing so (i.e. to generally well-paid city employees), it could perhaps choose those recipients in a way that doesn’t feel like a greasing of palms.

Now that we’ve got the math portion out of the way, let’s get to the subject that really gets our bike bells ringing: Decobike station locations.

Decobike’s website features an interactive map of all currently approved Decobike station locations. The majority of the stations will be located in Downtown and Uptown, the denser commercial neighborhoods where usage can be counted on.

Many — myself included — have wondered aloud if it might be preferable to put those sleek Decobike stations in places like El Cajon or southeastern San Diego, where the program might offer respite for the carless and public transportation-dependent. Those probably wiser than I answered that building in the developed, tourist-friendly neighborhoods first is necessary to prove the program’s economic viability, allowing it to expand into the surrounding area.

While Decobike appears to be proactive about updating the station map to reflect current stations approved and installed, representatives have been surprisingly tight-lipped about the process of approving proposed stations, and where such proposed stations might be.

Through research, observation and sending pestering emails, I’ve gleaned a few things about the process. (1) Decobike is installing stations in small sections at a time, in either community planning zones or popular thoroughfares. (2) This allows Decobike the ability to present proposed stations to individual community planning groups one at a time. (3) Stations seem to be placed in commercial districts with high pedestrian traffic, bike-able streets and close proximity to other stations and, thankfully, to public transportation.

What was unclear in my communications with Decobike was the impact community planning groups have on station locations — if any. For instance, the North Park Planning Group voted to move or add stations to put more stations north of El Cajon Boulevard than Decobike was recommending, in order to connect North Park stations to those along Adams Avenue (right now I’ve only heard of two proposed on Adams Avenue). Decobike wouldn’t say whether or not they would follow the North Park planners’ recommendation, instead saying that they would worry about El Cajon Boulevard before looking at Adams Avenue.

I’ll admit it’s understandable that Decobike would be bogged down during this hefty installation process, but bros: Please put a station at Adams Avenue and 30th Street. While I’m making wild demands into my megaphone, Kensington, whose planning group has yet to hear from Decobike, should get a station too.

While I have my gripes about the lesser details about the program, Decobike is an almost wholly positive addition to our city. With it, bicycling becomes a little closer to the heart of our city’s operations. Public transportation becomes a viable option for many. Biking to a favorite dive on Friday night no longer means locking your dearly beloved out on a dark street corner. For some, it even means finally learning to ride a bike without having to purchase one. This is a step closer to making San Diego the green city it should be, and you better believe I’ll be one of those first 1,500 signed up.

—Contact Hutton Marshall at hutton@sdcnn.com.

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