While driving throughout the downtown San Diego area, one cannot miss the many hundreds of new yellow, orange and green branded “dockless” bikes that have popped up over the past several weeks. Riders just scan a bar code with their smartphone and pay a dollar or two to unlock the back brake of a bike. With that, they are on their merry way to wherever they want to go. When they arrive, they simply leave the bike right where they are. With many of the companies, there’s no need to take it back or place it in a rack.
Conceptually, dockless bikes may be a good idea – helping the environment and reducing traffic. But the issues created by dockless bike sharing are multiplying seemingly as fast as the bikes – paving the way for a surge in bicycle accidents.
There are now dockless bicycles all over San Diego and neighboring cities. They are at bus stops, in front of businesses, on street corners, and in front of private homes. Some people are taking them on ferries or long rides around the Strand or over the bridge and leaving them in Coronado, prompting the city to issue a new plan to impound them if they are not removed by the companies within a couple of hours.
Coronado, which has not licensed any of the companies, isn’t the only place where they’re causing problems – and raising concerns about safety. The City of San Diego, which initially tried a contract with a bike rental company that had actual docking stations, has decided to let all comers join the cycling fun. Merchants are not happy when their entrances are blocked by abandoned bikes, and long-standing bike rental companies fear the impacts on their business. And some homeless advocates say people are getting tickets for being on the sidewalk when rules about encroachment on public property aren’t being enforced when it comes to the bikes.
Yet perhaps the biggest concern is safety and risk of serious personal injury – and ultimately bicycle accidents. People who are not experienced riders hop on them for fun. They often do not wear helmets – which is legal for adults, but not necessarily the safest way to ride. Some use the sidewalks instead of riding in designated bike lanes, putting pedestrians as well as themselves at risk. Some riders may have had a few beers and think this is a better way home than getting in their car.
If you’re riding your own bike or one of the dockless ones, be aware and remember the basics you probably learned in a bike rodeo at elementary school. Adhere to traffic laws – you must obey the same rules as drivers. Be on the lookout for car doors opening, bumps in the road and other riders and always stop at red traffic lights and stop signs. Look around before you make a move. Remember, too, that drivers may not be looking out for you.