Clutter, safety are resident concerns for bikeshare program

Local residents shared concerns April 23 for rider safety and clutter regarding a recently-proposed bikeshare program between five coastal North County cities.

Encinitas, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Carlsbad and Oceanside agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in March for a one-year pilot program for bikesharing, similar to those seen in cities such as San Diego and Santa Monica. The coastal North County cities are currently seeking proposals from viable vendors in different models, like those on docking stations, dockless, hybrid and electric bikes.

Rather than a docking-based system like the one that has been operating in San Diego for three years, the North County cities will give preference to dockless bikes. That system requires the vessels to be parked within a defined area at a bike rack or along the sidewalk. Riders rent the bikes through a smartphone app. The bikes are then tracked via GPS and have self-locking mechanisms, allowing them to be picked up and dropped off anywhere.

The idea is to provide bikes to cover the first and last mile of trips based around train stations, allowing users to ride instead of drive, said Crystal Najera, Encinitas' Climate Action Plan program administrator, at Monday's community meeting at Encinitas City Hall.

Encinitas, which is leading the bikeshare effort, adopted its climate action plan in January with goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, offering mobility solutions and reducing traffic congestion.

But community members at the meeting expressed concern that the bikeshare program could do "more harm than good."

Encinitas resident Judy Berlfein, an avid bike rider, said drivers are largely unaware of the relationship between cars and cyclists. For example, she said, drivers often don't know how to use "sharrows," which are lanes that are shared between cars and bikes. She said there first must be education and improvements to city streets and designated bikelanes before a program is implemented.

"I'm a little concerned this is premature," she said. "We need to get our Coastal Rail Trail in and have some really good infrastructure for people to ride bikes first."

Encinitas Environmental Commission Vice Chair Jim Wang added that bike riders may not feel safe riding on North County roads, which are often shared with drivers and can be hilly.

Berlfein said she has used bikeshare programs in Boston and San Diego, the latter of which left her "unsettled" to see bikes left and cluttered on sidewalks.

"It felt kind of messy," she said. "We're working so hard to give bikes and bike riders a better name. I'm concerned this might make it worse."

In San Diego, the city has received complaints of dockless bikes, crystallized in a photo that made the rounds on social media showing more than a dozen bikes piled into a tangled eyesore at an intersection in the Gaslamp district.

Najera said, for the proposed North County program, the cities are looking to work with vendors that promote returning bikes to designated locations with incentives. Additionally, a low amount of bikes will be deployed at first as to not oversaturate the streets and to allow the city to study how much the program is needed.

"Our city deploying more pilot projects, in general, is a great way for us to learn," she said. "There's not really regulation [in San Diego]. There's no limit on the number of bikes. We're definitely planning to be much more regulated."

A man who identified himself as a North County bike shop owner also worried how a bikesharing program might affect businesses like his.

He said in other cities where similar programs have been implemented, bike sales and rentals have declined.

Najera said the city will potentially look into advertising local bike stores on the bikeshare vessels. She added that because bikeshares are largely only available in adult sizes, families would likely still utilize retail locations for bikes for their children.

Each city’s agreement will spell out terms for resolving the pitfalls that have plagued bikeshares and for settling various as-yet-unanswered questions, including how to enforce helmet laws and whether the bikes will be used at night.

Najera said proposals from vendors need to be submitted by May 3. She estimates that the pilot program could be implemented within a few months after a vendor is selected.

--U-T Community Press reporter Sebastian Montes contributed to this report.

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