Bike Safety Advocates Fume over City’s Scooter Priorities

Ubers in the bike lanes, sub-standard bike infra, hit-and-runs, broken pavement--but SFMTA cracks down on scooter rentals

Back in June, a group of San Francisco bike advocates joined forces with scooter supporters to demand better bike infrastructure. Is there a natural synergy between these two transportation modes? Photo: Luis Guerra
Back in June, a group of San Francisco bike advocates joined forces with scooter supporters to demand better bike infrastructure. Is there a natural synergy between these two transportation modes? Photo: Luis Guerra

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Anyone who rides a bike in San Francisco has experienced the frustration of watching police cars drive right past Ubers, Lyfts, and sometimes even city vehicles parked in bike lanes. Anyone who walks in San Francisco has had to go around cars blocking crosswalks, parked on sidewalks, etc.

Given this massive problem, the city has decided to crack down on little electric scooters.

Last week, three companies – Limebike, Bird, and Spin – started leaving app-based, electric scooter rentals on the sidewalks of San Francisco. The SF Examiner did a great report laying out the issues; Scooters are not explicitly covered in the city’s transportation code, although it is illegal to place any object in a manner that obstructs the sidewalk or other pedestrian paths of travel, Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesperson, told the Examiner.

Even though there’s nothing specifically banning the scooters, as TechCrunch also reported, SFMTA director Ed Reiskin wrote a letter to the three companies asking for their business plans, asking them to wait for the city to finalize a permit program, and saying that the city “…will not tolerate any business model that results in obstruction of the public right of way or poses a safety hazard.”

That last bit had safe-streets advocates fuming. This tweet from safe-streets and micro-mobility advocate Michal Naka sums up the screamingly obvious double-standard nicely:

“Ed Reiskin’s comments got us fired up. He is talking about enforcing scooters parked against parking meters but does nothing about the thousands of cars that block bike lanes, crosswalks, and sidewalks?” wrote Matt Brezina, one of the organizers of the ‘people protected bike lane‘ protests on Valencia and elsewhere.

Aside from banging their heads on the nearest solid object, there wasn’t much to do about it except go for a ride. So Thursday afternoon, a group of about ten protesters with the People-Protected Bike lane crew, including San Francisco County Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, decided to rent some scooters and go for a tour of SF’s good and bad bike lanes and infrastructure as another form of protest (and to blow off some steam).

“I rode one from the Giants ballpark to BART and these could be a boost towards addressing the ‘last mile’ of a mass transit trip,” wrote Sheehy in an email to Streetsblog. “I actually thought it might be useful to have these around City Hall—I take so many relatively short trips and these could be a quick way to pop to a meeting and back.  I wonder how many other short trips where people do ride shares now might end up as scooter trips.”

The scooters that pose a grave threat to San Francisco, flaunted in front of the baseball stadium. Photo: Luis Guerra
The scooters that pose a grave threat to San Francisco, flaunted in front of the baseball stadium. Photo: Luis Guerra

That said, not all advocates see a problem with the SFMTA’s actions on the little machines.

“Walk SF supports the City’s efforts to develop a permit structure for motorized dockless scooters. The City has an obligation to make sure any vehicles that are part of San Francisco’s transportation system are consistent with local policies and that they operate in the best interests of the public,” wrote Cathy DeLuca, Policy & Program Director for Walk SF. “The potential of these vehicles to cause problems on sidewalks should be addressed proactively, and we’re confident that this sort of oversight can happen in parallel with the rest of the City’s important Vision Zero work.” Meanwhile, the SF Bike Coalition hasn’t taken a stance on scooters–at least, not yet.

Brezina also isn’t against regulating scooters–if and when it becomes a real issue.

“I absolutely don’t want scooters blocking pedestrian and ADA access to sidewalks,” he told Streetsblog. “But let’s address that when it is a problem. We have a way bigger problem right now which is cars constantly and dangerously blocking the right of way.”

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Public works paved the roadway to the left, but left the bike lanes full of cracks, dangerous furrows, potholes, and other defects. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless noted.

City Lets Cargo Way Protected Bike Lane Fall Apart

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As cyclists who use Cargo Way in the Hunters Point/Bayview neighborhood know all too well, the bike lane, once celebrated as San Francisco's first on-street protected bike lane, is in a state of disrepair, with broken pavement, a dangerous, tire-grabbing groove, and a busted fence. And in a stark display of how some city officials regard bicycle safety, the city repaved the adjacent car/truck lanes in August, but skipped the bike lane.