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City Heights Embraces Dockless Bikes While Other Communities Fight Them

A LimeBike sits parked near a sidewalk along El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego'...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Above: A LimeBike sits parked near a sidewalk along El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood, April 2, 2018

Dockless rental bikes parked outside Su Pan Bakery near San Diego's City Heights neighborhood are a welcome sight. Maria Rodriguez, manager of the Mexican pastry shop, said the bikes that start around $1 are a cheap and healthy option for the high-density, low-income neighborhood. Plus, they’re good for business.

“When there’s more people being active, you see more people walking here around more, so we get more clients,” Rodriguez said.

Residents pushed years ago to bring bike-sharing to the community when the city first introduced rental stations, but the neighborhood ultimately didn't receive any locations. The recently approved station-less rides liberate users from picking up or returning rentals to a fixed location, yet are sparking debate across the region.

The city of Coronado, which denied permits to dockless companies but still receives riders, and San Diego communities of Little Italy and La Jolla claim their rights of way are overwhelmed by the freestanding bikes. Meanwhile, businesses farther east in City Heights are seeing far less but hoping for more.

Rodriguez said the bikes allow more people to explore the area outside a vehicle, but also provide an affordable transportation option to a community where the annual median income is about $33,000. That's compared to $64,000 for the city of San Diego, according to estimates from the 2016 American Community Survey.

"We live in a (high) poverty area, which means that a lot of people can't afford paying a bus pass or getting to one place to another in a car or even just owning a bike," she said.

Su Pan Bakery participated in a dockless bike "mob" organized by the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association to promote dockless bikes along the commercial corridor. Community members were encouraged to rent then ride to storefronts within the business improvement district.

In addition to Su Pan, which is located in neighboring Talmadge, the City Heights bar City Pub was a stop on the route. Owner James Harmon said he understands other communities' concerns over bike congestion, but said the issue is a growing pain.

“Eventually if we can get to a position where Amsterdam is, where there’s designated places to leave the bikes and it becomes an integrated part of transportation, and ultimately that would help save on carbon emissions and maybe provide a cheaper alternative for people to get around," said Harmon, who noted about a dozen bikeshare "mob" participants stopped by his bar.

Enrique Gandarilla, City Heights Business Association Executive Director, said he's noticed some dockless bike riders in the area and is open to more.

"We're glad that there are more options for people in City Heights to travel and we definitely support bike-friendly business districts," Gandarilla said.

However, he also acknowledged frustrations in neighborhoods experiencing a high volume of the bikes and suggested implementation would have been better if business groups in those areas were consulted ahead of time.

A representative for one of the dockless bike companies, LimeBike, told KPBS Midday Edition that its app includes details on proper parking procedures. The company also has a 24-hour operations team that patrols to ensure bikes are adequately stored, the spokesman said.

Gandarilla said he heard from a few people that the rentals brought them to the neighborhood for the first time because the destination was too far to walk and a low availability of parking made it difficult to drive.

"But because they've been able to sort of jump on one of these bikes and ride out here that they have, and they've been pleasantly surprised," he said.

The city of Coronado and San Diego communities of Little Italy and La Jolla claim their rights of way are overwhelmed by the freestanding bikes, while businesses farther east in City Heights are hoping to see more of them.

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