After the genesis of my last post, Mountain View finally caught up with Birmingham, Alabama by launching an electric bike share. Actually, they launched two bike share programs, one electric (Lime) and one not (ofo) on a six month pilot program. Very strict rules about not leaving them on the sidewalk (like the plague of electrified scooters currently afflicting major cities) and dire warnings about the kind of “forgiveness rather than permission” that has been the hallmark of Silly Con Valley for years now.
Mountain View had a few docks for the Bay Area Bike Share program, which have all since been removed. It was an annoying approach, simply because those bikes were only useful in a dock-to-dock pattern. Great for getting down Castro from the train station to El Camino, for instance. Less great when they put docks at light rail stations…which were connected by light rail already. So the solution, apparently, is dockless bike sharing. Which presents its own set of issues.
See, Mountain View has had an unofficial free dockless bike share for years now, courtesy of Google. The shitty single-speed bikes they have for riding around campus have a way of finding their way off campus and winding up places they probably shouldn’t be, like the end of the train platform or on their side in a parking spot or in the median of Central Expressway. And while you could grab one if you saw it lying about, and even ride it all the way to, say, Murphy Avenue in Sunnyvale behind the pub, you could pretty much rest assured it wouldn’t be there when it came time to ride back.Not a lot of utility in one way disposable transit.
But that drives home the dockless bike problem in general: you take one somewhere, you want to know you can get one back. In China, the solution was just to dump one imperial shit-ton of bikes everywhere, with the result that a lot of companies went big and went bust and left literal mountains of waste bikes behind. Not a particularly good idea. Here, the bikes are being “redistributed” by their vendors (not least because someone’s going to have to make sure those Lime electrics get charged up). Hopefully they’re taking assiduous notes of where the bikes go and where they end up at day’s end and are adjusting the pattern accordingly.
Because here’s the thing: they’re actually quite handy, especially the electrics. If I’m willing to cope with either the problem of two solid upslopes with only a mild electric assist (or alternately take a chance on a surface expressway), I can easily bike home from downtown for only a couple of bucks. If it were possible to take one of these to the next town over, I would gladly go one-way to the pub and catch a Lyft back. And the thing is…the electric bike is just so damn effortless. To the point where I’m looking at one from a UK manufacturer that looks almost maintenance free, belt drive, no gears to mess with, just get on and go, for £1000, and wondering how to get it back here.
Of course, at the same time, Mountain View is considering changing their sidewalk rules downtown. Which is asinine. If it wasn’t safe to put bicycles on the sidewalk before, how is it safe to do it now and throw skateboards and electric unicycle dickwheels and God knows what else out there? At present, there are spaces for cars and pedestrians, and lightly electrified vehicles are in a sour spot where they won’t do well in either space. And God forbid you put them in the bike lane…
Downtown Mountain View is basically unnavigable by car from lunchtime on anymore. Parking is already a disaster, traffic is a mess, it’s hardly worth the effort. Why anyone thinks building office space there is a good idea is beyond me, but they keep doing it. So here’s the answer: take all the street side parking on Castro street and turn it into a physically separated lane for bicycles and electric hipster things. You want to park, go in one of the lots or decks, but Castro is gonna completely separate motor vehicles and pedestrians and everything that’s neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring. And to be honest, that’s going to become even more of a problem when the crossing at Central closes for good with the long-overdue remodel of the third busiest train station on the Caltrain line.
And at that point, you’ve made downtown a much easier place to be. You don’t have to keep your head on a swivel on the sidewalk because some techie who thinks he’s Lance Armstrong or Marty McFly has somewhere to be. You don’t have to worry about getting clotheslined off your Lime bike by a parked car. You don’t have to worry that the asshole on his hoverboard is going to stray in front of your car because he can’t take his eyes off his phone. Easy peasy. And you’ve made it much easier to choose a Lime or an ofo instead of a car for just popping downtown for dinner or a pint or to restock at Ava’s or Jane’s.
And ultimately, that’s kind of a thing. If you have reliable access to reliable electric bikes point-to-point, you never have to worry about wrestling your own bike onto transit (and using up space that could be earning ticket revenue). If the light rail runs every fifteen minutes or more, you never have to cut things short and time your outings to make sure you won’t be stood around the platform in the dark for twenty minutes. I basically never needed a car for the last four years I lived in Arlington, Virginia – because the job and the bar and the mall were all on the train, and the train and the other mall and the grocery store and two drugstores and a movie theater were all walkable distance. If you want to make a place walkable and bike able and reduce the traffic, you have to reduce the need for traffic. Dense housing without dense everything else is 180 degrees the wrong direction.
We’ll see how long it takes the geeeeeeniuses of Silly Con Valley to figure that one out.