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Ford GoBike expansion fuels neighborhood conflict as Lyft plans bikeshare growth

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A woman rides a Ford GoBike along the Embarcadero on Tuesday, July 3, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The expansion of bikeshare company Motivate on Monday, fueled by its acquisition this week by ride-hail giant Lyft, could potentially drive neighborhood conflict over the placement of new bike stations.

Almost as if on cue, Supervisor Jeff Sheehy voiced his opposition to a new Ford GoBike docking station in the Glen Park neighborhood in a social media argument last weekend shortly before Lyft’s announcement, the latest case of a San Francisco official siding with some neighbors to oppose bikeshare expansion in their own neighborhoods.

Sheehy confirmed to the San Francisco Examiner that he personally called the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to lodge his concerns about the dock.

“I haven’t said ‘please do not install it,’” Sheehy clarified, but “I listed what I said are the problems with the location.”

Though he’s focused on one bike station, in many ways The City’s embrace of so-called “bikeshare” companies is at a crossroads.

Sheehy’s call to SFMTA also echoes that of Mayor-Elect London Breed, who in late March personally called SFMTA to ask for a Ford GoBike station to be removed from a block in the Haight Ashbury where she lived at the time.

Neighborhood and political opposition has flared up occasionally as Motivate gingerly expanded its bikeshare network. But Randy Rentschler, director of legislation and public affairs at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said it was likely Lyft’s purchase would spur a rapid expansion of electronic bikes in the Ford GoBike system.

MTC negotiated Motivate’s contract to provide the now-3,650 rentable bikes in the Bay Area, a number slated to grow to 7,000 bikes by the end of 2018. Rentschler said Motivate was already on the path to expand e-bikes, but with Lyft’s resources, he expects that to happen faster.

“These guys aren’t coming in as a hobby,” Rentschler said.

Additionally, Lyft all but promised it would put the pedal to the metal on bikeshare, writing in a press statement that “Lyft will put resources behind the work that the Motivate team has begun.”

Tom Radulovich, former president of the BART Board of Directors and head of the transportation advocacy group Livable City, said more rapid bikeshare expansion may trigger conflict with neighbors intent on protecting parking spaces.

Already neighbors’ opinions about the proposed Randall and Chenery Ford GoBike station in Glen Park have poured in, with 33 letters in support and 18 letters in opposition, according to the SFMTA. And as bikeshare expands, Radulovich said, those neighbors will increasingly “complain to their supervisors. What their supervisors say, I don’t know.”

Sheehy called the proposed Ford GoBike station on Chenery and Randall a “bad idea” due to its proximity to Fairmount Elementary School. “Way too congested,” Sheehy wrote on NextDoor. The “white zones and bus drop off zones already have an impact” on the elementary school.

Neighbors replied in the comments with different takes. One said that as a “frequent user” of GoBikes, they make a decision on whether to use them based on if there are stations “near where I’m going,” making more stations important. Yet another neighbor chimed in that Randall is too narrow for a bikeshare station, and suffers from “intense traffic” due to parents dropping students off at the school. “This proposed location is sub-par,” the neighbor wrote.

The public can air their opinions on the Randall Street bikeshare station at an SFMTA engineering public hearing, Friday.

Sheehy wondered if San Francisco should continue allowing Ford GoBike to expand at all.

Jump bikes, which do not require docks to be parked, “are a major improvement over Go Bikes since you can attach them anywhere and you are not dependent on finding a station,” he wrote. His statements are among the first public statements of a local official supporting Jump versus Ford GoBike since Uber and Lyft acquired each company, respectively.

Sheehy’s public statement earned the attention of Gillian Gillett, immediate past director of transportation policy in the Mayor’s Office.

Gillett wrote “those ‘great JUMP bikes’ conflict with the pedestrian path of travel wherever they are sloppily parked, use the sidewalks for the benefit of a private company … and essentially steal the public right of way for their parking, rather than go through the public process of permitting a location to park.”

“To me, it seems like we should show the leadership that Portland did, and demand that the two models work together,” she wrote, which may become especially important as the respective bike companies expand their e-bike offerings, which require charging that can be aided by docks.

Gillett’s statements reflect what may be some of the first insight into The Mayor’s Office internal discussions on the benefit of either bikeshare model.

While no expansion plans have been revealed by either Lyft or Uber, Radulovich said there is one certainty.

“Uber and Lyft don’t want to be in a niche,” he said. “Their model is endless growth.”

This article has been clarified to show Gillian Gillett has transitioned out of The Mayor’s Office recently.

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