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Rogue bike-share: Bringing chaos to our public spaces

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Rented bicycles from the bike-sharing firm Bluegogo and its competitors are seen piled up near the entrance of Xiashan park in Shenzhen, Guangdong province on Jan. 16. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
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Keeping our city beautiful, clean and livable for current and future generations is a fundamental tenet of civic stewardship for all San Franciscans. For the countless residents who work hard every day to do their part in achieving this goal, we know that can be far easier said than done — particularly as the Bay Area continues to attract record-breaking numbers of new residents.

Having dedicated myself to keeping our city beautiful and having undertaken countless projects to maintain our city’s most precious public assets, I was alarmed to learn about two rogue bike-share companies — bluegogo and Spin — with very similar business models. Both appear poised to drop tens of thousands of bikes onto city streets and sidewalks, offering potential customers easy access to bikes everywhere and also the ability to leave them “anywhere they want” when finished.

To some, distributing bikes “anywhere” on our public rights of way is seemingly harmless. It’s frivolous and even fun. What a novel concept: Need a ride? Grab a bike! After all, who was ever offended by a bike? Not so fast.

The only way the business models for stationless bike-share schemes make sense to attract a profitable customer base in dense urban areas is through volume. Jaw-droppingly large volume.

Just last month, Mashable reported that Bluegogo dumped a shocking 70,000 bicycles on city streets in China — in a single month alone. Spin, a Bluegogo competitor, boasts on its website about its own ambitious plans “to deploy over 100,000 bicycles” in U.S. cities this year — beginning in San Francisco. And who knows how many similar, rogue bike-share competitors are poised to follow suit?

The photographic evidence from the sudden advent of stationless bike-share schemes in China is appalling. Piles of discarded bikes from bluegogo and its competitors — treated as seemingly disposable objects — strewn haphazardly on sidewalks, streets and in public parks. They’re an easy target for vandals, a public nuisance for neighbors and pedestrians and an eyesore for residents and visitors alike.

It’s not hard to imagine similar scenes playing out here in San Francisco: Piles of bikes left on The Embarcadero, littered around Golden Gate Park, vandalized in local playgrounds, strewn around Market Street, blocking disabled access ramps, toppled over in the Mission.

After the initial public outcry against its deployment plans, bluegogo assured journalists covering its launch that they’ll somehow operate differently in San Francisco. But they still haven’t explained how.

In mid-January, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Department of Public Works wrote to Bluegogo, asking the company to share its plans to deploy bikes here in San Francisco and to assure city officials that its business model wouldn’t violate local laws. The SFMTA and DPW generously offered Bluegogo a full two-weeks to answer, requesting it respond by Jan. 31. The City couldn’t be more reasonable.

Bluegogo’s response? So far, silence. How can we expect businesses that thumb their noses at city officials to treat our laws and residents differently?

Thankfully, Supervisor Aaron Peskin announced he is drafting legislation for stricter local laws that prevent the unpermitted use of our public realm “as a distribution platform for private bike-share corporations and other unregulated ‘sharing economy’ schemes.”

Rogue bike-share schemes that have no investment in our community, and that show no commitment to our leaders or laws, pose a threat to the beauty and livability of our city. Their model risks doing far more harm than good. San Francisco deserves better.

Darcy Brown is the executive director of San Francisco Beautiful.

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