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Supes, neighbors block Ford GoBike’s citywide expansion

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Ford GoBike has plans to add stations citywide based on rider demand, but in many neighborhoods has encountered resistance. (Kevin N. Hume/Courtesy images)

Ford GoBike’s expansion has been halted and slowed across The City, and the reason given is often the same — there wasn’t enough notice given.

From Glen Park to the Haight, the Mission District and most recently, the Marina, residents are pushing back against the rental bike docks, which are usually placed in parking spaces meant for cars.

And as the bike rental service is on the cusp of its planned expansion to 7,000 bikes Bay Area-wide, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is also increasingly pushing back against it and the Lyft-owned company that operates the program, Motivate, by saying that not enough notice has been offered to neighbors about new station installations.

In other words, it’s process, process, process.

But while each supervisor sees this problem through a neighborhood-focused lense, each individual battle adds up: The bikeshare-slowdown now stretches citywide.

Some neighborhoods bloom with bike options, while others languish as blank stretches on the bikeshare map.

And some long-term residents and likely voters speaking with the San Francisco Examiner — older constituents and homeowners — are grateful for that opposition.

“You could look at a Ford GoBike map and draw supervisorial districts, you know what I mean?” said Randy Rentschler, director of legislation and public affairs with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which negotiated Ford GoBike’s exclusivity contract to provide docked bikeshare within the Bay Area.

The latest politico to block Ford GoBike expansion is Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents District 2, which includes the Marina and Pacific Heights, among other neighborhoods.

Stefani announced that she halted plans to install three Ford GoBike stations in a newsletter to her constituents on July 26 at Bay and Fillmore streets, Clay and Steiner streets, and Laguna and Washington streets.

“My office received many responses from residents and community organizations who expressed concern over the proposed locations and lack of community outreach performed by the (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) and Ford GoBike operator Motivate,” she wrote to her constituents. SFMTA “recognized” the community concerns, she wrote, and “as of now, the SFMTA and Motivate have halted plans to install any stations in District 2 and will not do so in the future without consulting my office and the community.”

Yet though this was Stefani’s publicly stated cause for opposing Motivate and Ford GoBike, in a small community meeting with the Pacific Heights Residents Association in April she gave other reasons for opposing the program’s expansion. Dockless bikeshare programs like Uber-backed Jump, she said, were far more modern than bikeshare programs like Ford GoBike which rely on docks to operate.

“I still think it’s opening Blockbuster Video stores when Netflix is out, I think this is the old way of doing bikeshare,” she told her constituents.

“It’s not going to go in District 2,” she added, referring to Ford GoBike. “I’m going to make sure of it.”

When asked to explain the comment, a staffer for Supervisor Stefani, Wyatt Donnelly-Landolt, said the supervisor is supportive of bikeshare, but stressed neighbors were given little notice.

The noticing complaints are increasingly common, however — and it’s starting to affect where bikeshare service is available citywide.

A glimpse at Ford GoBike’s publicly available map shows great swaths of District 2 — Stefani’s district — devoid of bikeshare kiosks. And though the service is available widely in The Mission, a gaping hole can be seen between 20th and 24th Streets, due to neighborhood concerns. Much of western and southern San Francisco does not yet have the service.

By contrast, a public map showing where people want to see new Ford GoBike kiosks, which anyone can contribute to, shows requests throughout The City.

Those with knowledge of the planning process told the San Francisco Examiner on background that “lack of notice” is the go-to public complaint when Ford GoBike stations are about to be installed for nearly every station in The City. Internal conversations, however, are another matter. Former Supervisor Jeff Sheehy blocked a Ford GoBike station in Glen Park citing that reason, among others, and now-mayor London Breed personally called SFMTA to halt the installation of a Haight neighborhood Ford GoBike station, also citing outreach.

But in both instances, conversations with neighbors cited other issues besides a lack of notice. Merchants opposing Ford GoBike in the Haight, for instance, were concerned they would lose parking.

Patricia Vaughey, a resident of District 2, said she was thankful Stefani stepped in. Vaughey opposes a proposed Ford GoBike station near the Palace of Fine Arts.

“It’s an insult to all of us who helped save that building, we have a lot of seniors on that block,” she said. “I am for bikes, but the location is the point.”

Other neighbors feel similarly. Joanne Kindlund, who lives near the Palace of Fine Arts, said a Ford GoBike station near the domed tourist attraction would not work — it’s better off near Crissy Field, where many bikes already travel.

“It’s going to take over prime parking spots right near Baker (Street), which is already congested,” she said, and other neighbors she’s spoken with oppose the bike kiosks because “they think it’s going to devalue their housing prices. It’s an ugly blue kiosk which doesn’t lend itself to a neighborhood environment.”

Kindlund also thinks it’s a reason to vote for Stefani, who is facing an election this November. One of her opponents, BART board director Nick Josefowitz, is an ardent bikeshare supporter.

“If she says she’s going to prohibit them, and her opposition will endorse them, I would not vote for her opposition,” Kindlund said.

Jason Henderson, a San Francisco State University professor who specializes in urban transportation, said he thinks the claim by supervisors that there hasn’t been enough notice given for Ford GoBike dock installations, “is being abused.”

“Do you want the MTA and Motivate to go knock on everybody’s door and hold their hand? It’s just not possible,” he said. Instead, the real argument neighbors are making is “about parking, that’s what it’s about.”

Former Marina District resident Kyle Grochmal, who works in tech, said the Marina District was well noticed about future Ford GoBike stations. He forwarded an email from January 2017 showing meetings were held at the Moscone Recreation Center on Chestnut Street for Marina neighbors to choose bikeshare station locations, and the Hamilton Recreation Center on Geary for Pacific Heights neighbors to do the same.

Grochmal attended the Marina neighborhood gathering, and said the purpose of those meetings was to determine “specific sites” for bikeshare kiosks.

Matt Brezina, an advocate who organized bicyclists to protest a lack of bike lanes by forming human chains on the street, said though he “can’t say for sure” if his group will agitate for more bikeshare, many of his cyclist peers are discussing it as an option.

“This is part of the supervisor fiefdom thing,” he said. “Maybe we need to go to our mayor and get her to step up on this.”

Either way, the MTC is staying out of it, Rentschler said. They negotiated the contract, and now their deed is done.

“We are going to leave it to these parties to work it out,” he said, with an air of diplomacy.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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