Many municipalities across the U.S. have implemented publicly financed bike-sharing systems, but private companies are also accelerating adoption of this flexible, affordable transportation solution. However, as the trend expands into electrically powered pedal-assisted e-bikes and e-scooters, safety and clutter issues are cropping up in cities nationwide.
NAIOP touched on this topic in “Private Bike-Share Services Gain Traction,” an article that appeared in the Winter 2015-2016 issue of Development magazine. The association also explored it in a white paper released in April 2015, “Exploring the New Sharing Economy” by John Madden, Director of Sustainability and Engineering Campus + Community Planning at the University of British Columbia.
Docked Versus Dockless
Early municipal bike-share programs generally required customers to rent bikes at docking stations scattered throughout a geographic area. Today, however, many e-bike and e-scooter companies don’t require docks; the devices can simply be left at their destination. While that might be convenient for riders, it can be a nuisance for municipalities. Scooters weaving in and out of traffic — and slaloming along sidewalks — can be dangerous for riders and pedestrians, and stacks of scooters on sidewalks can be visually unappealing and make walking difficult.
Compounding those problems is the fact that many e-scooter companies have launched in cities without securing municipal approvals. For example, Bird, a dockless scooter company, deployed dozens of its vehicles in Arlington, Virginia, in June 2018 without permission from the county’s Commuter Services Bureau. Earlier that month, San Francisco shut down three e-scooter companies that had set up shop in the city without permits.
According to a recent article from USA Today, cities are starting to limit the number of scooters and restrict where they can be driven or parked. For example, San Jose, California, Mayor Sam Liccardo told the newspaper that he wants to require scooters to carry “geo-fencing” technology, which would prevent them from working outside of designated areas, to keep the vehicles off sidewalks.
Despite the safety and permitting problems, some experts say e-bikes and e-scooters could help solve the problem of “transit deserts,” and the exposure of these gaps could lead to overall improvements in transportation infrastructure.
And one major automaker is betting on future growth in this niche. In early November, Ford announced that it would buy electric scooter company Spin for $40 million. Spin currently operates in nine cities and on five college campuses.
The Private Side
While public streets have been the focus of the bike-share trend, business parks, apartments, office complexes and corporate campuses have been getting in on the act as well. Some are creating their own bike-based “transit systems” to reduce travel time between buildings in large campuses while also promoting sustainability.
For example, Sunset Development Co. uses a bike-share program called BRiteBikes at its Bishop Ranch business park in San Ramon, California, which has 30 buildings spread across 585 acres.
BRiteBikes “offers tenants and community members a convenient, free, fun and healthy way to get around Bishop Ranch and the surrounding area, while reducing traffic and pollution,” said Harout Hagopian, senior vice president and general manager with Sunset Development, in an interview with Commercial Property Executive.
Trey Barrineau is the Managing Editor, Publications for NAIOP. In this role, he supervises day-to-day operations of Development magazine.