San Luis Obispo moves forward on bike-share pilot program

Oct 3, 2019

San Luis Obispo is one step closer to joining Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz in creating a bike-share program.

The San Luis Obispo city council this week gave the go ahead for the creation of a pilot program, but it's not expected to start until the fall of 2020 or even the spring of 2021.

But first, council members and staff had a thorough discussion about everything from whether the program should be station-based or dockless, to what to do about helmets, to the lack of bike lanes on many San Luis Obispo streets, to whether the shared bikes will take away passengers from riding public busses. At the end, most council members expressed cautious optimism that a bike-share program could work in the city.

“So what I’m hearing is more of a preference for some kind of hybrid docked system that has the flexibility to go different places,” said interim transportation manager Luke Schwartz near the end of the discussion. “But really, [the bikes] should be parked in a proper place, whether that be a special dock or a standard bike rack.”

City officials said what they don’t want are undocked rental bikes ending up all over the city, laying across sidewalks and blocking accessibility. And if San Luis Obispo chooses to go with a dockless system, there are other considerations.

“The carbon emissions from vehicles driving around to collect [the bikes], to charge them, to return them, can sometimes have a greater carbon impact,” said resident Eric Veium.

Vieum joined some council members in supporting the inclusion of electric bikes in a share system. Downtown SLO Director Bettina Swigger noted there are no bike lanes on Higuera or other downtown streets, and that a lot more tourists on rented bikes could cause issues for the downtown. But she said a bikeshare system could help with commuting.

“I think this may be a way to encourage a park and ride regional approach,” said Swigger.

What’s called the micromobility industry has exploded over the past five years with bike shares, scooters and other types of devices used as a mode of transportation. Schwartz and the city’s active transportation manager, Adam Fukushima, gave a presentation on the numbers, including how usage of Santa Cruz’s bike-share program went from 11,000 trips per month to 40,000 per month in just under a year.

After the scooter company Bird attempted an unpermitted launch of shared scooters in San Luis Obispo last year, scooters are banned, the council agreed this week, and will remain so. Leading up to Tuesday night’s meeting, KCBX News surveyed people in downtown San Luis Obispo about bike-share systems. The response? Overwhelmingly positive.

“I think it would be a great idea, especially for the freshman kids at Cal Poly who can’t have cars,” said Amy Stith. “Then they’d have the ability and safety to ride around town on the bicycles.”

Kris Hazard also likes the idea of shared bikes, as long as infrastructure like bike lanes are improved.

“If they have enough bike paths,” Hazard said. “Because you get so many people using [the bikes] that it’s sometimes not safe with all the traffic.”

The type of bike-share system can make a big different, said Charles Skinner, who is familiar with multiple options.

“There’s the cities that have the docking stations that make it hard to go to your destination,” Skinner said. “But if you have Lime bikes or Ofos, where you just park it on the street, then it’s a lot better.”

Jason Scott used to live in Kansas City, which has a bike-share program, and he is a fan of the docking stations.

“It’s super cool—there’s racks where there are bike, you can walk up to,” Scott said. “You check out your bike, you go ride it to a location, and you can check it into a different rack at a different location.”

Keshawn Taber thinks either option would be great to help a lot of people “get around town, go get food..even people who work jobs in the area, [it would] be really nice to take a cool little 15 minute bike ride down the road,” Taber said.

City staff said they would do further research before coming back before the council with more concrete plans.