I used bike share for the first time in November to get to a meeting on Harbor Drive, cycling over from Fourth Avenue and B Street. It was blissfully easy – the checkout worked great, bike mechanics were smooth, it was $15 cheaper than parking and somehow it felt safer than regular cycling. The experience of riding a bike-share bike in my hometown gave me a rush of pure joy — it felt like the world I’d only dreamed could be possible had actually come true.
And yet, despite its potential, the program in San Diego is moribund because of underuse and will surely die unless some major overhauls are made. Fortunately, anyone who cares about this program and wants to speak in support of the changes that could keep it alive will be well-armed: The challenges have been enumerated by a County Grand Jury report, and the city’s independent budget analyst has developed clear responses, including designating a city point of contact for the program, and allowing more stations in high-volume tourist destinations, like Pacific Beach and La Jolla. The City Council’s Committee on Smart Growth and Land Use will consider these issues and potential solutions on Wednesday.
Now, as I write this, I can hear the objections bubbling up. There is a very familiar line of logic in San Diego that says, “Hey, we tried to do the ‘right’ thing – greenhouse gas reduction, bike share, all that jazz – but it turns out people don’t want to use it! If they did, it wouldn’t be underused and failing.” Ah, San Diego. We have this image of ourselves as caring about “the right stuff,” like the environment and water quality – but when push comes to shove, we never want to open our wallets and actually pay the cost (or make the organizational changes required) that would allow something like bike share to truly succeed.
Allow me to bring up several exhibits on this point: A) Single-family homeowners in the city of San Diego still don’t pay for trash pickup, but somehow expect clean streets and a clean environment. B) MTS, our transit agency, and SANDAG, its governing body, continue to be so hung up on the idea of “fare box recovery” that we can’t develop a user-friendly transit system.