DecoBike stations are finally beginning to open throughout San Diego. But it looks like the company might have swapped the problems that delayed the bike-share system from opening several times for a whole new set.
Some of the first stations to get up and running are already facing issues – including that many of the solar-power stations were installed in shaded locations.
Many of the shaded stations face east and west. Ideally, the panels should face south to catch the most rays.
David Silverman, DecoBike’s vice president of operations, said the panels can be powered by “ambient light” and can be “shifted or adjusted to obtain maximum sun exposure.”
But that would ultimately mean that some of the stations, which stand about 6 feet high and are overshadowed by buildings that stand at 15 feet or more, would have to be relocated.
Meanwhile, workers are constantly driving around San Diego, swapping out the batteries in stations. A mechanic working on one stations said they have had to switch the batteries out constantly to ensure the stations will work properly, since many sit in the shade. The workers are in the process of retrofitting two batteries into each station so they can maintain power for a week. Because 60 out of the 180 stations are now up-and-running , the workers have had to shuttle bikes from station to station to ensure users can ride the bikes where they want, when they want.
And, because we’re talking about new things in neighborhoods, resident complaints have inevitably emerged – including stations that stamp out available parking, and stations in locations some consider dangerous, without appropriate notification to residents.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous that they would put a station here,” said Shirley Babior, who lives in a mixed-use complex in Mission Hills, near DecoBike’s Station 68. “People could die.”
Garbage and delivery trucks come in and out near the station, Babior pointed out, and DecoBike users will have to navigate the busy Falcon Street and the front of her complex’s sloped parking garage to return bikes to the station. She said the site choice ignores a serious safety hazard and that residents were denied the chance to speak out about the location because they received no prior notice.
Station 68 was originally slated to go in on the east side of Goldfinch Street, one block away. But business owners protested and the location was moved to Falcon Street in December.
San Diego’s Bicycle Programs Coordinator Thomas Landre and Katie Keach, a spokeswoman for Councilman Todd Gloria’s office, said residents of Babior’s complex did indeed receive a notice – a notice, meaning a single letter with no unit number was sent to the building that houses multiple units.
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DecoBike’s been problem-prone since the city entered into its 10-year partnership with the company in July 2013 as part of San Diego’s Bicycle Master Plan . The company’s bike-share program is a step toward the city’s desire to fill a “missing link in the public transit system, reduce a city’s travel-related carbon footprint and provide additional ‘green’ jobs related to system management and maintenance.”
The plan was finalized in December 2013 and outlines bike routes, programs and celebratory events to promote bicycling in San Diego.
Early on, the company announced its bike-sharing stations would be up and running between January and March 2014. But plans were delayed to May, then August, then October. The first few stations opened earlier this month, part of DecoBike’s gradual installation over the following weeks.
A DecoBike station at the intersection of 30th Street and University Avenue in North Park. // Photo by Dustin Michelson
The road to this stretch of San Diego’s Bicycle Master Plan has been messy. Here’s a rundown of some of the other problems and concerns that have emerged.
• In December the city was sued  by the Bankers Hill/Park West Community Association, which said the plan didn’t disclose the loss of an entire lane on Fifth Avenue to accommodate the bike-sharing program.
The city and DecoBike held multiple community meetings, but not much good came of them. Many communities say the meetings were disorganized and lacked a clear focus.
“It was never really clear, it was kind-of mysterious to be honest,” said Randolph Van Vleck, an advocate for transportation alternatives and bike and pedestrian safety through the City Heights Community Development Corporation.
• La Jolla wanted them, too. They didn’t get them because DecoBike couldn’t clearly explain what the program was and how it would work.
Joe LaCava, president of the La Jolla Community Planning Association, said in the three times the company and the city came to the planning group meeting with their proposal, there was no clear pitch.
“We never really got the conversation off the ground,” LaCava said. “I invested a lot of time with them and told them what we wanted to address but the presentations were incomplete, they didn’t have all the information on what the program was, or what would be included. They couldn’t answer all of our questions.”
LaCava said DecoBike left La Jolla with an agreement to revisit the community after the program had been implemented, presumably during the company’s Phase 2 installation cycle.
• North Park Planning Committee Public Facilities Subcommittee chair Dionné Carlson said the group thought the stations were too close together and made recommendations to the company for alternate locations. They weren’t changed.
• Uptown Planners, a community planning group that acts as an advisory board to the Hillcrest, Mission Hills, Bankers Hill and University Heights communities, said their group wasn’t consulted in the final station site decision for their neighborhoods.
Leo Wilson, chair of the Uptown Planners, said he thought the program was a good idea, but that the company’s outreach was problematic.
When the company approached the planning group in June, Wilson said, the station maps were outdated, so it didn’t represent the potential locations DecoBike was considering.
“I sent an email a month later asking for more updated information but never heard back,” Wilson said. “The finalized decision wasn’t a public process.”
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Apart from the shade issue, it’s still too soon to tell how well the new stations are functioning. We can see how things are rolling along in other cities, though. DecoBike systems in Miami are not doin’ it for their users lately. 
Miami DecoBike users have been complaining about extra charges on their credit cards and malfunctioning stations that don’t allow them to turn the bikes in.
Alex Mihaic, a customer service representative for DecoBike San Diego, said the company is using a new system here, so users shouldn’t be experiencing the same issues.