I had a Seattle traffic safety epiphany while riding Long Beach's wonderful, legacy bike share system – Seattle Bike Blog

I had a Seattle traffic safety epiphany while riding Long Beach’s wonderful, legacy bike share system – Seattle Bike Blog

A line of blue bicycles locked to racks on a sidewalk.  The walkway is clear.

During the long train ride from Los Angeles to Long Beach, I tried to figure out whether it would be better to wait for a bus to my friend’s apartment or just walk it instead. But as I stepped off the A Line, the obvious answer was staring right at me: Long Beach Bike Share. They were right there, parked in a neat and orderly line rather than lying on their side or blocking a curb ramp. It was easy to use and cost me less than a dollar to travel a mile along a couple of the city’s very high-quality protected bike lanes. It was the most pleasant bike share experience I have had in years, and it didn’t even have electric assist.

The experience gave me an epiphany of sorts. Seattle and King County are perfectly situated to steal a handful of great ideas from around the country and mash them together to solve several big transportation problems. And the piece at the center of it all is so simple: Street corner daylighting bike racks. The city could establish a public-private partnership between SDOT, King County and micromobility service providers to fund on-street bike and scooter parking corrals at every intersection with a crosswalk, improving crosswalk safety while also increasing the supply of bike parking to a level that could finally get scooters and bikes out of the middle of the sidewalk. The corrals would also help with bike/bus synergy by providing proper bike racks near bus stops so people don’t end up locking to the bus stop sign because it’s the only fixed pole on the block.

Hoboken shows the power of daylighting intersections

Aerial diagram of an intersection with a driver's visual cone highlighted to demonstrate how daylighting intersections works.
How daylighting intersections makes them safer from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, of which SDOT is an engaged member.

Hoboken, New Jersey, garnered astonished headlines across the nation earlier this year when the city announced it had reached seven consecutive years without a traffic fatality. At a time when traffic deaths are rising at an alarming rate across the nation, Washington State, and Seattle, Hoboken’s success is a beacon of hope. And their solutions to dangerous crosswalks aren’t anything that Seattle has not also done successfully. The difference is that they have implemented them nearly everywhere. They extend the curbs to make the crosswalks shorter and, vitally, push back the on-street parking far enough so that everyone at the intersection can see each other. When rebuilding a street, use concrete. Otherwise, use temporary materials like paint, posts, parking stops or planters to create lower-cost curb extensions and on-street bike parking areas. These solutions all achieve the same end goals of calming traffic, “daylighting” the intersection so people can see each other, and shortening the crosswalk distance.

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These interventions save lives and make streets feel much more comfortable and inviting. And since it is already illegal to park within 20 feet of a crosswalk under Washington State law, the only thing we “give up” are illegal parking spaces. It’s a no-lose trade-off.

SDOT already knows how to build all of these solutions and has done so successfully many times. But many isn’t good enough. We need these solutions everywhere. Every single crosswalk on a street with on-street parking needs these interventions. I have no idea how many we’re talking about here, but surely thousands if you count each corner. So we need to be building them at a rate many, many times faster than we are currently going.

Bike and scooter sharing that doesn’t impede accessibility

The prevalence of illegally-parked bikes and scooters is not as bad as it once was during the $1 bike days, but it’s still not good enough. A big part of the problem is that even if a user parks correctly, other people can knock them over (either on accident or on purpose), turning them into a hazard or accessibility blocker. We need places where they can be parked that are at least somewhat separated from walkways and curb ramps.

The big problem with the idea of ​​requiring shared bikes and scooters to be parked at bike racks has always been that there just aren’t enough bike racks. Plus, people who actually need to lock their bikes need to use those racks. The obvious solution has been staring us in the face this whole time: Build more bike racks and designated bike/scooter parking areas. Once there are enough of them, the city may require companies to either offer a credit for parking in a designated parking area or levy a fee for devices parked outside these areas. Or if bike racks really were at every intersection, the city could require bikes and scooters to be parked within designated areas only.

In return for contributing funding and promoting the use of designated parking areas, bike and scooter share companies would gain significant increases in the amount of public space essentially reserved for their devices. They could also perhaps get some kind of guarantee that adequate parking will be available in convenient spots at the busiest locations, including Sound Transit stations, ferry terminals, parks, and stadiums. The city has already had successful experiments with bike corrals that include some physical racks alongside some open space designated for shared bikes and scooters, so those seem like worthy templates to replicate.

When dockless bike and scooter companies first arrived, being dockless was the primary reason they succeeded where Pronto failed. They could be used anywhere, but Pronto was limited to just 50 stations spread out across the city center and U District. But what’s old is new again, and finding a way to retain the orderliness of the docks without impeding usability may be the way of the future. Including bike/scooter corrals near crosswalks all over town seems like a perfect opportunity to achieve this goal.

Long Beach’s unusual place in bike share history

Selfie of the author biking in a protected bike lane.

Long Beach Bike Share could only have been created during a very short window in bike share history, a time when the industry was shifting from smart dock systems (like New York’s CitiBike or Seattle’s old Pronto system) to smart bike systems, but had not yet been overrun by the private dockless bike share services we know so well in Seattle.

A blue bike share bike with some electronics attached to it.
The Lime e-bike’s great-great-great-grandparent, still living the good life in southern California.

Long Beach’s system is a hybrid model that uses an ancient non-electric ancestor of the current Lime e-bikes. Made by a company that was then called Social Bicycles (which became JUMP then was bought by Uber and then was merged into Lime as part of a complicated Uber investment deal) the bikes are made to be locked to special bike share only bike racks that they still refer to as “docks.” But unlike traditional bike share docks, the technology to lock, unlock and pay for rides is all handled by interacting with a phone app and a computer on the bike itself. The dock is really just a metal bike rack that you’re not supposed to use with your private bike. It is essentially the same technology used by the first generation of Portland’s Biketown system, though Biketown has since moved on to a different system operated by Lyft.

I was surprised by how much I loved Long Beach Bike Share. But let’s be real, it doesn’t make sense to have two different sets of bike racks taking up precious right of way. The technology Social Bicycles helped invent also sort of made the dedicated bike share dock obsolete. Sure enough, on my second ride I had trouble finding a dock without pulling over to look at the map on my phone. I passed through a lot of city bike racks on my way to an official dock. Yet I love using it, and the 80¢ bill I got for my first ride made me nostalgic for the days of super-low-cost bike share rides. Those prices are unlikely to return without public subsidy (which Seattle is not planning to provide), but still. It was nice.

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