Scottsdale bike-share program popularity meets Old Town chagrin

A view of when a bicycle from the Scottsdale bike-share program is not conscientiously left behind for the next user (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

If you build it, they will come — and, turns out, if you offer a bicycle — they will ride it.

Increasing the usage of bicycles in the city of Scottsdale, specifically downtown Scottsdale, has been a focus of municipal leaders for more than five years, Scottsdale city officials say.

And, last summer, Scottsdale transportation officials got their wish.

“Last summer two dockless bike-share companies that already had successful launches in other U.S. cities wanted to bring their business to Scottsdale,” said Transportation Department spokeswoman Jennifer Banks in a Jan. 16 phone interview.  “There are no city ordinances or state laws prohibiting bike-share companies from conducting business in Scottsdale, and they were able to launch their operations by mid-November.”

There are a total of four bike-share companies operating within Scottsdale city limits:

  • LimeBike, which are green and yellow bicycles;
  • Spin, which are orange bicycles;
  • Ofo, which are yellow bicycles; and
  • GR:D, which are all green bicycles.

Originally, Scottsdale officials say, the plan was to develop a municipal bike-share program that would have bicycles rented and returned to docking stations.

“The cost to the city for a 20 station, 200-bike setup would have been approximately $1.5 million and was not funded,” Ms. Banks said of the original plan.

“Recent bike-share technology enables customers to use a smartphone app to rent the nearest bike and then park it at their destination. The bikes have a kickstand and do not require a bike rack or docking station to be appropriately and legally placed. Once the bike is relocked, it becomes available for the next customer.”

Ms. Banks says the bike-share companies are all privately owned and independently operated at no cost to the city or taxpayer.

The new bike-share program has been a welcomed sight for some and a public nuisance for others, city officials contend.

To address both insights and concerns, the Scottsdale Transportation Department is presenting information on the first two months of bike-share operation at the Transportation Commission meeting 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18 at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

A request for comment from LimeBike went unanswered.

An orderly drop point in downtown Scottsdale where the bike-share program has gained immediate popularity. (Submitted photo/Guy Phillips)

Barrage of bicycles

Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips Monday, Jan. 8 asked for a formal discussion on the local dais on the mitigation and regulation of the ongoing bike-share program.

That measure passed 5 to 2 with council members Virginia Korte and Linda Milhaven dissenting, city records show.

“Since the first day bikes were dropped off I have received emails and phone calls from residents complaining about the unsightly barrage of bicycles downtown,” he said in a Jan. 16 statement to the Independent. “Others are upset to the point that we are finding bikes in the canals, in bent-up piles in yards, and even one in the fountain at City Hall.”

Residents and business owners have been in contact with Councilman Phillips and have submitted opinion pieces to the Scottsdale Independent.

Guy Phillips

“My foremost concern is the safety of our residents and the accessibility of the handicapped,” Councilman Phillips explained.

“Bicycles are continuously blocking sidewalks and street corners making it hard if not impossible for the handicapped to get around. I am also very concerned about the liability to the city if anyone gets injured on the bikes or because of them.”

Councilman Phillips points out public art installations have been transformed into makeshift docking stations.

“I also don’t appreciate the bikes being dropped off at various public art sites, blocking the tourists from getting pictures without bikes in front of them,” he said. “Our downtown merchants are also complaining of bicycles blocking their doorways.”

This was supposed to be a trial basis, Councilman Phillips says.

“Last I heard there were four companies and 4,000 bikes dumped in our downtown,” he said. “This way exceeds the ‘trial basis’ the council agreed to.”

When asked where the idea for the bike-share program originated, Councilman Phillips replied, “apparently it came from our Transportation Department and possibly a couple others with persuasion who view this as some futuristic way to reduce or eliminate automobiles.”

Councilman Phillips says he believes the issue has gotten out of control on downtown streets meanwhile transportation officials believe the program has already exceeded the use it had originally anticipated.

“Bike-share use in Scottsdale has exceeded bike-share use in other Valley cities,” said Scottsdale Transportation Director Paul Basha in a prepared statement. “Many are taking advantage of this healthy, convenient and environmentally friendly way to visit the wide variety of businesses and amenities Scottsdale offers.”

Councilman Phillips asks at what cost is this bike-share program really being realized?

“This bike-share program was touted as a great benefit to downtown travelers at no cost to the city,” he said. “However, if we are now using public safety in the form of 9-1-1 calls and police calls to come get them then it is costing us in time and resources that could be used elsewhere.”

Lisa Johnson, Scottsdale Transportation Planning and Transit operations manager, says the transportation department is aware of the initial struggles with some user behavior.

“Unfortunately, users do not always consider right of way, wheelchair accessibility or aesthetics when parking a bike,” she said in a prepared statement. “We welcome and are collecting all feedback in an effort to evaluate the impact of bike share companies on the city. If someone had a concern about placement of a bike, it’s best to call the bike company directly.”

‘Voluntary reduction and stepped up response’

Councilman Phillips says he is looking to develop a formal response to resident and proprietor outcry.

“I certainly am hoping staff will come up with voluntary reductions and stepped up response by the companies and/or regulations by the city,” he said.

Scottsdale bike-share participants cruising the streets near and around downtown Scottsdale. (Submitted photo/Guy Phillips)

“What we don’t want to end up doing is taking over responsibility of these bikes because then it would be costing us in manpower and resources to police them. The bottom line is that if these companies can’t address the bike dumping in a quick and efficient manner and the bicycle renters can’t be more responsible and courteous then we don’t need or want them in our downtown.”

Ms. Banks says the popularity of the bike-share program has exceeded expectations.

“While the city has received some complaints, mostly about bike placement, bike-share on the whole has been far more popular than we expected,” she said. “Bike usage has exceeded that of neighboring cities, but the city welcomes all feedback about bike-share.”

Ms. Banks explains that bike-share company contact information is available on the bikes themselves, in the associated apps or on Scottsdale’s Transportation Department website: scottsdaleaz.gov/transportation.

Councilman Phillips says he is taking a proactive approach to bike-share consternation beginning to swirl in downtown Scottsdale.

“From the first I heard of them, I have been proactive by getting the council to discuss this issue,” he said.

“I think its better to get a handle on this as soon as possible, rather than the ‘wait and see what happens’ attitude expressed by others. I would like to get this issue settled before Spring Training or we could see another thousand bikes dumped in our downtown.”

Councilman Phillips says a date has not yet been decided on the Scottsdale City Council bike-share discussion.

A bicycle left in the fountain at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (Submitted photo/Guy Phillips)

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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