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

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 situated perfectly 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. In 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 have 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 share that doesn’t impede accessibility

The prevalence of illegally-parking 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 a places they can be parked that are at least somewhat separate 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 can 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, the 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 by 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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7 responses to “I had a Seattle traffic safety epiphany while riding Long Beach’s wonderful, legacy bike share system”

  1. Steve

    I’m an avid bike rider and I went to Salt Lake City to a tradeshow and had some time in the afternoon so I looked at the rental bikes including Lime. But I opted to do the scooters. I have to say they’re great fun. They have a 60 minute special price, they also have pause for 15 minutes, which I used frequently to go in and out of stores since I hadn’t been in Salt Lake City before. Different experience than yours.

  2. dave

    I love this idea.

  3. Al Dimond

    Re: “Once there are enough of them, the city can require companies to either offer a credit for parking in a designated parking area…”

    If we wait until there are “enough” special racks to address bikeshare bikes being left in the way we’ll be waiting a long time. The accessibility issues are urgent. Even the less-urgent issues of people leaving bikes in places that impede popular bike paths is pretty damn annoying. We can’t wait for infrastructure projects to address that.

    Trying to address this by enforcement is always going to have the problems and limitations that enforcement has. I bet there are ways to improve messages/instructions around parking that encourage people to think empathetically about others, especially people that need curb ramps. Of course there are always people that don’t listen and don’t care but… this seems like an opportunity to plant a seed of care in people’s minds.

    1. Al Dimond

      FWIW I also don’t know how plausible it is to offer incentives for parking considerately … can GPS get that kind of precision consistently and quickly enough? The distinction that makes the difference isn’t designated zone vs. not, but being in the way vs. not. I’m dubious that GPS (plus compass and orientation sensors, working with existing or easy-to-compile GIS data) could tell us what we really care about. In some cases (like Fremont Bridge approaches) we should simply be more draconian and say, “There’s no place to end a trip here and no reason to, ride to an actual destination,” but in most places it’s way more granular.

      1. Braeden

        Many of the systems I use require you to take a photo of the parked vehicle to end the ride. Presumably these could be used to make the call whether it’s parked well, or not. I bet this is something a good image recognition algorithm could solve pretty well these days with a human backed appeals process.

        The city could fine the companies for poorly parked bikes, call it a “public space use charge”, and encourage them to pass the “charge” on to the riders. Have Parking Enforcement handle it.

        I bet the revenues over a decade or so would more than cover the $1-2mill for an initial 1,000 or so corner corrals near intersections like Tom suggests. Build those first with an upfront investment and if you thread the needle right you could probably avoid too much backlash or damage to the dockless economic model hinges on convenience.

      2. Al Dimond

        Here in the future we love the simple joy of riding a bike. You’ll just need powerful batteries, GPS, Internet connectivity, and image-recognition software. Let’s just hope you don’t have somewhere to be when you need to initiate the “human appeals process” at the end of your ride.

        Anyway seems like it would be pretty easy to take a picture from an angle where it doesn’t look like the bike is in the way. If someone can’t summon the empathy to avoid blocking a curb ramp that’s the obvious move, right? If, as a society, we can’t socialize that kind of empathy in general we have more important things to worry about than the convenience of having throwaway bikes at our disposal everywhere we go.

  4. Ronald Kessler

    Paris has many Lime bikes. By law if you don’t dock it at one of the many racks Lime charges the credit card 30 euros. It works.

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