There it was, a neon-orange Spin bike parked on the very edge of a busy sidewalk, perfectly positioned to block the pedestrian traffic from the crosswalk in the northeastern corner of 14th and K streets. Anyone crossing and rushing to work Tuesday morning had to go around it.
In the two weeks since Spin and other dockless bike-share operations launched in Washington, the colorful bikes are proving popular — but also showing up in unwanted and inappropriate places.
They have been spotted badly parked against poles and trees, left strewn in the middle of sidewalks. Blocking home entrances. Taking over Capital Bikeshare docks.
The National Park Service has seized more than a dozen found abandoned inside memorials, sidewalks and parking lots.
A LimeBike was left inside a Metro station.
Another one was abandoned on the edge of the Arlington side of the Memorial Bridge.
“You know what I’ve never seen there? A @bikeshare bike,” tweeted Christopher Jewell, referring to the region’s station-based bike-share system in a tweet with a photo showing the green bicycle under the bridge.
It turned out, a woman had dragged the bike there. Joe Khawly caught her on video, vandalizing the bicycle and dragging it until it fell under the bridge. He then posted it on Twitter.
In the struggle down the hill, Khawly said, the bike’s front light was broken. Khawly alerted D.C. police and LimeBike about the incident.
— Christopher Jewell (@cdjewell) September 29, 2017
— Joe Khawly (@Joe_Khawly) September 28, 2017
These cases, documented on social media and neighborhood blogs, are igniting complaints. Common sense would tell you, critics say, that even if the bike-share model implies that you can “park anywhere,” it doesn’t really mean “anywhere.” The toughest critics say the bikes are “sidewalk clutter” and “a menace.”
Similar, if not much worse, situations have plagued the cities in China and elsewhere overseas where dockless operations have been revolutionizing the bike-share industry.
Vandalism and theft have been a problem in many of those cities. Shanghai has seized thousands of illegally parked bikes. In cities across China, bikes clog sidewalks and pile up outside transit stations, office buildings and shopping centers. Broken bikes are dumped by highways. In Britain, bikes were being thrown in a canal in Manchester.
In the United States, images on Twitter show bikes in some odd places in Seattle, the first major city in the country to allow the start-ups.
— Lindsay Cohen (@lindsaycohen) August 25, 2017
— Dockless Bike Fail (@DocklessBike) September 21, 2017
— Dockless Bike Fail (@DocklessBike) September 18, 2017
Companies say they haven’t had many reports of such bad behaviors in Washington and promise to address the problem before it gets out of hand. Some companies hope to encourage better behavior by awarding users credits for following the rules or reporting broken or illegally parked bikes.
“We recognize there will always be folks that want to abuse the system for one reason or another, but most of the time that wears off quickly as the community comes to love the service,” a Mobike spokeswoman said.
Users can see the boundaries of the allowable parking zones clearly marked on the map in the Mobike app, she said. And, if a user parks in a prohibited area, he or she gets a text reminding them to move the bike.
Spin’s chief executive Derrick Ko sent us this statement:
Spin continues to strongly encourage riders to park legally. In the very few cases that our riders do not park legally, our maintenance team uses the GPS technology to swiftly remove and redeploy the bikes to the appropriate areas. While it’s unfortunate that this may be an issue, we’d like to use this opportunity to encourage our riders to be conscious and park responsibly. We have had amazing usage since launch, and we are committed to making this program a success in the nation’s capital. We’re working with local bicycling advocacy groups, nonprofits and DDOT to educate Washingtonians on the benefits of biking and how to responsibly use dockless bikes.
The National Park Service is warning users about the restrictions on park land. The bikes are prohibited inside memorials and monuments and can’t be left on park property.
National Parks spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said the dockless bike-share services do not have authorization to operate on NPS land in the D.C. area, and park officials have reached out to DDOT and bike-share companies to address the issue.
“Bikes parked in a manner that interferes with visitor safety, orderly management of the park area, or presents a threat to park resources are subject to impoundment,” Anzelmo-Sarles said. “All riders are reminded to park their bicycles at designated racks; any property left unattended may be removed.”
Metro said so far the bikes haven’t been a problem at transit stations, but spokeswoman Sherri Ly said the agency wants to “remind anyone using a dockless bike to please park it in an appropriate location, outside of the station and away from any entrance, stairs, escalators or pathway.”
Critics say that if the city allows more bikes, it could become a larger concern. District transportation officials say they are allowing each company to have only 400 bikes on the ground so that the number is manageable and bikes don’t end up piling on sidewalks, as has been the experience in other cities. Four companies are currently operating: Mobike, Spin, LimeBike and Jump.
“I don’t expect the bikes will sit very long in a high-demand location,” Sam Zimbabwe of the D.C. Department of Transportation said before the dockless bike-share operations launched Sept. 20. He said it’s the responsibility of the operators to ensure users know how to legally park. It’s also the responsibility of operators to rebalance and move bikes left at prohibited locations.
“We are starting smaller than some operators would like to see, but at what we think is a good balance until we have a chance to see how the service operates,” he said.