We’ve had the opportunity over the past weekend to spend some time in San Diego. If the Bay Area of the city is representative of the overall, this city has readily embraced the bicycle as an alternative to automotive travel. In the bay area we’ve counted at least four different bike sharing services - OFO, LimeBike, and Mobike offer dockless bike sharing services, and a Discover (card) branded bike using a docking station is also present. In addition, there are a handful of electric-supported or simply outright electrically operated options - LimeBike offers e-bikes in the area, as well as electric scooters, for example, and there appear to be a couple of other scooter options in the area as well. This appears to reflect a flavor of the city in general, which also sports pedicabs and electric transports, and within the first two days we’d already seen a couple of tandem bikes in operation.
What this means is that it is a simple thing to grab one of these machines when one is wanting to move about the area. Literally, once one has navigated the process of setting up the app to interact with the cycle (which does take a few minutes in each case - entering a credit card number is still a pain in the ass) getting up and running is really as simple as opening the app and scanning the QR code on the machine. Then you are off and rolling.
The volume of bikes and scooters in the area is such that one can reliably trust that there will be a machine within a block or so when one is in need. I can easily see a system like this being a reasonable transportation option for a person living in an urban area that also does a decent job of supporting cycle-transport with its infrastructure.
For my part, I have primarily been using the OFO bikes. These are easily identifiable given their bright yellow color. They are a standard three-speed “cruiser” style bike. The model is selected with an eye toward durability - internal gear hubs and drum brakes make for limited maintenance. Each bike has fenders, a chain guard, and a front basket to make them friendly towards the utility rider. The OFO app also offered the first week for free which meant, given my time limited trip, I would pay nothing for my usage on this particular trip.
The city itself does offer cycling lanes in some of the streets, but otherwise offers a somewhat confusing picture of where cycles can be ridden. In the gaslight district, for example - an historic potion of town offering multiple shops and restaurants - where to ride is unclear. There don’t appear to reliably be bike lanes in the streets, but the sidewalks offer no visible prohibition on bikes either. There are areas where signs are placed forbidding cycles, but these often occur suddenly in pathways that appear to have welcomed the machines just prior, leaving one with uncertain choices. In addition, when one dismounts to walk a bike, and is then passed by multiple people on electric scooters riding along on the same path it’s hard not to feel a little bitter - do they not qualify for the same restriction? (spoiler alert - they not only qualify, but more so...)
This article from the San Diego Union-Tribune from this spring suggests that non-electric bikes are allowed on sidewalks, but that electric items - scooters and e-bikes - are not. That article was published in March of 2018, suggesting that the dockless Bike sharing programs are a relatively new phenomenon for the city.
In general, it’s better to ride in the street where one can, to be certain, and I’m honestly surprised to find that San Diego doesn’t ban bikes on the sidewalks - this is certainly common practice in the Midwest. It will be interesting to see how the city adjusts to the influx of casual riders (who, one suspects, are probably more likely to want to be on the sidewalks) having ready access to a bicycle at whim. One suspects that the local laws may be adjusted as their experience with these questions increases.
For my part, it was nice to have a ride readily available while away from home. Of course, it would have been ideal for me if one of the companies would have offered a recumbent trike to rent, but that might be a bit much to ask. I suppose I can get by on an upright for a few days.