‘It’s not for me’: how San Francisco’s bike-share scheme became a symbol of gentrification

A bike-sharing strategy has triggered outrage and vandalism from the individuals who see it as designed for affluent, white professionals not locals

A mutilated bicycle was spotted hanging in a tree on a San Francisco street. Another was dumped in a pond in Oakland. Nearby, a row of parked motorcycles had their tires slashed.

The Ford-sponsored bike-share program has suffered a rocky expansion in California this summer, marked by a spate of bizarre and destructive acts of vandalism. That may be in part due to the fact that in the Bay Area, the corporate-funded cycling system has become an unlikely flashpoint in the war over gentrification, with critics slamming the bright blue bicycles as another sign of wealthy foreigners are moving forward and transforming communities where they are not greet.

Defenders of bike-sharing- meant to provide a convenient mode of transportation around San Francisco and parts of Silicon Valley- say the program has become a scapegoat for people upset about the region’s housing crisis and rising income inequality.

” Bike-share is coming into cities at a time when neighborhoods are undergoing tremendous change ,” said Dani Simons, spokeswoman for Motivate, the company that operates the Ford GoBike program in the Bay Area and similar systems in New York City, Washington DC and Boston.

Bike lanes have often become proxies in urban conflicts over gentrification, seen as a street design geared to young professionals, techies and hipsters and a pathway to trendy coffee shops, high-end retail and luxury apartments. In recent years, bike-share programs in particular have stirred up disagreement in cities across the US, especially when they arrive in areas that are typically lacked adequate city services and are now facing rapid displacement.

Following backlashes in a wide range of American cities, the Bay Area is the latest to face the heat for house a system where residents can drop off and pick up motorcycles for short trips, similar to programs that have long been popular and successful throughout Europe.

The contentious debate around public space is a familiar one in San Francisco, where there have been intense protests against Google buses and other private corporate shuttles that transport wealthy tech workers from the city to the company campuses in Silicon Valley. Tech-induced gentrification has become so extreme that many working-class people have been pushed to far-away suburbs, forced to commute for hours each day to get to the city.

” We’re letting corporations do whatever the hell they want, while the everyday folk don’t counting ,” said Roberto Hernandez, a lifelong resident of the Mission district, a Latino neighborhood that is ground zero for gentrification.” When you look at the transportation privileges that have been provided for these techies, and when you now look at these bikes, it’s not for Juan. It ain’t for Pablo … The feeling of people in this community is like we don’t exist .”

Since the bike-share system expanded in San Francisco and Oakland in June, there have been more than 400 incidents of vandalism, according to Simons. While assaults in Portland had explicit political messages (” our city is not a corporate amusement park” and” Nike[ the sponsor] detests the poor “), the motives behind the incidents in the Bay Area haven’t always been clear.

Simons said it is common for the systems to be targeted by vandals when they first appear. But she said she hoped people concerned about affordability in San Francisco could see the program as part of the solution to transportation challenges in increasingly dense urban areas:” Bike-share is cities trying to figure out how to accommodate more people … sustainably and affordably .”

Supporters of the program said it could help people struggling to make ends meet and claimed it is one of the most accessible in the country, with a$ 5 annual membership for low-income people and options to sign up without a credit or debit card.

A cyclist in San Francisco.’ Bike share is cities trying to figure out how to accommodate more people … sustainably and affordably ,’ says a spokesperson for the program. Photo: Alamy

Rene Rivera, executive director of Bike East Bay, an advocacy group in Oakland that has promoted the bike-share program , noted that there’s a long history of transportation developments damaging communities of coloring. In West Oakland, a historically black area, the government built roads, a major train line and other projects that rent apart the existing residential neighborhood in the mid-2 0th century. The area was subsequently underserved by the city.

” Roads don’t get paved. Roads aren’t safe. Basic pedestrian security is dismissed ,” Rivera said.” So when you see some shiny new infrastructure come in, whether motorcycle lanes or motorcycle sharing … and you are seeing more affluent white people come into the neighborhoods, it’s natural to have the reaction,’ This new thing is not for me. This new thing is for white professionals .'” Rivera said his group has tried to counter that resentment by partnering with a number of local organizations to do outreach.

Across the bay in San Francisco, Erick Arguello, president of a Latino cultural district, said longtime residents have good reason to be skeptical of the program and are frustrated that the existing communities weren’t involved in planning.

” We don’t support any vandalism, but I do understand the indignation ,” he said. Hernandez, co-founder of a group called Our Mission No Eviction, said there should’ve been more deliberations about whether removing car parking for certain stations could hurt longtime businesses.

” We have to protect the little that we got left ,” he said.” Overnight, they just came and set this up. They had no respect for this community .”

Mario, a San Francisco user of the bike-share program, who has a discounted membership because he qualifies for food stamps, said he was amazed by the backlash.

” It’s the cheapest transportation alternative we have ,” said the 29 -year-old, who works as an administrative assistant and asked not to use his full name, because he feared backlash from anti-gentrification activists.

The vandalism is” hurting people that actually use this”, he added.” It merely induces us in the neighborhood various kinds of look childish if we start burning and graffiting everything. I think it’s really sad, because a lot of people depend on these motorcycles .”

Activists shouldn’t be worried about the bikes describing wealthy tech employees to the neighborhood, Mario added:” The people who have money are just going to take an Uber .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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