A bike-sharing strategy has sparked outrage and vandalism from the individuals who see it as designed for affluent, white professionals not locals
The Ford-sponsored bike-share program has suffered a bumpy 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 outsiders are moving forward and transforming communities where they are not greeting.
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, spokesperson 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 shop, high-end retail and luxury apartments. In recent years, bike-share programs in particular have stirred up dispute in cities across the US, especially when they arrive in areas that have traditionally 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 hot for build a system whereby residents can drop off and pick up bikes for short trip-ups, 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 bus 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 alternatives to sign up without a credit or debit card.
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