Seattle bikes left in bizarre places; share program sends message to ‘bad players'

by: Ashli Blow, KIRO 7 News Digital Producer Updated:

From submerged into Lake Union to parked atop the Fremont troll, people are dumping bikes belonging to Seattle’s popular free-floating share programs in unusual places.  

KIRO 7 News first reported on irresponsibly parked bikes in mid-August when some bikes began blocking right-of-ways, dotted city park lawns, and created possible accessibility issues on sidewalks.

>> See photos of irresponsibly parked bikes here. 

Unlike the city’s last, failed, bike share Pronto – where cyclists had to rent and return bikes at kiosks – this free-floating system make it easy for riders to secure one of the nearly 2,000 bikes through an app and then leave it wherever their journey ends.

Recently, many Reddit users have speculated that some cyclists are leaving bikes, mostly from LimeBike as photos show, in bizarre places as a way to prank the companies.

Bike left on a piling near Sand Point. Credit: Tyler Harbick

“We are aware. We have a very loyal and responsive LimeBike community of riders that let us know of these incidents right away. Fortunately, these incidents have been rare,” LimeBike spokesman Jack Song told KIRO 7. “Our operations team retrieves these illegally placed (not parked) bikes immediately."

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“A message that we do want to send to the bad players is: Destroying any of the bikes in the bikeshare ecosystem is illegal and morally wrong,” Song continued. “People depend on the bikes for work, last-minute travels, emergencies. It is an attack on the overall transportation system in Seattle. Sometimes, it puts the lives of our LimeBike operations crew and our city partners, like Seattle Department of Transportation, in danger when we retrieve the illegally placed bikes.”

The city of Seattle and bike share companies — LimeBike, Spin, ofo — say they are working together to work out these growing pains. Here’s what we know about their effort.

How are bike share regulations enforced?

KIRO 7 News talked to Department of Transportation. Spokesman Norm Mah in mid-August, and he said it's up to the bike share operator to inform the customer on how to park a bicycle properly in accordance with city rules.

LimeBike and Spin agreed to this by obtaining a permit from the city to run their business, Mah said.

A LimeBike improperly parked at a sidewalk corner near the Space Needle. (Image: KIRO 7)

The City of Seattle has an eight-page document on how cyclists should properly park when using free floating bike systems. Read the permit requirements here.

According to that document, bicycles shouldn’t be left at corners of sidewalks and obstruct pathways for pedestrians. But some share cyclists are doing just that, which is not only in violation of rules in the company’s permit requirements, but also violates the Seattle Municipal Code.

Seattle Municipal Code states, “No person shall stop, stand or park a vehicle on or over a sidewalk, whether constructed or not.”

City law is clear about immovable objects such as parked cars, but police said it’s not clear that a bike is illegal under that section of the Seattle Municipal Code. It’s certainly not a case in which they’d write a ticket.

“Typically, we just pick it up and move it,” Seattle Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said of bikes in the middle of the sidewalk.

Even if police were to give a ticket, they’d need clear evidence of a rider who left the bike improperly. 

Mah said the city receives a complaint, then the city has the authority to remove a bike parked in same place for seven days. Bikes removed by City to Seattle crews are taken to a city facility for storage at the expense of the bike share operator.

But with the popularity of the bike program, many bikes do not stay parked incorrectly parked for more than a few hours.  

“If a citizen contacts us and there’s a bike left in the right-of-way, we really would, then contact the bike share operator to let them know,” Mah told KIRO 7. “We want to be able to work with the bike share operators for compliance."

Seattle residents can also complain to the companies about incorrectly parked bikes by calling the number on the bikes, which can be found on top tube of the bike between the saddle and the handle bars. LimeBike reminds that in its app, users can report any misplaced bikes. 

Seattle residents can also complain to the companies about incorrectly parked bikes by calling the number on the bikes, which can be found on top tube of the bike between the saddle and the handle bars. (Image: KIRO 7)

Do these companies penalize people parking irresponsibly?

Despite urging riders to “park responsibility” on their apps and websites, LimeBike and Spin are not currently penalizing riders who park incorrectly. But company leaders take the concern seriously.

Spin officials told KIRO7 that they study the data that tracks the whereabouts of their bikes to help better service the community, which could include how they could better enforce proper parking.

Penalties are something to consider, “especially for someone who is misusing the system,” Spin CEO Derrick Ko told KIRO 7 News. LimeBike Seattle general manager Dan Stone said the company is working to better educate its customers on where to park at the end of a ride.

“Our bikes should not be hindering accessibility in any way,” he said. “We very much appreciate the feedback we’ve been getting from users and concerned citizens to let us know where this may have occurred so we can work to correct the issue, both with our local operations team and through customer education of the new dockless bike share model.”

Is Seattle going to change parking regulations?

The pilot program, which is midway through, is going well, according to Mah. 

The three bike share compaines in Seattle are premitted to have 1,000 bikes in the city and that will increase to 2,000 per company in September, which is the third month of the pilot. 

Bikes parked near bike racks, as recommened by bike share companies.

LimeBike wrote on its blog in early August that within the first week of the company's launch, about 10,000 people went on rides with its bikes.

Mah reports that the city is monitoring the pilot and will evaluate it at the end of the six-month program to determine what works best for Seattle.

According to the permit, Seattle retains right to create geo-fenced areas where bikes can park. 

The programs don’t require city funding, according to Mah.

How do I park my bike correctly?

Bikes should park within the furniture zone of a sidewalk, which is the space between the right-of-way of pedestrians and the street where bike racks are often found.

Here are some other rules rides should keep in mind when parking:

  • Simply, the sidewalk where you walk is not permitted parking.
  • Bicycles should be parked upright
  • Bicycles should not be left in city parks’ greenspaces
  • Do not park on sidewalk corners
  • Consider parking the bike near a bike rack

You can find a Seattle right-of-way manual on the City of Seattle website here. It outlines specifics about landscape, furniture, pedestrian, and frontage zones.

Companies like LimeBike strongly encourage parking bicycle within codes because that’s how free-floating systems stay dockless.

 

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