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Shared bikes deserve a good look

Johnson City Press • Mar 16, 2019 at 12:39 AM

Kudos to Johnson City leaders for thinking ahead on a potential need for regulation. A worldwide trend caught their attention, and they want to be ready if it ever arrives here.

As Staff Writer Zach Vance reported last week, bike-sharing services are not yet available in Johnson City, but don’t be surprised if you see them on our streets soon.

Bike-sharing allows a rider to briefly rent or even borrow a bicycle or motorized scooter at one location and leave it at another. Such programs are extremely popular in Asia and Europe, where hundreds of thousands of shared bike are on the streets. They are increasingly pedaling their way through U.S. cities, including Memphis and Chattanooga here in Tennessee.

Bike-sharing is a great concept, and it could be right for Johnson City. State of Franklin Road especially could use fewer cars, and with parking often at a premium in downtown Johnson City, shared bikes could ease the space crunch. Plus, bikes provide exercise and do not contribute to our polluted our environment.

But not all sharing services are built alike. Some have a rider pick up a bike at a dock and deposit it another dock within the same system. Others allow the rider to park it wherever the ride ends.

Anticipating their possible arrival, Johnson City Development Services Director Preston Mitchell has proposed an ordinance that would ban such “dockless” systems here, while “docked” services would be permissible under certain criteria. The ordinance also would restrict docking stations to private property and allow the city to seize a bicycle or motorized scooter if it is abandoned for more than 24 hours.

Mitchell’s proposal is sound at heart. A dockless system could clutter our streets, sidewalks and doorways with discarded bikes.

We also understand the city does not need the complications inevitable from docks located on public sidewalks and right-of-ways, but there could be advantages to well-regulated partnerships for docks on city lots, especially downtown, when space is considered.

The city was right to hold off on a vote while it looks into whether East Tennessee State University has plans to adopt its own sharing system, which could be contrary to the ordinance, as well as how existing bike rental shops might be affected by shared bike services.

But the city must be careful with just how far it restricts new enterprise and favors one model over another, especially if the demand is here. We look forward to seeing a revised ordinance that would welcome the potential.

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