The City of Santa Barbara is now in the electric bike business.
Santa Barbara’s waterfront soon will be rolling with electric bikes, docking stations and two 9-foot solar-powered kiosks.
The City Council approved the program at Tuesday’s meeting. It took two votes. One, which passed unanimiously, denied an appeal of the project from Anna Marie Gott. The second passed 6-1, with Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon opposing the solar-powered kiosks along Cabrillo Boulevard.
All of the council members agreed on the concept of electric bikes along the waterfront as a way to provide increased mobility options, with most of the debate centered on the locations of the solar-powered kiosks and the docking stations.
Rob Dayton, the city’s transportation planning and parking manager, pushed heavily for the docking stations on the sidewalk because that’s where it’s easiest for people to see and find them.
“We really need a bike share program to have access to the waterfront for our residents; it’s not just tourists,” Mayor Cathy Murillo said. “I go down there all the time.”
The conversation also heated up over solar-powered kiosks and their disruption to coastal views. The original approval called for three kiosks, but at the suggestion of Councilman Mike Jordan, the council agreed to just two, which will be placed at both ends of Cabrillo Boulevard.
The solar-powered kiosks are necessary to allow people without smartphones to use a card or cash to rent a bike for $7 for 30 minutes. The company framed it as an equity issue.
“I just want to stick up for the kiosks,” Murillo said. “It would be very elitist of us not to recognize that not everybody has a smartphone or a fancy phone. We have a lot of low-income residents in the community, and that’s what the kiosks are for.”
The city partnered with private company BCycle on the electric bike project.
Before Tuesday night’s vote, Murillo already had appeared in a promotional video for BCycle in which she touted the company and its launch downtown.
“We have been meaning to do bike share for a long time, but we didn’t have the right product, we didn’t have the right offering — thank you for presenting that,” Murillo said in the video on BCycle’s website.
Councilwoman Sneddon said she was fully in support of kiosks to provide greater accessibility for people who want to rent the bikes, but she disagreed with having to place them on Cabrillo Boulevard.
“The kiosks, I don’t want to see those on Cabrillo,” Sneddon said. “If we are really worried about accessibility, find a location where we might expect accessibility to be the lowest and put a kiosk there. Have some thought about where that kiosk goes. I think realistically people will be using an app to tell them where bikes are.”
She said part of her frustation was also with the process. The city’s Historic Landmarks Commission denied the project. When the Planning Commission approved the project, it did so without knowing about the solar-powered kiosks. In a breakdown in communication, BCycle assumed that the kiosks would hook up to the city’s electrical supply. When Dayton found that out, he informed them that the city could not dig up the sidewalk streets to provide electricity to the kiosks.
So, BCycle came back with a solar-powered tower, which was one of the reasons for Gott’s appeal.
Sneddon said she didn’t like the city bypassing its own commission, or the fact that a commission approved a project without full knowledge of what it would entail. Santa Barbara’s Harbor Commission also voted against having the kiosks and docking stations along the waterfront.
Morgan Ramaker, BCycle’s director, said the solar-powered kiosks are important to allow people without smartphones to rent a bike.
“If we don’t have these kiosks, we’d have to either use a smartphone or go on a website in advance and sign up,” Rainmaker said.
The project will move forward as a pilot project. Sneddon’s concerns were echoed by Jordan, who, as a compromise, suggested only two kiosks, one at each end of the Cabrillo Boulevard, and drop the proposed third one, which would have been at or near the mouth of Stearns Wharf.
Some businesses also opposed the project. They raised concerns that the city would be going into bed with a private company, which would give them an unfair advantage.
Alicia Drew, representing Wheel Fun Rentals near the waterfront, said there are three rent-paying businesses that provide the same service as BCycle. She said the city forced Wheel Fun Rentals to move its kiosk from the Hyatt hotel, “yet the city is considering welcoming BCycle docking stations to the same area.”
“Why take away business from local companies?” Drew said.