BLUEBIRDS Bird bikes parked in the bicycle rack at the Healdsburg Depot, next to the start of the Foss Creek Pathway. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

The on-again, off-again bike share program from Bird is once again providing dozens of full-charged electric bikes for short-term rental in town. But, go figure, not everybody is happy.

One of them is David Jones, a financial advisor in town and former city council candidate. Jones spoke up at the May 1 city council meeting during public comment, when one of his points addressed the Bird program. “Being a downtown business owner, I’ve had some issues with bikes being parked in areas where they were in the way of public use and right of way,” he said. 

Jones recently had to grapple with two of the blue Bird e-bikes parked on the walkway to his 465 Healdsburg Ave. business, and on the sidewalk as well. He found them almost impossible to move—the wheels lock when they’re not in use, they weigh about 100 pounds, and they’re designed for riding, not hauling. “I’d recommend to council members, if you see one in the area, try moving one,” he said.

FRIENDLY OBSTACLE A rented Bird bike left mid-sidewalk on Piper Street on or about April 30. It was still there the next day. (Christian Kallen)

Bird Global reports they “partner” with 450 communities world wide, most of them in Europe and North America. Bird won the contract for the Healdsburg’s bikeshare program in 2022, taking over from the bankrupt Zagster, which started the program in Healdsburg in 2018. But Bird was itself forced to shut down last December because of a staffing shortage. New managers for the Bird scooter program in Windsor also had to be recruited.

Such bikeshare programs are designed to provide e-bikes to cover local trips of up to five miles for visitors or residents to take care of errands or just enjoy a bike ride. They also claim to contribute to cleaner air and less traffic, fitting in with environmental goals such as Healdsburg’s encouragement to reduce greenhouse gasses.

The programs restarted in March in both Windsor and Healdsburg, the company having hired a “fleet manager” to oversee the local armada of electric vehicles, 40 scooters in Windsor and 70 bikes in Healdsburg. The fleet manager is responsible for all day-to-day operations of these vehicles, according to Julianne Roller of Bird’s government partnerships office. 

“They are in charge of charging vehicles (in this case, swapping batteries), moving the bikes around, making repairs when needed and storing them when needed,” Roller wrote by email. “They are also responsible for responding to reports of misparked bikes, damaged bikes or bikes that just need to be moved.”

Residents were quick to notice that Bird had returned to operations. The blue V-frame bikes began reappearing in residential neighborhoods, as well as at the downtown and parks locations where they cluster for ready availability: at the Plaza, Giorgi Park, the Community Center and similar areas.

BAD BIRD An e-bike was locked to a post at Rec Park for about a week before it disappeared following a complaint to Bird. (Christian Kallen)

But once a bike is rented, all bets are off. A user can take it on an errand, to work, down Foss Creek Pathway, or to school or back to his or her lodging—be it a residence, hotel or vacation rental. And some residents were not happy to see the colorful bikes show up on their doorstep. 

Thomas DeBiase of Idlewild Wines on Plaza Street posted on Facebook in late March photos of two bikes chained to the PG&E meter near his business, “partly in a private parking spot and halfway in the sidewalk.” He said they remained there for over two weeks, and it took more than 10 days of direct contact with Bird and threats of involving a towing company before the bikes were removed. 

“They’ve been abandoned all over the city,” he said more recently. “SingleThread is having the same problem right now in front of their business. Same with Big John’s, as well as lots of folks in residential areas.”

SCREENSHOT The Bird app can be downloaded for iPhone or Android, and provides a map of available bikes as well as instructions for short-term rental.

Tim and Barbara Tuscany had similar complaints of four bikes dropped near the corner of Fitch and North. Said Tim Tuscany in an email, “One was locked to the Stop sign and another blocking the sidewalk. Two were across street in the dirt area.” The Tuscanys live near that corner, and posted photos on social media showing the bikes interfered with mobility access at the intersection. 

Tuscany contacted the Healdsburg Police, who referred him to the City of Healdsburg, where he left a voicemail for the city manager, Jeff Kay. “We talked later that day about the blocked sidewalks, and he agreed the bikes should not block pedestrians’ paths,” said Tuscany. 

The problem has not gone away over time, but the city manager seems calm. “The Bird bike program is not fully tethered to the docking stations by design,” Kay said. “That’s a feature, not a bug.”

If that’s a feature, it bugs some people anyway. About 10 were parked in front of Max Machinery at 33 Healdsburg Ave., across the street from Memorial Beach Market, early in April—ironically, next to an electric automobile charger. Photos taken on April 4 show they are unlocked.

“The blue bikes just showed up one day. The next day, a bunch were tipped over, and I stood them back up. One was missing its pedals,” said company president Oliver Max.

“It seemed a little odd the bikes were dropped on our property without anyone contacting us,” said Max. “I’m all for projects to get cars off the roads and get people exercising and outdoors, but this particular program doesn’t seem to be very well run.”

PLAZA PARKING Bird e-bikes have taken over many public bike racks in town, including this one at the Healdsburg Plaza. (Christian Kallen)

Roller, the aptly-name account executive at Bird, clarified that though the Bird vehicles are often pre-located in specific cluster locations, customers are under no obligation to return them where they rented them. “Bird follows a dockless model, which means riders can park where they need. We teach riders to park nicely through in-app tutorials: at a bike rack when available, and not blocking the right-of-way, sidewalks, ADA ramps or driveways,” Roller explained.

Larry Zimmer, the city’s public works director and city engineer, agreed with Kay’s take on the e-bike program. “The program works better with flexible locations. The Bird fleet manager will move bikes if they are not picked up by a rider in a few days or move them if parked in an unsafe manner. They can be contacted directly if needed @ 1-866-205-2442 or [email protected],” said Zimmer. 

“The Police Department has received a few complaints on Bird Bikes, but it is not something that we track,” said Police Chief Matt Jenkins. “Callers are referred to Bird Bike’s customer service phone number and/or email address to advise the company of the complaint.”

Jones, at this week’s city council meeting, added, “But the other thing I was thinking is it would be nice to reconsider that contract when it comes up.”

Kay stated, “The grant is for a three-year pilot program. The intention is that prior to the three year expiration, we will have solid data and can go back to city council with a proposal to continue a program that best meets the needs of the community and will be financially sustainable without city subsidy. 

“The Bird program is still very new, so I think it’s premature to say what that will look like,” Kay continued. “We’ll continue to track data on usage and feedback from the community.”

Previous articleEvacuation Zone Map Updated for 2023
Next articleHealdsburg Happenings


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here