South Park resident Marie, who stands about five feet tall, likes to stroll her neighborhood carrying a big stick.
“I yell at them motorized scooter and bike riders to get off the sidewalk,” she said, “I have been known to stand in the middle of the sidewalk, hook my cane into the the wrought iron fence and hold it with my left hand in front of me. Like this. I will block the sidewalk and tell them to get back onto the street and what they are doing is illegal.”
Marie, 62, has grown tired of the motorized scooters and share bikes left on their sidewalks; so much that she used to lift and walk the scooters and bikes across the streets on a daily basis — until she sustained some injuries.
I spoke to Marie at her home on Grape Street between 30th and Fern.
“I move them by the Discover Bike rack in front of Target (kitty-corner from the plaza) or on the other side of Grape Street,” she said. “About three months ago I was moving a Bird off of our Grape Street plaza and as I put it down across the street, the back wheel bounced up and the kickstand came right down in the middle of my foot and broke my [toe] bones; there’s still like an [indentation] in my foot — look.”
Marie removed her Croc-type shoe and allowed me to take a photo of her foot. “My toes are still broken and [for now] I can only wear this type of shoes.”
On October 31 she emailed Bird Safety Team at [email protected] and San Diego District 3 city council staff members (under Councilman Chris Ward), Brett Weiss and Brian Elliott. It read in part: “I cannot continue to move these scooters. I suffered a foot injury and have now injured my shoulder because the scooters are too heavy for me to keep lifting. I am not seeking any monetary solution — I really want you to respect our neighborhood, the residents, merchants, and our visitors. Please stop staging scooters where they will injure the neighbors.”
Despite her foot injury, Marie continued to move the share rides away from the sidewalk by her home and her neighbors within the Grape Street Square; Baby Garten Studio, So Childish baby boutique, Big Kitchen Café, and Faraon Hair Styling. She utilized dollies to transport the motorized bikes and scooters — because they are locked and cannot be rolled freely unless they are activated via a phone app, a credit card, and a valid driver license.
“I’ve seen her carry them across the street,” said Rudy, manager of Big Kitchen. “She wants them off the block and she’s not that strong. She carries them to that Discover bike station (about 200 feet from the cafe) and puts them there.”
Rudy’s been working at the cafe for 20 years and admits to attaining some of their business to patrons that ride in from North Park across the Switzer Canyon bridge. He also says the scooters are “a nuisance” because on weekends when their tables and chairs are laid out in the plaza — “they (scooter riders) blow through the stop signs here and make a game of it and race each other… and sometimes they ride through the plaza” between the breakfast and lunch crowds.
When Rudy’s not busy, he helps Marie move the “up to 27 pounds” scooters across the street.
Bird’s email response to Marie’s inquiry read in part: “Thank you for letting us know about this. We can absolutely understand your frustration with this situation, and please be assured that we are working hard to resolve this issue from our end. We have checked our GPS map, and it appears that there are not currently Birds in the discussed areas.
“We are hopeful that removing these drop-off locations will prevent any future reoccurrence, but please let us know if you ever notice anything. We are more than happy to look into why the Birds were left in an inappropriate location, and we will be sure to take appropriate action based on our findings.”
On December 6, I emailed Weiss, councilmember Chris Ward’s staff member, and he forwarded my email to Ansermio Estrada, communications manager for the City. Estrada returned my email and it read in part: “We’ve communicated to BIRD and other ride sharing platforms that we need a commitment from them to stage their devices in a more appropriate area. Our office will continue to monitor Grape Street Square to ensure that the area remains accessible for all residents.
Marie’s been dealing with the ride sharing platform problems since last year when Lime bikes were staged by the gate of their trash bins located next to Baby Garten Studio. “They have to roll the two dumpsters right to here” (by the curb),” Marie said, “so if there’s scooters or bikes here, the trash guys throw them off to the sides.”
Rudy’s co-worker who requested anonymity in the article, hung out with Marie and I by the bus stop on his lunch break; I called him “Chef” because he’s a cook at Big Kitchen Café. Chef recalled when the trash collectors didn’t pick up one day because seven Lime bikes blocked the fence guarding their two large trash bins. “The trash that week was stacked, and it was bad,” he said. “That’s what started it all with Marie.”
At times, Marie helps out at the cafe and baby boutique next door. “If I see people look like they’re going to leave the scooters there, I’d go out and ask: ‘Are you finishing your ride or are you just resting for a bit?’” she said. “And if they say they are finishing their ride, I’d say: ‘Would you mind putting the scooters off the plaza’ and I’d show them a couple of places.”
“One [scooter rider] told me flat out: ‘No, move it yourself, fucking bitch.’ Then one day I talked to a Bird charger and said: ‘Please don’t put them there, there’s a place across the street where you can put them,’” Marie said.
Chef recalls: “I came out and saw two guys yelling at [Marie], and they said: ‘We don’t understand why these little scooters are in anybody’s way.’ But they were lining them up all outside. I’ve seen at least ten in our plaza and when we put the tables out during the weekend we have to move them.”
“It looked like an official [Bird] scooter employee, because they had a big white van,” Rudy continued. “She (Marie) was telling them not to leave them there and that she’s talked to someone at the scooter company. He kind of mouthed off to her and he said he can leave them where he wants. They went at it for like a minute, or so.”
“I said [to the Bird charger]: ‘You are blocking delivery trucks and Judy (owner of Big Kitchen Café) has been here for almost 40 years, and you’ve been in town for a minute,’” Marie said, “and he responded: ‘The delivery men can walk around the scooters.’”
Marie’s anti-scooter crusade on Grape Street Square intensified when her buddy “John” tripped over a scooter.” He is 80 years old, he’s blind, and he only has one arm,” she said. “He fell over the scooters a couple of months ago, and if he falls again he may not heal. He comes to the restaurant for a meal every day, and he lives about two blocks away.”
Rudy has served John’s breakfast and lunch for years. “We have three blind patrons that come here, and [John’s] the one that comes a lot,” he said. “I noticed he loses his sense of direction when he hits” scooters with his walking cane. “He thinks it’s a planter or a stop sign. He starts walking in different directions and gets lost and he stands there until somebody helps him. They used to pile the scooters and bikes next to the stop sign where the bus stop is (Grape and 30th) and he would bump into them. If there’s something in his way he has to figure out how to go around it, it throws him off, and he walks at a different angle.”
On January 7, 2019, Rudy noticed the JUMP pedal-assist electric bikes outside of the Big Kitchen. “Marie is trying to figure out a way to tow them off,” Rudy said, “she says they are pretty heavy and she can’t do it.”
“A short time ago I received a message from JUMP telling me they can put their bikes wherever they want,” Marie said.
Leigh Young is a Bird charger and Lime juicer that picks up scooters throughout North Park and South Park by Grape Street Square — she makes an extra $120 per night charging the scooters and releasing them in the same areas. “I am a young stay-at-home mom to our five-month-old, and my husband works full time,” she said. “We live paycheck to paycheck, but because of these scooters, they really have made a big change for my family. We are able to afford more things and not worry as much about money.
“The little bubbles with numbers on the map of our Bird charger app are ‘nests’ that chargers can claim for 30 minutes between 4-7 am,” Young said. “In the morning when us Bird chargers release scooters to their nests, we must make sure they are lined up nicely, not in the way of walking areas, fire hydrants, driveways and disability ramps.”
In order for Young to complete the charge cycle and get paid, she must drop off the scooters at an authorized nest, scan them, and “I also have to take a picture showing we released them properly,” she said.
Young then sent me screenshots of a new feature on the Bird charger app. “Today they have started a new thing where you are given a release rating based on the photo you send of your released scooters, depending on how well you follow releasing protocol and rules.”
One release rating was labeled “Good Release” and it depicted a photo of three Birds on a dirt section next to the sidewalk. Young’s other release rating was labeled “Bad Release” and it depicted a photo of four Birds by the handicap ramp section next to the sidewalk.
“On the releasing map there are also ‘blackout zones where scooters are not allowed to be released,” she said.
Last time I visited South Park, I did not see any parked scooters or bikes in the Grape Street Square and adjoining sidewalks, although, I did notice one Bird by Target and over 20 scooters-and-bikes a few blocks south towards Beech Street. The next day I returned and a Bird was parked on the plaza next to the hair stylist; another scooter was parked across the street. Young later sent me a screenshot from her Bird charger app of a map of the Grape Street Square block. It was blacked out.
“The riders are the [culprit] when it comes to scooters being a problem,” Young said.