Someone's been chucking Google bicycles into a Mountain View creek, and residents are pissed.
In early July, Motherboard covered the growing irritability of Mountain View locals at the "graveyard" of Google bikes amassing in the city's Stevens Creek. "I think someone has a mental issue, or a mental problem with Google or bicycles or both," said one of the creek's caretakers at the time.
This story raises some obvious questions: Who is tossing them into a beloved waterway? What's up with that? Why does someone hate the bikes so much? How do they even get them?
It turns out Google and the City of Mountain View both wonder the same things. I filed a public records request to the City for any and all documents related to these shenanigans. On July 28, I received a set of emails, text messages, maps, and photos from the City that reveal a months-long investigation into the illicit bicycle dumpings that started long before the incidents were publicized.
Here are the documents in their entirety:
Since May, the City's Department of Public Works has been nudging Google headquarters, located just a few miles away, to come claim its abandoned bikes from Stevens Creek, which runs from the Santa Cruz Mountains into San Francisco Bay.
"Sorry people are lame and do stuff like this to your bikes."
Residents, too, have tried to get Google to remove its bikes from the creek, to no avail. One concerned citizen wrote to the City multiple times to report the growing pile-up of bikes.
"I've tried to get in touch with Google, but have not found a way—the waiting time on the phone is an hour," she exclaimed.
Google offers 1,300 or so polychrome bikes as part of its effort to shrink employees' carbon footprints. But staff allegedly aren't the only people using them for free. "The word on the street is, if you want a free bike just drive to Mountain View," reported KRON 4 last week, claiming that thieves haul the bikes off in pickup trucks.
As many as 14 Google bikes were counted in Stevens Creek as of July 13, 2017. Apparently, no one has ever seen the bikes getting dumped, according to public documents.
"On a ride yesterday we saw four Google bikes along Stevens Creek Trail," Jacqueline Andrews Solomon, the City's assistant public works director, wrote to Google's bike fleet operations manager in an email on May 17, 2017. "They all looked like new bikes, so are probably worth saving," Andrews added. "Sorry people are lame and do stuff like this to your bikes."
On July 11, 2017, a shift supervisor with Google's global security operations center wrote to the public works department, asking for help in removing the bikes from the creek:
Hello Public Works Team,
Google Security has received multiple reports regarding at least 14 Google bikes that have been deposited into Stevens Creek by local adolescents. Due to the location of the bicycles within the creek, our recovery teams have been unable to remove them and ensure their return to our campus. Can we please be provided with some assistance with relocating these bikes to a more accessible area so that we may assume possession?
Two days later, Steve Achabal, a recreation supervisor for the City of Mountain View, replied:
Our Rangers try to remove bikes from the creek if they are easily assessable [sic]. However, we do not enter the creek at the direction of the Water District. I would recommend contacting the Santa Clara Valley Water District to see about meeting their staff on site.
This is what's making locals so irate. Google, some say, shouldn't be tapping the City to go pick up its stolen property. "It feels like Google is too high up to go down and pull their bikes up," resident Steven Chandler told Mountain View Voice.
But that's only part of the story, no doubt aggravated by Google's creeping takeover of Mountain View. According to an email from Google's bike fleet operations manager, the company had tried, though unsuccessfully, to deal with the matter itself. It's not clear what prevented it from retrieving the bikes, but maybe the area was gated-off.
Whatever the case, Google eventually convinced the City to help. And after some debate over whether Stevens Creek fell under the jurisdiction of the City or neighboring Santa Clara Valley Water District, the matter was evidently settled.
"City staff and volunteers identified where the bikes were found and contacted Google. We worked with Water District and Caltrans to get the needed access to retrieve the bikes because they were in a fenced-off area without easy access," a spokesperson for the City of Mountain View told me today.
Google says a dedicated task force retrieves the bikes up to seven days a week. But it still asks that citizens report abandoned property to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mountain View residents are also chipping in by removing the bikes from Stevens Creek themselves.
In a written statement provided to me, the City said that while Google is ultimately responsible for its bikes, city officials have "increased [their] communications to the public about how to report any abandoned Google bike."
No credible theories were posed as to who the culprit might be. In its email to public works, Google claimed, citing no evidence, that "local adolescents" were to blame. I asked Google if it knew who kept taking the bikes, but a spokesperson did not address my question, and would not comment on the record.
If you know who's stealing Google's bikes—or if you are that person—I'd love to hear from you! You can email me, anonymously or not, at email@example.com.