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Bay Area Bike Share to Launch Next Month

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The one-size-fits-all bike will have many features, including GPS tracking. Photo: Bay Area Bike Share
The one-size-fits-all bike will have many features, including GPS tracking. Image: Bay Area Bike Share

A system of shared bikes will be rolling out in the Bay Area next month and, while it will be small compared with systems in other U.S. cities, there’s a lot of anticipation building around Bay Area Bike Share.

"There’s great potential and a huge demand from the population to try a bike-share system," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Transportation officials say bike-share systems are designed for short bike trips: to get from Point A to Point B within 30 minutes to an hour.  Anyone can use the bikes to ride to a lunch date, for example, run an errand or make the first or last leg of a trip to work.

"This means that maybe they take the train, or need to drive their car for some reason for their commute to and from work, but the bike allows them great access for short trips," said Shahum.

Rodney Paul is eager for the launch of a bike-share program in the Bay Area. He has been riding two bikes to get to his job at a software company in San Francisco. From his home in Kensington in the East Bay, he pedals first to the El Cerrito BART station, where he stores bike No.1 in a locker.


"Then I take BART. I can’t take my bike on BART because of the current blackout, and then I keep a second bike and use that to ride to my office in South of Market, which is about a mile," Paul explained before the BART blackout was lifted as part of a five-month pilot project.

Paul said his two-bike commute to and from BART during rush hour is much better than driving to work, but he would like to have a more practical bicycling option in the city.

"I think it would be a lot more convenient not to have the second bike in San Francisco. It’s gotten vandalized a few times in the Civic Center station," he said.

Bike-share systems have become popular in Europe and Asia, and now in many U.S. cities. Since New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched Citibike in May with 6,000 bikes at 300 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, locals and visitors have taken more than a million bike trips. A similar bike-share program has also been popular in Washington, D.C.

"A lot of people are reporting that they haven't ridden a bicycle in years but are now back on their bikes," Shahum said of the Washington, D.C., program.  "They’ve seen that people are driving 50 percent less than they used to because they’re using the bike-share system."

Using a membership card, you’ll be able to unlock a bike from a solar-powered docking station and pedal to your destination. The program began selling memberships this week.  So far, about 300 people have signed up, according to a Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokesperson.

The sturdy one-size-fits-all bikes will have step-through frames, a front basket and adjustable seats. The San Francisco bikes will have GPS tracking.

"We are very interested in seeing how this program can again not only borrow from previous systems but actually serve as a model," said Karen Schkolnick of the air quality district, which is managing the $7 million program. She said starting with less than 1,000 bikes will allow the managers to work out any kinks. Citibike and Denver’s B-cycle experienced initial software glitches that left some stations out of service.

"We’re developing a system that will work, and that we know will be reliable and robust. It will be relatively small, we know that," she said.

But the Bike Coalition’s Leah Shahum said there are risks starting small.  She would like to see the San Francisco system grow to 1,000 bikes in the first year.

"We want people to know that they can plan on and depend on the bike-share system, and we want to make sure that there is the breadth of coverage," Shahum said. "Otherwise we’re going to have, you know, poor experiences and spotty service in a way that may turn people off."

One reason New York went big is that the program was privately financed, at a cost of $47 million. Bay Area Bike Share is publicly financed, with no funds secured for expansion. Despite its modest size, Rodney Paul -- who has ridden bike-share systems in many other U.S. cities -- is excited about the fall launch.

"I just remember when I was in Boston I went everywhere and I had so much fun. It’s just a great way to see a city," he said.

Transportation officials say the bikes and docking stations for Bay Area Bike Share are currently being manufactured, and will arrive in the Bay Area sometime in the next month.  A launch date has not been set.

In the meantime, many people excited about bike share have begun suggesting locations for future stations. In San Francisco, the Municipal Transportation Agency has set up a crowdsourcing map where you can do just that.

"We really will end up being a hybrid of many systems. We have really borrowed from many of the existing systems so that we can take the best," said Schkolnick.

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