Bike Share for All? Activists Want to See Expansion of Network in Oakland

Ford GoBike launch celebration in Oakland on July 11, 2017. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

"There will be more butts on bikes -- and that's a good thing."

That's probably the most memorable line from the speaker's podium during last week's Ford GoBike launch in downtown Oakland, marking the first-ever arrival of bike sharing in the East Bay.

But some supporters of the system say they're thinking not just about how many butts, but whose butts, will be on the 1,500 or so shared bicycles expected to be rolling in Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville by Labor Day.


"Bike share has traditionally been white, male and college-educated dominated," said Stuart Cohen, executive director of the transit advocacy group TransForm, at the launch event. "And with the inequality gap we have here in the Bay Area, that would just widen it and would be the wrong way to go."

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To try to shift bike-share demographics, Ford GoBike is adopting a tactic pioneered two years ago in Chicago: Riders who qualify for low-income programs -- like the state's CalFresh food program, PG&E's Reach utility subsidies or Muni's Lifeline transit passes -- can sign up for a $5, one-year membership.

And to make bike sharing available to those who don't have a bank account or credit card, that five bucks can be paid in cash at Oakland's main library, the Fruitvale BART Station and, for now, a handful of other locations listed here.

"We have been recognized as the most equitable bike share this country has ever seen," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf after the launch celebration. Beyond the low-income membership, Schaaf said, "We required that these bike-share stations be in every part of our city, every community, every income level."

But some activists are pointing out that Ford GoBike's planned footprint in Oakland leaves out parts of the city where much of the city's low-income population is concentrated and where such a service might be most badly needed. Those areas include parts of West Oakland and most of East Oakland.

Brytanee Brown, a community planner who wrote a recent TransForm report on bike sharing's role in improving mobility for Oakland flatlands neighborhoods, said the system's footprint says a lot about who it's designed to serve.

She points out that though neighborhood density is one of the major criteria for locating the system's bike stations, areas in North Oakland, such as the affluent Rockridge district, will get bike stations early on while equally dense sections of the city along the outer reaches of International Boulevard will not.

"You can see from the very beginning it's not meant for certain communities," Brown said.

Among other recommendations in her report, Brown suggests that the city partner with a pair of existing organizations in the city -- Cycles of Change and the Original Scraper Bike Team -- to extend bike share throughout East Oakland.

The Scraper Bike Team, a bike-art, bike-activist group, and Cycles of Change, which focuses on bike education for kids, are partnering with other groups to spread the word about Ford GoBike.

Scraper Bike Team founder Tyrone Stevenson Jr., aka Baybe Champ, said the community can help prove there's a need for bike sharing.

"You know, to show there is an urgent need for this bike-share program and that it can help kids get to doctor's appointment or felons get to probation officers -- you know, things of that nature, real-life situations that people need to commute," Stevenson said.

TransForm's Stuart Cohen said that community effort, and the use of bike sharing in some of the flatland neighborhoods that will have bike stations later this year, will play a big part in the system's future.

"What we want to see in this first year is tremendous ridership in those communities, in Fruitvale, in West Oakland," Cohen said. "And if we can show that kind of ridership, it will prove that we can continue to expand the system."

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