East Bay gears up for bike-sharing this fall

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Hundreds of brightly colored bikes will appear in Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville this fall, as bike-sharing rolls into the East Bay.

San Francisco launched bike-sharing in 2013, when 350 blue-green bikes were placed in SoMa, the Financial District and along the Embarcadero. Since then, locals and tourists alike have checked out the bikes, taken them on short rides, and returned them to bike stations, paying by the day, month or year.

According to Motivate, the company that runs Bay Area Bike Share, people have taken over 750,000 trips using the bikes and more than 10,000 have paid for annual memberships.

Now, bike-sharing in the Bay Area is expanding in a big way. San Francisco will get more than 4,000 new bikes. The East Bay will receive hundreds, kicking off the program.

This past Monday in downtown Berkeley, residents sat down with large maps to look at possible locations for the bike stations. Motivate will be putting on similar events in Oakland, Emeryville and San Jose in coming weeks.

bike sharing station map

At a meeting Monday night in downtown Berkeley, residents gave feedback on possible bike station locations.

In the East Bay, the first wave of bikes will arrive this fall. By the fall of 2017, when the roll-out is complete, Oakland will have 850 bikes, Berkeley 400 and Emeryville 100.

A quarter of those bikes will come later this year (about 200 in Oakland, 100 in Berkeley and 25 in Emeryville.)

In Berkeley, 10 stations will be installed in the area between the Downtown Berkeley and Ashby BART stations. In Oakland, the first set of stations will be installed in downtown, Uptown and Jack London Square.

“Bike-sharing is a game changer,” said Kara Oberg, the bike-share coordinator with the City of Berkeley. “It’s a great option instead of Uber and Lyft. It’s cheaper. It’s more fun. Long-term, I think it’s better for cities.”

Cynthia Armour calls bike-sharing “the gateway drug for bicycling.” In 2010, she bike-shared in Paris and got hooked. On returning home to Oakland, she bought a bike. Now, Armour is a project manager at Bike East Bay.

“The more people are biking, the safer it is for everybody who bikes,” she said, explaining why bike-sharing matters even to those who already ride. “Bike-sharing breaks down barriers to bicycling, makes it more convenient, less stressful [and] cheaper.”

For Bike East Bay, the main concern with the bike-share system is equity, Armour said. Data from bike-share programs across the country shows most riders are well-off, well-educated and white. She said people in low-income neighborhoods might not know what the bike-sharing system is, they might not feel part of it, and that cost may be a barrier to low-income users.

“Politicians and city planners are trying to integrate bikes as part of the transportation system,” she said. “But if it’s only being used by one section of the population, then it’s not properly serving all the residents.”

Going forward, Armour said, Bay Area Bike Share will have a low-income membership option for about $60 a year.

At the meeting on Monday, Berkeley city councilmember Kriss Worthington urged residents to push for more bike infrastructure in the city. Berkeley was a leader in bike-friendliness in the ’70s and ’80s, he said, but has fallen behind since then.

“Berkeley’s bike boulevard idea—it was cutting edge 30 years ago,” Worthington said. Bike boulevards are streets that are designated as bike routes and modified to be more bike-friendly, though cars still use them as well.

“Now our bike boulevards pale in comparison to what all the other cities around us are doing,” Worthington said. “They have dedicated bike lanes in Emeryville and Oakland and San Francisco.”

Separated, or “protected,” bike lanes make cyclists feel safer, he said, because they no longer have to squeeze into a lane with cars or worry about being hit by a car door. Drivers want the separation almost as much as the bicyclists, he added, because driving near bicycles can be stressful.

Greg Merritt, 46, owns eight bikes. On Monday, he was inspecting the blue-green shared bike on display at the meeting. Merritt bikes long-distance and down mountains and on a bicycle built for two. He also coaches the mountain bike team at Berkeley High School.

“I live and breathe bikes,” he said.

Even with eight bikes of his own, Merritt is eager to sign up for a yearly membership when bike-sharing comes to Berkeley. “For me, it wouldn’t be daily, because I enjoy riding my bikes,” Merritt said, but he anticipates using the system for one-way trips, for going into San Francisco, to avoid locking up his bikes in certain areas, or for biking with out-of-town visitors.

The Bay Area Bike Share system works on a 30-minute system. Users can pay $9 for an all-day pass, but each trip must be 30 minutes or less. The system is set up for short rides between stations, not necessarily a full day of biking.

The reason for the 30-minute system is liquidity, said Emily Stapleton, Bay Area general manager of Motivate. “We want the bike to be available for the next rider,” she said. “If you’re looking for a long afternoon of leisure riding, maybe bike rental is the right thing for you.”

One open question for Motivate, which also runs the bike-share programs in New York City, Chicago and Portland, is of a “title sponsor.” Corporate sponsorship runs about $2,000 per year, per bike, Stapleton said.

Right now the bikes are blue-green, their color a sort of placeholder. It’s conceivable, Armour said, that the East Bay could end up with rainbow Google bikes, purple Yahoo! bikes, or blue and white Facebook bikes.


Lead photo courtesy of Flickr user Roshan Vyas via Creative Commons.

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