When I walked out of the Caltrain station in downtown San Jose this morning there it was: a long row of empty bike docking stations for Bay Area Bike Share. The bikes won’t show up until the program’s launch that’s scheduled for later this month, but after hearing about bike share plans for over a year, seeing the equipment on the streets of San Jose made it all very real. Bike share is coming.
Bike share programs are designed for short trips across town, not long commutes or recreation or fitness rides. Members check a bike out from one docking station, ride away, then check the bike into another station near their destination. Stations are located near popular destinations like transit, stores and restaurants, and ideally near offices and homes where many people begin their trips.
Bay Area Bike Share is being launched as a pilot program in five cities along popular Caltrain stops: San Francisco, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose. Membership plans cover all five cities and are available on a 24 hour, 3-day or annual basis ($9, $22, and $88, respectively). Trips shorter than 30 minutes are free; keeping bikes out longer than 30 minutes means stiff additional charges designed to discourage longer trips. Members are also liable for $1200 replacement fee for bikes that are lost or stolen, but once you re-dock the bike your liability ends.
Bike share may be new to the Bay Area, but it’s found in over 500 cities worldwide, most famously in Paris and London, and over a dozen North American cities, including New York City, Montreal, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Toronto, Denver and Chicago. My niece Alison and her husband use the Capital Bikeshare in Washingon D.C. regularly to go to the grocery, to visit friends, and to go out on dinner dates in the evening. Their small apartment in Capitol Hill doesn’t offer much room for storing bikes so they appreciate having a bike share station a couple of blocks away.
The bikes for the Bay Area will be very similar to the bikes from D.C. and New York City. The biggest difference is that our bikes will have seven gears instead of the three so people can climb San Francisco’s hills more easily, and they’ll be painted seafoam green. For the bike geeks, that’s the classic celeste color of bikes made by Bianchi. Bellísimo!
My friends and I were lucky enough to get a chance to test ride them last week at Thursday Night Live on Castro Street two weeks ago. We’re all daily cyclists, so we can be a fussy group to please. First impressions were that the bikes were comfortable and easy to ride, nimble when turning at slow speeds, and slow relative to our usual bikes. I was impressed with how the bike adjusted to fit everyone from five foot tall Megan to my husband Dick who stands six foot two. The bikes are fully equipped with a covered chain to keep clothing clean, a front rack to carry a purse or grocery bag, a bell for alerting pedestrians, and always-on front and rear lights for safe riding after dark. See the photo link for closeups of the bike’s features.
As a one year pilot, the Bay Area program is starting small with 700 bikes in 70 stations. There will be seven stations in Mountain View near Castro Street, near San Antonio shopping center, and at Rengstorff Park. (See map link in resources below) With additional funding the program may be expanded to more bikes and/or stations in Mountain View and in other cities. I sure hope it is since our home is a mile from the nearest station.
Do you think bike share will be as successful in the Bay Area as in other cities? Why or why not? How and when do you think you’ll use it?