In August, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency will roll out a new bikeshare program in a staggered launch. The effort is part of a five-city initiative by the Bay Area Air Quality Management district to bring bikesharing to the region. The other participating cities are San Jose, Redwood City, Mountain View and Palo Alto.
The San Francisco program will offer 500 bikes at 50 stations downtown, South of Market, and along the eastern edge of the city. Here’s a map of proposed San Francisco stations by Cyclelicious put together from data provided by the San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
Here’s a similar map for San Jose:
And one for Redwood City:
I recently spoke to Streetsblog San Francisco editor Aaron Bialick about what’s in store. The web site covers issues around sustainable urban transportation.
So describe the plan…
San Francisco, San Jose, Redwood City, Mountain View and Palo Alto are launching a regional bikeshare network, catching up with cities around the world that have successfully implemented them. The programs enable people in dense urban areas to get from point A to point B by bike whenever they please.
The Bay Area bikeshare programs will cost money to join, and you won’t be able to bring the bikes between the cities, only to locations within each city.
What’s the status of the program?
A vendor is expected to be chosen by May and a staggered rollout will occur in August. There are a few different vendors in this space, but it’s anyone’s guess who the top candidates are. In the spring we’ll know what the bikes will look like, how the payment systems will work and other details. Right now they’re evaluating locations for the stations.
How would the system work?
You will be able to sign up for a membership for a day, week, month or year. Typically the memberships are tied to a credit card, so you’ll slide your card, unlock the bike, ride it and drop it off at any station within the system. I know they’re also looking at giving users an option to pay without a credit card.
So it’ll work like City CarShare?
It’s similar but not the same. With City CarShare you have to drop off the car at the same place you pick it up. In a bikeshare program, it’s about making any trip on a whim from Point A to Point B, where you can leave it at point B.
The barriers to getting your own bike are pretty low. What do you think the demand for a program like this will be like?
The regional network is centered around Caltrain stations so that commuters will be able to use the bikes for the first and last miles of their trips. A lot of times, for whatever reason, people don’t want to bring their bikes aboard Caltrain, so they have to walk or take transit on one or both ends of the trip. They won’t have to do that with bikeshare.
What they’ve found in other cities is that these programs increase cycling overall. People who otherwise would not have considered riding a bike will ride one. Or they’re downtown and haven’t brought it with them, they see it on the street very visibly as an option and they’re more likely to ride it. You might be in downtown San Francisco and get off BART, and there’s some place you want to get to within a mile, but taking transit or walking would take too long. These bikes will make it a lot easier to make that short trip.
Also, the bikes are designed to be much safer, more comfortable and easier to use than the bikes most people have. If you can’t bring your bike into your workplace, many people don’t want to risk leaving it locked outside. If you use a bikeshare bike, you won’t have to worry about it being stolen.
What are some other cities with bikeshare programs?
Some of the better-known systems are in Paris, London, Copenhagen, Oslo, Barcelona. China has the biggest one. In the U.S., New York is in the process of launching one right now, and the first major program was Capital Bike Share in Washington D.C., which has been very successful. There are also programs in Minneapolis and Denver.
How did the idea for this program come about?
Bike advocates have been pushing for it, and community leaders have seen the success other cities have had with the programs. San Francisco wanted to launch one around 2009 in a public-private partnership with Clear Channel, which backed out. That system was criticized as being too small; it would have had just 50 bikes. You need a critical mass to be successful, and the program in San Francisco will have 500 bikes.
The Santa Clara VTA was also going to launch one in 2010, but the cities got together and VTA decided to integrate their system into a regionwide one.
Where will San Francisco’s bike stations be?
The preliminary map of proposed stations shows them primarily in downtown San Francisco. That will go through more internal planning, then public hearings and other community outreach. They’ll determine the stations using metrics that have found to be the most successful in other cities in terms of how far apart they need to be in order to be effective.
This is a much smaller pilot program than in the other major cities that have instituted these. They’re keeping it within a certain amount of density within the launch area. That’s the key to success, they’ve found: the density of the area that the network serves.
So during the pilot, they’re homing in on the densest part of the city, taking into account characteristics that make an area right for sharing. That largely means commercial streets and transit accessibility.
Besides downtown, they’ve vetted some other areas. You potentially could see stations in the future in the Inner Sunset because it’s a centralized transit hub and a commercial and tourist destination because of Golden Gate Park. The Mission and some of the BART stations like Glen Park are also being considered.