If your bike has ever been stolen near Mission Street, raise your hand. If you have ever realized you can’t take BART because you have a bicycle and it’s rush hour, raise your hand. If you have ever received a parking ticket in the Mission, raise your hand. Now leave it up.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and partner agencies will introduce 700 rental bikes throughout the greater San Francisco area, beginning in August. The system is similar to bike-sharing programs in other U.S. cities. A user can buy a pass, unlock a bike from one of several designated stations, ride it to another station, and lock it up there.
The stations will integrate with mass transit infrastructure, allowing users to commute long distances, hop on bikes and ride the rest of the way to their destinations. All four downtown BART stops and the Caltrain line in South San Francisco will have stations nearby.
Is your hand raised? Then you may be disappointed; there are no firm plans to build stations in the Mission at this point. SOMA, the Financial District and Embarcadero will share 35 stations with 350 bikes during the first stage of the pilot, which ends in early 2014. Other regional partners will divvy up the remaining bikes between San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Redwood City. A second stage, to be determined, will expand the service by up to 1,000 bikes.
View Bike Share Service Area in San Francisco in a larger map
“We want to expand the system soon,” SFMTA transportation planner Matt Lasky said. “The Mission District could be captured when we achieve a 1,000-bike system.”
In an online map that allows users to pin locations and comments about where they want to see bike rental service, many location requests are for the Mission District. Contributors pinned nearly every block of Valencia, Mission and 24th streets.
Steve Fiduccia, general manager of the Mission-based nonprofit Pedal Revolution, has researched bike-sharing programs in other cities. He said he believes the system will prove popular. “There is definitely a lot of low-income people who could use them,” Fiduccia said.
However, it is unclear whether the demand for stations in the Mission comes from residents or business patrons who live elsewhere. Erma Kyriakos , one resident, said, “It’s a great idea, they do it all over Europe.” But then Kyriakos added, “I like to have my own bike.”
Resident Oarly Canant’s bicycle was stolen recently, so she is borrowing one from a friend. Even so, she said she probably wouldn’t use the sharing service. “My bike is my own transportation and I want to know I have it,” Canant said.
Other residents were concerned over design, security and logistics. What if a rental bike is stolen? What should you do if you get a flat tire? Is it reasonable to traverse the city’s steep hills by bike?
Ralph Borrmann, spokesperson for the partner agency Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said these issues are being addressed. All bike stations will be equipped with tracking devices, and workers will move bikes between stations to keep them all stocked. Users can request maintenance directly from the rental stations. And, unlike programs in Washington, D.C., and New York, bicycles in San Francisco will be geared for seven speeds, due to the terrain.
Bike-sharing has been successful in other cities. According to data gathered by the SFMTA, 43 percent of users surveyed in Denver said they replaced driving with riding bikes. In Minneapolis, 50 percent of members reported choosing public transit or bike-sharing over driving. In Washington, D.C., total driving miles were reportedly reduced by 4.4 million per year, or 198 miles per member.
However, affordability may be an issue for some. Three payment options are currently being discussed, with passes priced between $7-$10 for one day, $20-$25 for three days, or $75-$100 for a one-year membership, with unlimited 30-minutes rides. Extra fees may apply to rides longer than 30 minutes.
The regional bike-share pilot will cost $7 million to implement. Major funders include: The Bay Area Climate Initiative Program, the Transportation Fund for Clean Air and the Proposition K Local Transportation Sales Tax. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District provides $1.4 million, and $1.3 million comes from several other partner agencies.
“The SFMTA is striving to achieve a 2,500-plus bike system in the future,” Lasky said. The agency will seek additional grants and possibly sponsorship to assist with the expansion.
Will this lead to a future in which Missionites can order a drink and a burrito without worrying about their bikes being stolen? We will have to wait to see that.