While Ford GoBike has steadily increased its fleet in San Francisco since June of 2017, including 26 stations in the Mission, one location has eluded the service: the 24th Street BART station.

The 24th Street BART station is considered a prime location. To that end, Ford GoBike has re-launched its efforts to add two new stations at or near what is popularly known as the heart of the Mission.

While Ford GoBike decides where to put the stations, it has has been surveying the community, canvassing plaza vendors and meeting with Erick Arguello, co-founder and president of Calle 24, the merchant-and-cultural association that scuttled plans for Ford GoBike’s expansion into the 24th Street corridor last August.

Back then, Arguello cited concerns about the rapid rate of change in the neighborhood, the loss of parking spaces and worries over data collection. Motivate, which operates Ford GoBike in the city, has since said that it is not collecting data.

For his part, Arguello confirmed that he met with Ford GoBike, but said it’s too soon to tell if the 10-month stalemate will be broken. “We’re in discussion. We still need to meet with the full council and our allies in the Excelsior and the East Bay to brief everybody on the discussion and see what everybody thinks.”

And, Arguello implied that Ford GoBike may have competition. “We’ve met with another bike-sharing company for the past six or seven months.”

In the meantime, Jean Walsh and Alex Garcia, staff from Ford GoBike’s San Francisco office, canvassed the vendors at the 24th street BART plaza last week and got some interest and mild support.

“I haven’t had anyone tell me, ‘don’t put bike stations here,’” Garcia noted.

Walsh, director of external relations for Ford GoBike and a fluent Spanish speaker, sees the outreach as part of a process.

“We’re talking to people at the plaza to find out how they feel about bike share and to find out where we might be able to put a station in this area to connect with BART,” Walsh said.

The two possible sites at the 24th Street BART station are on the street, or on the plaza, which is where the docks are located at the 16th Street BART. Street docks are less popular because they generally mean giving up parking spaces.  

The site for a second 24th Street station, according to Ford GoBike’s website, might be in front of the Mission branch of the public library.

“Calle 24 wants to revitalize this plaza, and we support that,” Walsh said. “Our question is: how does bike sharing fit in with that vision? We want to hear from the vendors, artists and others, who are here all the time and use this plaza, what they think.”

Millie Lopez, who has sold jewelry on the plaza for three years, nodded her head when asked if she supported a bike station on the plaza. “I’ve seen people on them,” she said. “They look good!”

She was confused by the membership structure. “Is it a rental bike?” she asked Garcia. Walsh explained the pricing structure, including the low-income “Biking for All” membership, which offers a $5 yearly membership available to all who qualify. “That’s nice!” Lopez said.

Walsh said an April 6 survey drew 620 responses, including 321 from Mission residents and 30 Mission businesses.

Seventy-seven percent of the Mission residents who responded supported Ford GoBike stations at the 24th Street BART plaza, according to Walsh.

“The closer the connection to the BART entrances, the better. I support taking any parking necessary to expand bike share,” wrote one survey taker. Roughly 20 percent did not support installing docks on the BART plaza, or on the street.

Mayra Madiz, a Mission resident, wants Ford GoBikes in the Mission. “As a Latina Mission resident who does not own a car and who relies on public transportation to move around the city, I’m a strong supporter of the installation of bike share stations near BART stations,” she wrote in an email. Public bikes at 24th Street, she added, would cut her daily commute by 30 minutes and be more affordable and healthier than taking taxis.

Of the 30 Mission-based business owners who responded to the survey, 19 supported new bike stations at the BART plaza, including 18 who also supported on-street docks. According to Walsh, a typical on-street station converts 3-4 parking spaces into docks that have the capacity for up to 27 bicycles.  

Eleven of the businesses did not support either option. “Get your blue gentrifying logos and bikes that commodify the concept of sharing out of the Mission,” wrote one survey taker.

Since GoBike’s launch last June, usage of the bikes has been robust, according to the company’s figures. Riders have taken 703,380 trips in San Francisco — 150,393 of those were to or from the Mission. And 22 percent of Ford GoBikes’ annual members have taken advantage of the low-income Bike Share for All plan.

Given these figures and the ubiquity of the blue bikes on the streets of San Francisco, Walsh said that the lack of Ford GoBike station near 24th Street BART has been noticeable. “We’ve heard from a lot of people,” she said. “They want to know why there’s this gaping hole in the Mission in our system.”

At present, the closest docks are on Valencia just north of 24th Street, with another near 22nd Street and a third on 25th Street near Harrison.

Some people, however,  are still resistant to the bikes. “Others tell us to get out of the neighborhood,” she said. “But there’s also lots of ambivalence. We’re just doing our best to talk to everyone.”

San Francisco’s original Bay Area Bike Share program launched in 2013 with 35 stations in San Francisco and 700 bikes. The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Agency jointly spent $9.8 million on the four-year pilot project.

According to a report and evaluation of the pilot program, the agencies actively sought corporate funding. Ford GoBike was selected as the funder, and underwrote the expansion of the program to the tune of  $60 million to have Motivate run it.  In June 2017, Bay Area Bike Share shut down, re-emerging later that month as Ford GoBike.

For long-time bicycle activists like Chris Carlsson, the lack of public funding is a problem that no amount of community outreach can overcome. A city-owned and maintained fleet, he maintains, would continue the tradition in San Francisco of public transit systems built to serve the city. “Today’s public bike system emulates other systems that have been in place in other cities for a while, and replicates the same problems, corporate sponsorship and advertising being the top of the list,” Carlsson wrote in an email.

For now, the private/public method of funding alternate transportation systems remains in place, however. Moreover, it’s growing. By the end of 2018, Ford GoBike plans to locate 7,000 bikes at 546 stations in all sectors of the city.

If the proposal for the installation at 24th Street BART is accepted, the location will come equipped with the newest addition to Ford GoBike’s fleet: electric bikes.

There’s no date set for the new 24th street BART docks.

Depending on the location, either BART or the SFMTA has to officially sign off on the proposal before the installation can begin, and each agency has an approval process.    

Jim Allison, BART spokesperson, said BART’s goal is to have 8 percent of its passengers accessing the trains by bicycle by 2022.  Already the agency has partnered with GoBike at 16th Street, and Allison said they “will review/approve any equipment on our property.”

If the dock is located on the street, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency will mail notices to all addresses within 250 feet about any pending installation, according to Heath Maddox, senior planner with San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Walsh acknowledges some lingering discontent with the service.

“Not everyone’s going to be happy,” she said in the plaza. But she also thinks that this time, the overall reaction might be different.

“Now people are used to seeing the bikes,” she said. “and we can show that people are using these bikes, and that they are providing a service. And so we’re back to engage in the conversation again.”

Related content: Who is taking whom for a ride?, Joe Eskenazi, August 20, 2017.

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