News

Editorial: Bike-sharing plan readied

Innovative pilot program will allow Caltrain commuters biking option

A transportation grant designed to provide 100 bikes for Palo Alto-bound Caltrain commuters unfortunately got tangled in a discussion at the Architectural and Review Board (ARB) last week, delaying approval of the sites selected for the automated stations where bikes could be checked out and returned as part of a pilot program.

The hang-up focused on proximity of some station locations to each other, including one near Lytton Plaza, which board members thought would not appeal to commuters who could walk there, they said. The ARB, which has a role because it must approve the aesthetics of new commercial development, ultimately decided to send the plan back for more study and will consider it again next Thursday.

It was an ignoble beginning for what is a substantial grant approved two years ago that will bring the city the beginnings of a bike rental program. It will add another option for commuters, residents and visitors to get around town. Similar programs are in place in many large cities, including Washington, D.C., Boston, Denver and Paris, and increasingly in other smaller communities.

The Palo Alto portion is part of a larger, $7.9 million Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Climate Initiatives Grant, which will pay to purchase 1,000 bikes for cities on the Caltrain corridor, including San Jose, Mountain View, Redwood City and San Francisco. The idea is for the bikes to make Caltrain more appealing for commuters, who could use the bikes to reach their final destination.

The bikes, all equipped with radio-frequency identification tags (RFID), will be available at the University Avenue station and at several locations downtown and California Avenue, as well as sites still to be announced at Stanford.

Users pay a deposit fee electronically and then get the first half-hour of use free, generally enough time to get to a rental station near their destination and return the bike. They then pick up a new bike for the return trip.

Rafael Rius, the city's traffic engineer, told the ARB that many potential bike station locations are not included in the pilot program yet because they are too far from public transit, would need approval from multiple public agencies or are under construction. They include the county courthouse, Mitchell Park Library, Main Library, Lucie Stern Community Center, the park-and-ride lot at El Camino Real and Page Mill Road, Heritage Park and the Downtown Library.

These stations will have to wait until another phase of the program, when it is hoped there will be adequate funds to expand beyond serving just commuters. The grant will pay for the program to be established and for the first bikes. It is expected that the ongoing program will be funded by corporate sponsorships and membership and rental fees, which would be used to maintain the bikes and operate the program and ultimately expand the number of station locations. That is when it might be possible to operate more stations outside the downtown core.

The plan is supposed to be on a fast track for city approval. Once the ARB approves it, it will be considered by the Transportation and Planning Commission later in August and the City Council in September or October.

When it was announced in 2010, the grant reflected the groundwork done by then-Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, who had spearheaded a 2008 effort for the city to launch its own bike-loan program. But the City Council decided then to back out of a $65,000 commitment for a 20-bike program. Instead, the staff was directed to find opportunities for a regional bike-sharing program with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which is in part responsible for winning the grant announced in 2010.

At the time, Kishimoto, who served on the boards of directors of the VTA and the air-quality district, was a leading proponent of the regional bike-sharing program, which she found consistent with the goals of Palo Alto and the VTA to boost the number of commuters who use bikes to get around the city.

Kishimoto said transportation agencies wanted to provide train riders with a unified message -- that bikes are a viable option for getting around town and can solve the problem of the "last mile" by giving commuters a way to get to their ultimate destination once they step off the train.

Only in Palo Alto would a pilot plan to have 100 bikes available for rent in a few locations, paid for by a grant, require review by two city commissions and the City Council, as well as the staff time needed to attend these meetings.

This modest plan is appropriately aimed at in-bound train commuters to Palo Alto and should be embraced by the city as another way to encourage workers to get out of their cars.

It should be up to city staff members to select the best locations for this innovative pilot program, and to change them if they turn out to be underutilized.

We trust the ARB will lead the way toward quick passage of the plan, and its eventual approval by the City Council, while resisting the temptation to pick apart every detail.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by can't wait
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2012 at 11:39 am

They've been talking about this program for years. Can't wait for it to get started. Gas prices are so high and parking is so terrible that residents really want options. Bike share will help commuters quickly and easily get the last mile or two from public transit to work.

I just hope that 100 bikes is enough for everyone. If the system is unreliable because there aren't enough bikes to go around, many people will give up on it pretty quickly.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm

If the aim is to get residents to use the bikes to get to the Caltrain stations, then we need to have stations in the residential neighborhoods. Having all of them in downtown is not going to get someone like me to use them. However, if all the local neighborhood parks had a station, I might find it very useful to walk to my nearby park and rent one to the station, then rent one back. Alternatively, I might choose to rent one to go downtown, or to the library.

However, if they charge too much, then this will not be cheaper for me than buying my own bike and paying to maintain it.

Likewise, if this is for commuters who want to alight in Palo Alto and rent a bike to get to their place of work, then we need to put stations in office parks also.

Questions. Is there going to be a bike station at the JCC? Is the system going to interact with the Mountain View system so that Palo Alto residents can get to Castro Street or the VTA light rail? Is it going to be useful for Foothill College students?

These are the type of options that need to be discussed and will get riders aware of choices.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by can't wait
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2012 at 1:08 pm

In other cities, these systems are primarily intended for people getting off trains and buses and then using the bikes to get the last couple of miles to work. A few stations around business centers and transit centers can serve a lot of people this way.

Here's a good video about how bike share works in China (where bike share systems have tens of thousands of bicycles): Web Link

People starting from suburban homes (as opposed to high-density apartment buildings) can usually more easily use their own bikes instead of traveling to a rental station to borrow one. But if the primary service (commuters) is overwhelmingly successful, building future stations in suburban areas is certainly worth considering.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bogus-Thinking-Begets-Bogus-Thinking
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Why bicycles? Why not Segway machines?

Web Link

These would get people where they want to go about the same time as bicycles, with more dignity.

There already is a problem downtown with cyclists riding on the sidewalk. With people now being "encouraged" to cycle, it's only a matter of time before they are using the sidewalks, rather than the streets. University is only one lane, making it likely to even become more clogged.

This is another crazy idea.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Donna Maurillo
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2012 at 9:36 am

The Mineta Transportation Institute has an excellent research report, published in June, about the details of bike sharing in North America. It makes interesting reading for anyone who wants to know how these programs work and the challenges and successes they've faced.

Download the free report from:
Web Link

Donna Maurillo
Director, Communications and ITT
Mineta Transportation Institute
San Jose CA


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Keith Medoc
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2012 at 9:54 am

Right, Segways are the answer! Because bicycles are sooooo undignified.

Look at all these barbarians in Copenhagen pedaling their dignity away:

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John Murphy
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2012 at 11:45 am

Segways? dignified? Paul Blart Mall Cop?

Bikes are cheap. Segways are not.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Janet
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 13, 2012 at 1:33 pm

To Bogus-Thinking-Begets-Bogus-Thinking: I ride my bike down University Avenue all the time and never clog traffic since it never moves faster than 15mph. Even when I stop to turn left there's plenty of room for cars to get around me, unlike when left-turning cars block traffic and only bikes have room to get around. Most of the time University Avenue is so clogged with cars the bikes are the only ones that can make any speedy progress.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 13, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Last Tuesday, Rafael Rius, who is the Staff Liaison to the PA Bicycle Advisory Committee, presented this item to PABAC. He pointed out that the bike share stations near the train station are placed to service riders from Stanford's bike share stations who are coming downtown for lunch, etc. Unfortunately, this wasn't made sufficiently clear to the ARB members who criticized them for being too close to the train... In light of also serving riders from Stanford, their locations make more sense.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 13, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I should add that the pilot phase is really geared towards commuters coming off the train, not local residents who can usually keep a bike at home, and who would be difficult to serve effectively, especially in a limited pilot. Targeting inbound commuters makes sense because they roughly double PA's population. Rafael agreed that having stations around offices would be good, and he showed us a map with such station locations for later program expansion. In the short term, those locations are difficult to get, because they are on private property.


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