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Palo Alto bike-sharing program hits speed bump

Architectural Review Board questions bikes-to-nowhere pilot program

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A bicycle-sharing program will be doomed to fail in Palo Alto unless planners place the rental stations in locations that people actually want to bike to, members of the Architectural Review Board said Thursday morning, Aug. 2.

The pilot program, part of a 1,000-bike regional project along the Caltrain corridor, would bring 100 rental bicycles to Palo Alto and Stanford. Its purpose is to encourage people to get out of their cars and use public transportation, namely Caltrain, by making bicycles available near transit hubs.

Palo Alto would have four bike stations initially -- three downtown (at City Hall; 501 Emerson St. near Lytton Plaza; 528 University Ave. near Cowper Street) and one at the plaza at 140 California Ave. adjacent to the California Avenue train station.

Two bike racks at the University Avenue Caltrain station are under consideration by the Caltrain board of directors and three on the Stanford University campus are under consideration by the university, city Transportation Engineer Rafael Rius said.

People renting bicycles could pick them up at one location and drop them off at another. After an initial fee is paid, the first half-hour of rental would be free, with bicyclists paying for additional time, said Aiko Cuenco, transportation planner for the Valley Transportation Authority's Congestion Management Agency, which is mounting the bike-share program.

On Thursday, the review board was asked to vote on the four Palo Alto bike-rack locations. But Vice Chair Clare Malone Prichard was the first to raise concerns about the pilot's potential success since three of the locations are downtown.

"Why would someone pick up a bike (at the train station) to go to Lytton Plaza when they can walk one mile? If it's only a mile, I'll walk. I'm not going to pick up a bike and pay for it," she said.

Board Chair Judith Wasserman agreed.

"If I look at this map, and I get off the train, there's absolutely no reason for me to take a bike. If nobody uses them because there is nowhere to go, your project is going to tank," she said.

Rius said other locations were not included in the pilot because they are located too far from public transit, need buy-in by multiple public agencies, or are under construction. They include: California Avenue train station, 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.

Eighteen privately owned locations have been recommended for future stations, including shopping centers and the Stanford Research Park.

Board member Lee Lippert suggested that bikes be distributed widely throughout Palo Alto by taking the same number of bikes but locating them in smaller groups. He suggested a bike station at Cubberley Community Center.

Wasserman said the Palo Alto Art Center would reopen in October, which could provide another public location outside of downtown.

In the end, the board voted 4-0 to continue the vote to Aug. 16. Member Randy Popp was absent. City staff was instructed to add other bike locations around town and to prepare their findings-and-conditions report.

The pilot program is funded through local and regional grants in combination with $4.3 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Climate Initiatives Grant program. Cuenco said bike-share programs have been successful in major cities, including Washington, D.C., Denver and Boston.

The ongoing program would be funded through corporate sponsorships and the membership/rental fees, which would be used for maintenance and program operation and to expand the number of locations. Once the program is started VTA expects it will ramp up quickly, Cuenco said.

San Jose, Mountain View, Redwood City and San Francisco are also participating in the pilot program. To track the bikes, they will be equipped with radio-frequency identification tags (RFID), Cuenco said. The technology will keep identify where bikes are available so that users can search for the nearest station through their smart phones or computers.

The Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled to discuss the bike-share program in August, with a City Council study session in September. A second Architectural Review Board hearing is scheduled for September or October.

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Like this comment
Posted by commuter
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2012 at 10:34 pm

One mile is a 30 minute walk for an average person. On a bike, that will take 5 to 10 minutes at a casual pace. These bike share programs are designed primarily for people commuting to work. Do commuters want to save 25 minutes twice a day (almost an hour per day)? Of course they do.

What expertise does the Architectural Review Board have in transportation planning? Are they trying to improve this program or kill it? If they are trying to improve it, then they really need to let the transportation engineers do their job and get out of the way.

100 bicycles is really a small number for all of Palo Alto and Stanford. If this is going to be a trial program to be expanded later, then start by putting the bikes in a few areas where they will be most heavily used. If there are too few bikes per location and they are all taken when people want to use them, then the program will fail because it is unreliable. You have to put enough bikes at each location so that they don't sell out every day. On those rare occasions that the bikes do sell out, asking the disappointed users to walk 1 mile is better than asking them to walk 3 miles.

Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2012 at 10:49 am

"Why would someone pick up a bike (at the train station) to go to Lytton Plaza when they can walk one mile? If it's only a mile, I'll walk. I'm not going to pick up a bike and pay for it," she said.

Huh? Lytton Plaza is only 2 (two!) blocks from the Caltrain station.

Like this comment
Posted by JM
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 3, 2012 at 11:04 am

"If it's only a mile, I'll walk."

I won't.

And I don't like to see decision makers to use individual preferences too liberally. That's too random. If it were a pilot, let it try and provide some real data and real user feedback.

Like this comment
Posted by LetsTryIt
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 3, 2012 at 11:16 am

Boulder, CO has a great program - check this out: Web Link
My wife has used it several times when visiting our son/grandson there. I think it could work in Palo Alto, too.

Like this comment
Posted by palymom
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 3, 2012 at 11:49 am

My teens have had 4 bikes stolen in Palo Alto: 2 at Paly, 1 at Caltrain, 1 in town. I'm all for this program and secure cages for cyclists to lock up.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 3, 2012 at 12:08 pm

"Why would someone pick up a bike (at the train station) to go to Lytton Plaza when they can walk one mile? If it's only a mile, I'll walk. I'm not going to pick up a bike and pay for it," she said.

The 1st 1/2 hour is free, so you wouldn't pay, assuming you can pedal a mile in 30 minutes. Did she read the proposal?

Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 3, 2012 at 1:21 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

However, you need to check out the DENVER bike program:

Web Link

Check out their numbers to get the real scoop on ridership numbers.

Boulder is more like Berzerkely East and not a true representation.

BOULDER HATES CAR TRAFFIC and is always biased against a car in any
bicycle/motorist accident.

The only car they tolerate is a PIOUS...

Something else: how about the LIABILITY issues when a cyclist doesn't make a LEGAL STOP ( one foot on the ground ), blows through a stop and injures a Pedestrian or damages a car?

You see that all the time, even on the trails ( Yes, they have stop signs! The Bike Patrol of the DPD hands out tickets )

To pay for this experiment, how about REGISTRATION and LICENSING cyclists?

TANSTAAFL! Treat all vehicle operators the same! Tax them the same way too.

Don't be a CAGER HATER....

Like this comment
Posted by likethebikerental
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm

We call this a piolot for a reason. Lets try out the spots. One location I think would be good is the Sheraton hotel, many people go there and would love to rent bikes to ride to downtown or to Stanford.

Like this comment
Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Sounds as if the members of the ARB members have flexible schedules and don't know what it is to have a job that you have to be at work on time for. Imagine saying to your boss, "sorry I'm an hour late because there weren't any bikes!"

I'm not talking Lyton Plaza here, more the attitude of those who don't appear to have a clue how less privileged folks earn a living. Same goes for most of the City Council members too.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 3, 2012 at 3:58 pm

If a legal stop is one foot on the ground, it's rare to see a motorist do one. ("Treat all vehicle operators the same!")

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 3, 2012 at 7:28 pm

The liability issues have all been solved in other bike-sharing programs and only need to be copied. Registration and licensing programs are money losers and not money makers, which is why many local cities and counties are dropping their bike licensing programs.

Like this comment
Posted by kelly F
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 4, 2012 at 9:31 am

I bike every day and do not think this is a good idea.

Palo Alto down town is a very bad place to bike, people are not paying attention to bikers at all.Driver are constantly texting, on the cell phone or busy looking for parking. I avoid down town like the plague!!!

Make sure drivers are obeying the rules before you add casual innocent bikers to the mix, they will need helmets too.
Bike lanes are either non-existent or end abruptly. I find Downtown Palo Alto to be very bike un-friendly.

Like this comment
Posted by NeverSurrender
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm

@kellyF, if we all surrender as you propose the situation will never improve. I find that Palo Alto drivers are actually more aware of bikes than those in other places. As more people ride bikes, at least occasionally, they should become more aware of bikes as they ride. The bike share program is a great idea, but the success of the pilot depends very much on where they put the kiosks. The key is to identify the market segment that will make this work, and I don't think the arichitectural review board has a clue in this regard.

Like this comment
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 5, 2012 at 12:59 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I agree that the success of this program really hinges on the locations and capacities of the bike stations. They need to be at popular starting and ending locations, and for a pilot program, it is difficult to get comprehensive coverage.

I believe the law in Palo Alto no longer requires a cyclist to put their foot down to prove they are stopped, because it doesn't work so well for people with clip-in pedals. Quite a few people I see are able to stop without unclipping (I never mastered that).

I forget which European country it is where cyclists are permitted to treat red lights as stop signs and they can go if there's no traffic, while stop signs are considered yields for bikes. This makes a lot more sense, given the amount of energy required to start up from a stop, especially on low-traffic residential streets where you often have a stop sign every other block. Note they can't just blow through if there's cross traffic, which would be unsafe.

Drivers who complain about bikers should try commuting by bike for a month or so, and they may rethink their rhetoric. Most cyclists also drive, and understand the perspective of each of those modes, while relatively few drivers have current knowledge of what it's like to commute by bike.

Palo Alto recently terminated the bike-licensing position. The service didn't really work anyway, because there is no regional/state database of the licenses, so police in one city can't track owners of bikes licensed in other cities. Take photos of your bikes (and other precious possessions) it is an effective tool to recover stolen property.

Like this comment
Posted by Relaxed
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 5, 2012 at 6:45 am

Punisher, the legal stop = one foot on the ground thing is a myth.
Just as when rental car drivers get drunk and run over people, ruining lives, the rental car company is not liable.
With so VERY MANY MORE car accidents injuring people than bikes, are you equally worried about rental car programs?

Like this comment
Posted by Another-Crazy-Idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2012 at 10:42 am

This is another crazy idea from the folks who believe that we can stop driving cars, stop using electricity, and ultimately revert to a stone age culture—free of all of the trappings of our modern world.

How stupid!

There are somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000 vehicle trips in Palo Alto, daily. How many of these trips can 100, or even 1000, bicycles reduce? Bicycle theft in Palo Alto happens fairly often. Perhaps some GPS-located equipment might be added to these bicycles that might help to recover them, but to do so means we have to pay police officers $150K to $200K to retrieve these less-than-valuable artifacts of utopian fantasy. That makes no sense at all.

While it doesn’t rain that much in Palo Alto, it’s really difficult to believe that business people are going to ride around on a bicycle to important meetings, arriving cold and wet—in order to help “save the planet”. No, it’s difficult to believe very many of Silicon Valley’s “finest” would be so inclined.

And then there is the cost to the user of these bicycles. Interestingly, that isn’t provided in this article. (Of course, details rarely are provided in Weekly articles.) The idea that someone if going to pay $3-$5 dollars to ride a bicycle a mile (with brief case, and possibly other baggage needed for a presentation) when they can pay $5-$10 and get there more quickly and more conveniently is far more likely a scenario that that proposed by the folks pushing this idea.

Crazy, crazy, crazy!

Like this comment
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 6, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Another-Crazy-Idea wrote:
"While it doesn’t rain that much in Palo Alto, it’s really difficult to believe that business people are going to ride around on a bicycle to important meetings, arriving cold and wet—in order to help “save the planet”. No, it’s difficult to believe very many of Silicon Valley’s “finest” would be so inclined."

It would probably require a change of mindset. However, it is possible. After all, we've banned smoking in businesses. Remember all the restaurant and bar operators who said that they would go out of business because their regulars couldn't smoke?

I'll point out that just south of Palo Alto, Google has a highly successful rent-a-bike program for its employees so it's not entirely implausible.

Luggage is a non-issue, cyclists around the world have adapted, typically by using backpacks.

The biggest issue is the general lack of bicycle paths in Palo Alto. Bike-friendly cities like Davis (California) and Copenhagen (Denmark) have a good network of cycle paths. But even in cities that lack dedicated cycling paths adapt; it's really more of a public awareness issue.

If Palo Alto wants healthy adoption of bicycle usage, they will have to think carefully about bike paths.

Mountain View has the wonderful Stevens Creek Trail, plus roads with designated bike lanes (e.g., Middlefield Road, West Evelyn) as well as "recommended bike routes" (e.g., View Street).

Like this comment
Posted by Dean Donavan
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Yeah i would not want to have to ride miles out of my way to drop off a bike. That would make me just want to buy a new bike and ride my own. I recently got a new bike here Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 9, 2012 at 11:38 am

Palo Alto is great! I love them. I found some of them at: Web Link

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)

on Jun 5, 2017 at 8:33 am

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