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.