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June 23, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Bikestation riding the bullet Bikestation riding the bullet (June 23, 2004)

Slated for temporary closure on heels of increased use

by Bill D'Agostino

There's good news and bad news for the Bike Station at Palo Alto's University Avenue train depot.

The good news is that business at the small shop offering free valet parking for bikes and a place to get bicycles repaired is booming, thanks to the new Baby Bullet trains. The bad news is that it will temporarily close at the end of the summer, and the city will cease giving the station a subsidy at the end of the month.

That's because the entire train depot will undergo a six-month retrofit, forcing the station to temporarily close. Jeff Selzer, the general manager of Palo Alto Bicycles, which runs the station, said he is actively helping cyclists who regularly park their bikes in the station find a place for the interim.

The number of cyclists who leave their bikes in the station's lockers has risen 20 percent, from 45 to about 70, since the Baby Bullet trains started running June 7, Manager Larry Chinn reported last Thursday.

"We've had a definite increase in usage," Chinn said. "Some of it is seasonal but a lot of it is due to the Baby Bullet."

The new trains take only 37 minutes to get from Palo Alto to San Francisco. Five such trains run in the morning and evening.

Dave Salac leaves his bike for free overnight at the station and picks it up in the morning to get from the train station to his job at the West Bay Sanitary District.

Because of the impending closure, Salac is applying to Caltrain for a nearby locker, which costs $66 a year. He said he would miss the station's family-like atmosphere.

The station's business boom was hyped in last week's memo to the community from City Manager Frank Benest. But Benest did not mention the approaching closure or that the city is planning to cease giving a $16,500 annual subsidy to the bike station.

Selzer said the shop is looking for another government subsidy.

But the station is "a big money drain" since it does not get any foot traffic other than people riding the trains. The station is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and during the middle hours, it gets few customers.

If the shop continued to lose money on the station, "we would, at that point, get out of it," Selzer said. "But we're not there yet."

The lockers are essential for bike commuters, said Amanda Jones, the city's commute corridor. "You need to have some assurance that when you get back it will be there," she said.

Jones developed the plan for a bike station, modeled after one in Long Beach, when she held Selzer's job. Other stations are in Seattle and Berkeley.

"My vision would be there would be a network," she said. "Palo Alto, Long Beach, and Seattle do not constitute a viable network."

The last time the station saw a strong increase in usage was when Stanford University began awarding its professors and employees free passes to ride the train. The university is under pressure from the county to limit the number of cars on campus. Graduate students are hoping to pressure the university into giving them similar passes.

Cyclists who like to keep their bikes on trains have had to adjust to fewer spots for bicycles -- 16 instead of 32 -- on the new Baby Bullets. Caltrain officials pointed out that there are more total trains running, meaning there are more total spots for bikes.

Some bicyclists were turned away from Baby Bullet trains during the first days of operation.

Staff writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at [email protected]

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