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Pilot Bike-Sharing Program Announced for San Francisco

San Francisco has just announced that it will go forward with a pilot bike-sharing program to help increase the number of trips taken by bicycle in our city. The program will be implemented by Clear Channel, the operator of SmartBikeDC, currently the only other bike-sharing program in the United States.

a bike-sharing station in Vienna, AustriaOne of many conveniently located bike-sharing stations in Vienna, Austria

Many city residents and bike enthusiasts are very disappointed that the proposed program will initially only have five stations, with roughly a dozen public use bikes at each. The five stations will not be in close proximity to each other, but will be spread across the city in the Financial District, Mission Bay, the Presidio, Civic Center and on the City College campus.

Mayor Newsom Lambasted for Thinking Small

Mayor Gavin Newsom has already received harsh criticism for proposing such a tiny, short-sighted bike-sharing program. By comparison, Vélib’, Paris’ public bicycle rental program, has 1450 bike-sharing stations and over 20,000 public use bikes available. It has been hugely successful, as have other public use bike programs throughout all of Europe.

Kate McCarthy, SFBC Membership and Volunteer Director, helps to put things in perspective, “Blazing Saddles alone rents from 200-400 bicycles every single day; the proposed bike-sharing program is 50 bikes that are not even concentrated in one area. That is about one bicycle per each square mile of city.”

Such a diminutive bike-sharing program is somewhat baffling, especially when considering how much the popularity of bike commuting has exploded here in recent years. The California Chronicle reported that: 2.7 percent of San Franciscans commute via bicycle compared to an average of 0.5 percent in the United States and 0.9 percent in California. The SFMTA’s 2007-2008 Bicycle Count found a 25 percent increase in bicycling over the previous year, and a 2008 survey showed that fully 6 percent of all trips in San Francisco are already made by bicycle. This is probably not news to anyone who regularly bicycles in the city. Bikes frequently outnumber cars on Market Street any day of the week, not just on Bike to Work Day.

Public Use bikes that Clear Channel is using in Washington D.C.Southern Exposure displays public use bikes during their bike-sharing charrette held last year. These are the same type of bicycles that Clear Channel uses in D.C.’s modest bike-sharing network, and they may also be used for SF’s new pilot program.

After recently touring Vélib’ facilities in Paris, Mayor Newsom proclaimed that in San Francisco, “Bike-sharing will help connect thousands of residents and commuters to their workplaces and shopping destinations by providing bikes that they can easily borrow. This bike-sharing pilot project will allow us to test and perfect the bikes and technology that will be used in our citywide network.”

Unfortunately, due to the inane and ongoing Bike Plan Injunction, all of the pilot bike-sharing stations must presently be built on privately owned land. No bicycle improvements, not even bike racks, have been allowed for years on city owned land until a multi-million dollar Bike Plan EIR is approved. Hopefully the injunction will be lifted this year, and we will finally be free to complete our interconnected Citywide Bicycle Network. After that desperately needed infrastructure is built, perhaps the bike-sharing program can be expanded into something that is actually viable, that will include hundreds of stations and thousands of public use bicycles throughout the entirety of San Francisco.