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By Janet Lafleur

About this blog: My love affair with the bicycle began with a crush on my first red tricycle that I pedaled in circles on the driveway. The crush grew into full-blown passion when my dad threw Stingray handlebars and a banana seat on my older sist...  (More)

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Adventures in Bay Area Bike Share

Uploaded: Sep 9, 2013
It's been just over a week since the Bay Area Bike Share pilot program opened for service in five cities: San Francisco, San Jose, Redwood City, Palo Alto and Mountain View. So far, 3000 people have bought annual, day or three day memberships to ride the bikes (including me) for a variety of reasons. Last week I chatted with people riding bike share bikes around town and asked them what they thought.

Sunday: On my way to Caltrain I met Brett, who was coming back from a ride on the Stevens Creek Trail to Shoreline Park and back. That's a longer trip than the 30 minute free ride period so he paid $4 for an extra 30 minutes, but he didn't mind. "I'm not a biker," he said, "I'm trying this out to see if I like it before I buy a bike." He was smiling as he docked his bike and headed for the Farmers Market.

Wednesday: On my way to work I ran into Alex and Dennis as they were undocking bikes at San Jose Diridon station. It was Alex?s third day commuting with bike share and she was thrilled. Before bike share, she took Caltrain from San Francisco, either bringing her bike aboard or taking a shuttle for the last mile to the office. With bike share, she won't risk getting bumped due to overcrowding on the bike car, and she won't miss the shuttle if her train is late. Like Alex, Dennis lives in San Francisco. He only works at his company's San Jose office occasionally. Having a regional system that works in both cities is important to him.

Thursday: On my way home from work I met a man near the VTA Light Rail station who was heading home on a bike share bike. "I'm lucky to have a station near my home," he said. I didn't have time to ask him which station before he rode away, but he was headed toward either the bike share station at Rengstorff Park or the San Antonio Caltrain Station.

What about me? Unlike Brett, I already have a bike. Unlike Alex and Dennis, I don't have a bike share station by my office. And unlike the last guy I met, there's not a station by my home. So when did I use my annual membership? On a trip to San Francisco last weekend with a couple of friends. We had lunch in North Beach, watched a bicycle race at Levi Strauss Plaza and stopped in at the Ferry Building for a little shopping.

We learned that bike share is a great way to get around San Francisco's downtown and waterfront, but made a few mistakes that show there's a slight learning curve to using the system. The instructions on the Bay Area Bike Share web site and on the station kiosks are a good start, but to make your first trips more trouble-free than ours, here are a few things you should know.

Undocking the Bike
With my annual pass, checking out a bike is quick and easy. I pushed my key fob into a slot on the bike's docking station and pulled back firmly on the handlebars to release the bike. Make sure the bike's kickstand is up first, though. I banged my shin on the kickstand the first time.

A day pass requires using the kiosk at the station, inserting a credit card, giving them your mobile phone number, and going through a lot menus on the screen. In the end they give you a 5-digit code that you punch on the left side of the bike's dock. For trips later that day, you'll need to go back to the kiosk and insert your credit card to get a new 5-digit code. My friend Deanna had a few frustrating minutes trying to reuse her original code before realizing she needed to go back to the kiosk to get a new one. At least there are fewer menus to click through on the second trip, though.

Watch the Clock
The thirty minute no-extra-charge period goes by quicker than you think, so don't play tourist and stop for photos too much along the way. To maximize time, plan your route and where you'll dock your bike near your destination before you punch in your code or push in your key fob. You may want to adjust the seat height, put your bag in front holder, and put your helmet on before you undock the bike. And don't forget to note your start time.

Docking the Bike
Docking the bike at a station near your destination sounds simple--you just push the bike into an available dock--but it's easy to do it wrong. The trick is to line the bike up straight before pushing it in, hold both handlebars and push it in hard. You'll know you've done it right if the dock's green light turns on. To be sure it's docked, you can also tug back on the bike to see if it releases. That's the only way we could tell for sure at a few docks that were facing into the bright sun's glare.

Dock Surfing
If you realize you may run over the 30 minute time limit, or know you'll need more than that to get to your destination, try dock surfing. Dock surfing is simply swapping out bikes at an intermediate station along your route. If you're a nervous Nellie like me and don't want the stress of rushing, plan for an intermediate stop. With an annual pass, it's pretty fast to grab a new bike.

Bike Malfunctions
One of the bikes my friend Michelle undocked was stuck in the lowest gear and wouldn't shift. We returned it to the nearest station, pushed the repair button on the dock, and turned the seat around backwards. So if you see a bike with the seat turned 180 degrees backward, don't try to undock it.

Download the App
Download the Cycle Finder app on your smart phone before your first trip. It shows station locations and number of available bikes and open docks in real time. It's pretty basic but useful. If it only integrated recommended bike routes it out be outstanding. I kept finding myself flipping from map to map to navigate to the station in North Beach that was closest to our restaurant.

Security and Theft Prevention
Once you undock a bike you are responsible for the bike until it's docked again. So don't leave the bike unattended or locked anywhere other than an official station, and make sure it's docked correctly. Also, with single and three day passes, don't let anyone see or hear your code number. If you are slow to type it in and undock a bike someone could use it before you. The same is true of an annual members key fob. Guard it carefully and report it immediately if lost or stolen.

Have you tried the Bay Area Bike Share yet? If so, where did you go? Do you have any advice for other users? If not, where can you see yourself using it?

Bay Area Bike Share web site:
Bike Fun Photos from San Francisco
What is it worth to you?


Posted by parent, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:19 am

I think bike share has a lot of potential. Mountain View has great year-round weather, mostly flat terrain, and some great safe bicycle routes. However, because of the sparse bike share station locations and the 30 minute limit, most of the city is inaccessible by bike share. When or if more stations are installed, then this system can become a very realistic alternative to driving cars, widening streets, and building more car parking lots. We wouldn't use bike share for 100% of our trips, but most of our daily trips are just a few miles around town and could easily be done by bicycle instead of SUV.

Posted by Dan, a resident of another community,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:31 am

It seems both in MtView where I work, and San Francisco where I live, a 45 minute limit or even 1 hour might be more realistic for useful trips.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@resident Yes, being rolled out as a pilot program with only 5 stations in Mountain View limits its use. I ended up parking my personal bike at the MV Caltrain station before my trip to San Francisco. Still, I had a saddle stolen last time I parked in SF so I was happy not to bring my bike aboard.

@Dan I think 45 minutes would be better too. There were a lot of traffic lights in SF on the Embarcadero and a hill on Broadway so we barely made the 30 minute cut-off to do the 2-3 miles to get to lunch on North Beach. But an hour sounds too long to be free. I'd say $2 for the second half hour. That's the equivalent of a bus fare.

Posted by Bex, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Casey Neistat did a short on CitiBikes in NY. Funny and informative. Watch to the end!

CitiBikes are a Pain in the &$%!
Web Link

Posted by parent, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 7:33 pm

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is petitioning Mayor Lee to expand bike share in the city to 3000 bicycles: Web Link

Posted by PA Resident, a resident of another community,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Visited the Wine and Art faire on Castro yesterday and passed the bike station. The bikes each had a kid sitting on it, all back pedaling, and the kids were having lots of fun. There didn't seem to be any parents or adults supervising.

Just wondering how this type of behavior on the stationary, docked bikes can be prevented or what damage can occur as a result.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@PA Resident I've seen videos of 10 year olds in New York City doing the same thing. Kids have a way of turning everything into a toy. Given the same bikes have been used for years in many cities from London to Montreal, I'm guessing the bikes and docks are pretty tough and can stand up to the unorthodox use.

Posted by Greg David, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

Its so great to hear about all the wonderful bike share rides folks have had, but its all at the cost of thousands of dollars per mile to the every day taxpayer. We'd be better off handing out welfare bikes than to have this boondoggle of a taxpayer nightmare to pay for....

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@bex Perfect! The Bay Area system is the same as NYC so everything he said about the multitude of screens at the kiosk is totally true, as is the simplicity of the key fob of an annual membership.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Greg David This pilot program is paid for with tax dollars, but many bike share systems are paid for using corporate sponsorships, like Citibank in NYC, Barclays in London and JC Decaux in Paris. Can we say that about any of our freeways, highways or city streets?

Posted by Greg David, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Greg David is a registered user.


That's all fine and dandy, but THIS system at $7 MILLION is NOT paid for corporate sponsorships! It is paid for by the 99.999% of taxpayers that will NEVER use it because it takes them NOWHERE.

Our freeways however, used by likely 80%+ of the population are at capacity...

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Greg David Yes, our freeways are popular and overcrowded in part because they're free to the user. We don't have room to add more freeways or even make them wider. So how will we accommodate population growth if everyone continues to drive for every single trip they make instead of the trips that actually require it?

That's where transit can help, except for the "last mile" problem to get from the train or bus to the store or workplace or home. That's where the bike share can help. It's worked in cities like D.C. where stores near stations are seeing more business and housing near stations are able to get higher rents. Programs that offer alternatives to driving are worth every dollar.

Posted by Greg David, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Greg David is a registered user.


please re-read what you wrote and tell me how this bike share will help any more than a few folks with the "last mile", at the cost of millions to taxpayers.

I lieve near Castro and El Camino. I am supposed to walk to city hall then ride to Caltain to walk another half mile to my shop? NOT. Take the bus? That takes longer than I can WALK the 1.2 miles. I ride my OWN bike or drive my OWN car thay I PAY FOR. I don't expect the taxpayers to take me my 1.2 miles, and nobody else should.

I truly believe a well thought out bikeshare could be beneficial for our community, but THIS ISN'T IT.

Take a moment from your Kool Ade break and look at the real costs of this horrible waste of public funds.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Greg David You're completely missing my point about government funding being used for transportation like building freeways, which aren't cheap at all. Bike share is simply an alternative to wide roadways built to accommodate more cars.

Do you expect taxpayer dollars to build and maintain roads? Or is it more fair for drivers to pay for tolls for freeways they drive like they do back East?

By the way, do you know that there is a planned station at Castro and El Camino? It's on the map on

Posted by Greg David, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 10, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

Yes, I expect taxpayers to pay for roadways, even those that don't drive. That is because the highway infrastructure supports everyone. Ever thought about all those big trucks that bring you everything you use in everyday life? What about the firetrucks and police cars? Garbage trucks? Could you imagine our modern society without a vehicular transportation network. As for toll roads, yes, they do have them back east, but there are alternatives to those roads. Just like our bridges, if you are willing to drive around, you can avoid the tolls. But people PAY for convenience, which is why toll roads exist, which is why toll bridges exist, and which is why we now have toll lanes on 680. Just because $7M is a drop in the bucket in the big picture of transportation funds, doesn't mean that this worthless system should be shoved down the throats of the majority that don't want it.

As far as bikeshare at Castro and ECR, it will still be just as useless to me as bikeshare at city hall and the train station. I have my own bike that suits me fine.

Posted by Greg David, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 10, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

PS: I am NOT against bikeshare. Just this bikeshare.

If it can't support itself through private funding and use fees, it shouldn't exist.

Posted by Donald, a resident of another community,
on Sep 10, 2013 at 9:54 pm

There are shuttle buses that serve the same purpose as this bike share program, although less conveniently. Caltrain lists 50 shuttles that serve various stops and many of them use at least some government funding. The two examples that I have used are the DASH shuttle run by VTA in downtown San Jose, which is free to the users but paid for by transit funding, and Stanford's Marguerite shuttle, which receives subsidies from the air quality district. I have never heard anybody object to the funding of these shuttles. They solve the "last mile" problem from train stations to employment centers, although they are not as convenient as hopping on a bike on your own schedule. I think of the bike share program as a complement to these shuttles, with less pollution and more flexibility. So far it seems to be quite popular, although the numbers may be skewed by people trying it out because of the novelty.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 10, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Donald Good point about the comparison to shuttles. The other thing to keep in mind is that shuttles are just for the "last mile" use case. There's also the "first mile" of getting from home to transit which rarely works for shuttles. Then there are mid-day trips to lunch, after-work trips to the store or entertainment. Bikes on demand are certainly more flexible than shuttles.

As for demand, I expect it will continue to rise as people figure out how it works rather than drop due to novelty. That's how it's shaping up in NYC.

Posted by Freeways ain't free, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Sep 11, 2013 at 8:07 am

If freeways were only for trucks and emergency vehicles they wouldn't be 10 lanes wide and filled with cars at rush hour blocking the trucks and emergency vehicles.

Posted by Luke, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 11, 2013 at 1:01 pm

So which is it, the system is useless because it's not at your house, or because you have your own bike? Changing your complaint mid-thread gives the impression that you simply enjoy complaining. FWIW, a majority of bike share members have their own bikes. But it is very convenient to not have to lug a bike with you everywhere, locking it and worrying about security, and the like.

More importantly, why are we so willing to subsidize with public funds those things that have huge negative externalities, like highways and parking, but when it comes to things that improve public health and safety, lessen congestion and GHG emissions, like bikes and transit, we go all libertarian and claim it needs to pay for itself? Strange priorities...

Posted by Greg David, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 11, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

Take another toke and have another sip of kool-aid....

Just don't ask me to pay for it.

?Socialists are happy until they run out of other people's money.?
― Margaret Thatcher

Posted by Victor, a resident of Blossom Valley,
on Sep 12, 2013 at 5:18 am

When they run into a logical dead want with their argument,many will resort to insults. It has happened here.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 12, 2013 at 7:36 am

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Victor You said it. I don't smoke weed and I haven't had Kool-Aid since the 1970s, but I will keep riding bike share.

Posted by Cyclist, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 12, 2013 at 12:02 pm

$1200 bike that is a week old and it's already broken?

What if I change my commute to rely on the availability of a bike, and by the time I get to a doc, there are no bikes? Late for work with no way of estimating when there will be a bike available.

What if I ride the bike back to Caltrain, only to find there are no open docks available. My train is leaving in 5 minutes. Miss the train, wait an hour. Hope a dock opens up in that hour.

What if I get to a dock with 5 minutes to spare until my 30 minute limit, and there are no open docks? Do I still have to pay the penalty, despite the fact that I brought the bike back on time?

Having to plan on bike-surfing just to get across town makes an unattractive solution even less attractive. For a system that cost $7 million and has a bike replacement fee of $1200, I feel nickel-and-dimed with the overage after a mere 30 minutes.

All this talk of corporate sponsorships is just theory until it happens. It is still 100% taxpayer funded through funds which were never designated for a bike share program.

For $7 million, 10s of thousands of used bikes could have been bought, fixed up, and then let loose as free bikes. Once the number of free bikes reaches a critical number, the black market value for a stolen bike drops significantly, and with it, the incentive to steal them.

What we get is a Cadillac solution paid for by people who never asked for it.

All these examples of Paris, London, NYC are cited. But the failed bike share programs in cities like Amsterdam are never mentioned. They tried twice and it failed both times. In one of the most bikable cities in the world. Just because NYC et al have one, doesn't mean it will last.

It reminds me of the high-speed rail proponents who cite China's superior rail system and say we need ours or else we'll fall behind. Nobody mentions that the China trains are barely used and aren't anywhere close to being paid for through ridership.

Posted by Whaa, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Sep 12, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Well our program has not failed yet Cyclist. I would expect problems during this trial period as I would with any other project. Lets see how they address changes or identify any improvement needs
I can think of all sorts of "What ifs" that would doom my day in a car.
Lets actually see if it fails before we say it has failed, K?

Posted by Greg David, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 12, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

That's the catch. When it fails, its already too late. The money is spent. I'm tired of my money being spent on grand experiments.

Look at communism... Much larger scale, but ultimately a failure.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 12, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Cyclist If docks being full on arrival or empty on return, you can ride or walk to another station. That's why stations tend to be close to each other. It's like a bus being full or a train delayed or a crash on the freeway. There are workarounds. And the bike sharing is designed for short trips, especially "first and last mile" trips. So surfing should not be a part of everyday use for most people.

And the reason no one talks about failed systems like the 1960s era White Bike program in Amsterdam and 1990s era Yellow Bike program in Portland is because they were nothing like modern bike share program that have been successful.

Why did the early systems fail? Because they were exactly what you suggested as a preferred system. They used standard bikes whose parts are easily stolen and reused, and they made them available without requiring a credit card or other deposit to ensure the bikes are returned. And there wasn't consistent (if any) maintenance for the bikes. So the bikes fell apart or were lost or stolen.

Posted by Greg David, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 12, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

"If docks being full on arrival or empty on return, you can ride or walk to another station. That's why stations tend to be close to each other. It's like a bus being full or a train delayed or a crash on the freeway. There are workarounds. And the bike sharing is designed for short trips, especially "first and last mile" trips. So surfing should not be a part of everyday use for most people."

Wow! You contradict yourself within the same paragraph!

"you could ride or walk to another station" vs. "the bike sharing is designed for short trips"

It's effectiveness and usability is totally negated if you have a full or empty rack. That is why this "station based" model is so flawed.

Once again, I will reiterate, I am for bike share programs if they WORK, and are PRIVATELY FUNDED.

Take a look at the German Call-a-bike system. I've used call-a-bikes all the way back in 2006 in Munich and Berlin. Although the sign up process is a little tricky and you have to have a local mobile phone to make it usable, its a great system. I don't know if the DB is making or losing money, but I don't care. The German railroad is a private company now, so my German friends don't pay for a system they don't need or want.

Web Link

Posted by Interesting, a resident of Bailey Park,
on Sep 13, 2013 at 4:59 am

Greg David, What public project is allowed to use public your mind?
Ready set go!

Posted by Selfish and Misguided, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 13, 2013 at 5:17 am

Freeways should be toll roads. The price per mile should be set depending on how to make the system pay for itself. Drivers need to fork out the $ at toll stations. Why should I have to pay for something I don't use? Just the tiny sliver of construction along 101 I'm sure cost many many millions of my money that I should not have to pay for.

Parks should be pay at the entrance for users. If users cannot pay the full cost, close the park. I don't go there so I don't want to pay.
I've never once used the police or fire department and don't expect to. I'm self sufficient and have no desire to call any nanny's to help me. More stuff I don't have to pay for.

Handicapped spaces. How much has that fiasco cost us tax payers? Do you get to use the space? I don't so why must my tax dollars go there.
I also don't have my kid in public school(charge tuition and make our school pay for itself)
When there's a land slide in the hills, Cal_trans brings dozers out unblock the road at the expense of all tax payers. I'll never go to Loma Mar or some other deep in the mtns town.
Let the affected residents pony up the cash before we send help. It all makes such good sense when you think past the personal bias and try to apply it on a larger scale.

Posted by Scott, a resident of Rengstorff Park,
on Sep 14, 2013 at 12:42 am

I saw the rack for 14 bikes on Castro near Starbucks today (Friday the 13th). Only two bikes had been taken - perhaps stolen! Biking will catch on when cars are outlawed - except for the wealthy, of course. Stay tuned.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 14, 2013 at 8:52 am

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Scott The system is set up so there are more docks than bikes. That way there's a great chance that there will be an open dock at your destination. I've heard there's a 2:1 ratio of docks to bikes.

So if there were 14 bikes on Castro near Starbucks and only 2 docks open that probably means that people had used bike share bikes that day to go to Starbucks or a nearby office, restaurant, store or home.

Posted by Bicycle Commuter, a resident of another community,
on Sep 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm

"Once again, I will reiterate, I am for bike share programs if they WORK, and are PRIVATELY FUNDED."

There is simply no reasoning with someone who believes alternatives like bike share benefit only those who use it. So I won't try. I'll just tell you my opinion.

I believe bike share benefits everyone, because it helps gets cars off the road, so the roads work better, too. For that reason, I believe public funding is absolutely appropriate.

Our cities work well when all of the systems work well together. Mass transit works with bikes and sidewalks so we can get where we're going without adding a car to the roads. So buses, trains, cars, bikes, and sidewalks all work together for our mutual benefit.

As to whether this bike share works, Janet, please tell us that before we spent public money to build the system, we put good effort into planning the system so it will work well and has a reasonable cost. If so, I'm satisfied that this isn't just some big experiment.

Oh, and I'll bet you'll also tell us the bike share cost is significant, but a drop in the bucket compared with extra lanes for cars.

Posted by IP Detective, a resident of Cuernavaca,
on Sep 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm

We haven't "Built the system" This is a tiny slice of the system, a trail at a fraction of the cost. Something can always work on paper, and lord knows we throw millions away on "Studies" to see if something will work. We need real world trials on this. If it works, yes, then the system will e built. We are no where near "All in" on building a bike share system.
Seems like the same crank keeps coming back with the same complaint.

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