Bay Area Bike Share — a.k.a. "Babs," a.k.a. "rental cars for bikes" — launched in San Francisco today, in case you hadn't noticed all the missing parking spots and bike racks that popped up over the past few weeks around downtown and SoMa. So how does bike share work? What does it do? Most importantly: how will its mere existence find a way to annoy your average perpetually-perturbed San Francisco resident?
To be clear: anything that gets people moving is a good thing and we're all for any form of transit that lightens Muni's load or takes a few unnecessary vehicles off the roads. (The Bike Coalition has a handy explainer if you're completely in the dark about how bike share works.) San Francisco Bike Share is wonderful thing and we are thrilled to see its arrival. That said, any form of transportation is bound to really annoy the crap out of some people. Even in a town that loves bikes, Bay Area Bike Share has an uphill battle in front of it. It's only a matter of time before someone gets mauled by a sidewalk biker, really. Until then, a brief list of grievances to preempt curmudgeon, fist-shaking commenters:
"Bay Area Bike Share" is unwieldy and "Babs" sounds kind of like BART's kid sister. Either way, some folks are still trying to make fetch happen.
At a solid 44 pounds, it seems safe to say no one will be pedaling these things to the top of Russian Hill to bomb down Lombard Street. They're sort of a nice shade of sea foam green (it matches the bay water, we guess?), but the single downtube design, relaxed handlebars and cute little basket could definitely be mistaken for a girl's toy store special. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But suck it up, dudes, because only tourists will be staring.
On the bright side: the bikes have self-powered LED lights for nighttime visibility and nitrogen-filled tires that should stay pumped longer.
The 30-minute time limit
Hough shows us his key. (photo: Brock Keeling / SFist)
Unlike the bike rental companies that cater to tourists, bike share bikes are for short rides between docking stations. You swipe in with your keyfob and you get 30 minutes to get to your destination. That's probably more than enough to bike between most points of interest in San Francisco, so this wouldn't normally be a problem except...
I can't ride a bike somewhere I actually want to go
Take a look at that station map. For the launch, bikes are available at docking stations clustered around downtown San Francisco, SoMa and a scant few spots in North Beach and the Embarcadero. (And other peninsula towns as well, more on that in a second.)
The real beauty of a bike share program, as our colleagues in New York discovered, is that it makes for simple one-way trips. Why wait for Muni to take you 10 or 12 blocks when you could just hop on a bike and be there? Well, if you don't have anywhere to drop off the bike, the system doesn't do you much good. Want to go from Market Street to AT&T Park? No problem. Want to go from AT&T Park back to the Mission? You're out of luck until the pilot program expands, which won't be until next Spring at the earliest.
There are only two docking stations in my Silicon Valley town.
A station in Santa Clara. (Photo: Richard Masoner)
In addition to the San Francisco stations, Bay Area Bike Share rolled out today down south in Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose. The idea is that you could check out a bike near home, drop it off at your local Caltrain station, take the train to San Francisco and then hop on another bike at 4th and King and ride it to the station closest to your work. At the moment this only works if you live near San Jose State and work in downtown San Francisco. Or commuting South: It will only get you from your Tendernob apartment to Caltrain.
No stations in Oakland? What gives?
(Photo: Bicycle Fixation)
Again, the first roll-out is focused on Downtown S.F. and Peninsula commuters. A smattering of stations around a neighborhood like Lake Merritt would have been a smart way to allow commuters to bike to BART without having to actually bring their bikes onboard the train. (It would have solved a safety issue for East Bay folks as well.) Fingers crossed this comes with the expansions in 2014.
I just got dockblocked. What's the deal?
(Photo: Jym Dyer)
With one-way trips, there's a chance bikes could end up clustered in certain areas. If everyone hops off Caltrain in the morning and rides to Market, there will be a dearth of bikes at 4th and King and a lot of full stations near Market until everyone heads home for the evening. This means you might have to go searching for the next closest station to park your ride. Sometimes things will balance out on their own, other times bikes need to be shifted around manually by behind-the-scenes crews. In New York, it took awhile for the system to learn the patterns and sort itself out. In the meantime, you can check for bikes or open spots before you show up via the station map or smartphone app.
Someone will inevitably ride it on the sidewalk.
Photo: Bhautik Joshi
In fact, it's probably a safe bet to assume it has already happened.
We want to know how your bike share experience is going: Got any gripes? Positive feedback? Awesome experiences? Send them to [email protected] or leave them in the comments.Apparently these things have a mascot more frightening than the Philly Phanatic. (Photo: Richard Masoner)