Bay Area Bike Share. Photo: Kathleen Costanza
Bay Area Bike Share in San Francisco: after some hiccups, the program should be running in the East Bay by 2016. Photo: Kathleen Costanza

There may have been some bumps in the road, but Bay Area Bike Share is set to expand to Berkeley and the East Bay in 2016. In early April, officials announced the expansion of the bike share program, which has been operating in San Francisco and the peninsula since 2013, would bring over 1,300 bikes to the East Bay with 400 planned in Berkeley, 850 in Oakland and 100 in Emeryville.

The roll-out is through a public-private partnership with a bike-share company called Motivate which also runs bike share programs in New York, Chicago and several other cities. Across the whole Bay Area, Motivate’s current proposal boosts the number of bikes from 700 to 7,000.

The announcement may come as déja vu to East Bay residents, though. In April of 2014, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) voted to allocate $8.7 million for expanding the pilot program, then run by Alta Bicycle Share, to the East Bay. However, Alta Bicycle Share’s bike supplier had announced bankruptcy and went up for sale in January 2014, causing a slowdown in production until Motivate purchased Alta Bicycle Share last October, took over operation, and is now creating its own bikes and technology.

Bay Area Bike Share. Photo: Kathleen Costanza
Bay Area Bike Share in SF: the bike supplier for the East Bay program, Motivate, is looking for corporate sponsorship. Photo: Kathleen Costanza
Bay Area Bike Share in SF: the bike supplier for the East Bay program, Motivate, is looking for corporate sponsorship. Photo: Kathleen Costanza

The $8.7 million was never allocated but could be used for future bike improvement projects, according to Sean Co, transportation planner at MTC.

This time, the expansion to the East Bay comes at no cost to government agencies. Instead, Motivate will fund the new bikes and stations through corporate sponsorship, meaning a company will have naming rights and branding of the entire system. The sponsor will be subject to MTC and each city’s approval.

The expansion happens to coincide with ongoing efforts to finesse the Berkeley Bicycle Plan, which the city is updating for the first time in a decade to help outline where potential funding for bike transportation will go. At the first public workshop held last week, attendees had the chance to give input on station locations.

The news also precedes Bike to School and Work Day, which is coming up on May 14. (See Bike East Bay’s overview of that event.)

“The thing about bike share is you have to have infrastructure to ride bikes along with the bike stations,” said Co. “You need an ocean if you’re going to surf — you can’t just hand out surfboards and hope for the best.”

Co added both the MTC and City of Berkeley staff are aware that density of the stations is an important factor to the system’s success. One recent analysis done by the National Association of City Transportation Officials recommends bike share stations should be no further than 1,000 feet apart—about a five minute walk.

“Bike share needs to be available easily and it needs to be available everywhere you want to go,” Co said.

As bike sharing industry has grown in the United States the last five years, so have concerns surrounding equity. Motivate’s proposal calls for 20% of all new stations to be installed in MTC-designated “communities of concern,” or low-income communities, according to an MTC press release. Discounted bike share passes will also be available for residents who are enrolled in utility lifeline programs.

Read more about bicycling in Berkeley.

Nicholas Alexander Gomez, outreach coordinator at Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative in Berkeley, said he thinks bike share and Berkeley could be a good fit.

“Berkeley has a huge bicycle culture and a huge passion for eco-friendly transportation,” he said. Gomez added he sees bike share as both an opportunity for those who already own a bike to have a potential alternative to locking their bikes up at BART stations all day, as well as a “gateway” for those who may be new to cycling. “Anything that is going to encourage people to get on a bicycle and change their habits of transportation is for the better.”

Hiro Matsuo, co-director of Biketopia Community Workshop, a non-profit bike shop that provides repair services and bicycle education, also sees bike share as giving Berkeley residents an additional transit option. Though he sees the biggest opportunity for bike share for UC Berkeley students (especially international or visiting students) and not as much for cyclists who already have their own bikes due to the bike share bikes being heavier than standard ones and harder to take on long trips.

“Any cycling is better than driving,” he said. “I think it’s a great addition to the city.”

Berkeley Bicycle Plan workshop draws a crowd (04.28.15)
Berkeley Bike Festival, cycling plan open house, coming up (04.22.15)
Berkeley could have bike sharing program by spring 2015 (04.08.14)
Electric bike sharing coming to Berkeley in 2014 (08.26.13)

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Kathleen Costanza is a writer, photographer, and Bay Area transplant by way of Chicago. In the last year, she has interviewed affordable housing developers, professional potters, urban farmers and middle...