By: Victoria Holliday

Years after bike-sharing programs brought transit options to cities like Berlin, Paris and Mexico City – bike sharing is finally coming to San Francisco. The SFMTA just announced the details of its pilot plan to launch bike sharing starting next spring. The early bike-sharing network will include 50 bike share stations and 500 bikes in San Francisco’s downtown core.

What is bike sharing?

Regular Reset readers know our frustration with the Municipal Railway – so we are looking for options here. But beyond our frustration with Clipper Card disasters and other various Muni Meltdowns – all transit experts agree that the best way to get San Francisco moving again is to provide alternatives to private cars.

Despite being the self-proclaimed greenest city in the nation we just haven’t been able to get it together when it comes to the bike sharing option – until now.

Bike sharing programs generally work on a membership basis – once a user signs up, they can check out a bike from a station, ride where they need, and then return the bike to any station in the city. It’s similar to Zipcar or City Car Share, but with a bike instead of car. Bike sharing has been on the drawing boards for years – with our green-minded former mayor looking at bringing in bike sharing after seeing the program work on a trip to Paris. The initial deadlines and targets were missed as the good idea and good intentions collided with the gory details of actually finding a workable plan.

Now the pilot is here – with a program focused on downtown and smartly tied to a regional system that will help commuters ditch the car. San Francisco’s bike share program will be run by SFMTA in conjunction with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The SFMTA plan is brightened by the plan to park the bikes at solar-powered stations. The project is funded through a combination of local, regional, and federal grants with major funding coming from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Bay Area Climate Initiatives Grant Program.

Benefits of Bike Sharing

One of our favorite blogs has been running a series of stories on bicycle economics – with the delightful theory that bicycling will help save the sluggish American economy. The math is pretty simple – replace a car that costs the average American more than $8,000 a year with a bicycle that averages a one-time payment of well under $1,000 and presto – you have an economic stimulus that makes the Obama/Bush stimulus plan look like it needs training wheels.

The benefits don’t stop there. We all know our air could be cleaner and our planet could be cooler – both nice byproducts of biking. We don’t all follow the latest medical news – which highlights the medical benefits of a bike commute.

According to a study published in the British Medical Journal this month, Barcelona’s 4-year-old bike sharing program has saved 12 people’s lives. Let us explain – of the 182,000 regular bike share users in Barcelona 12 of those would have died if it weren’t for the increased physical activity brought by bike sharing. That’s 12 lives saved even when you factor in accident rates, and air pollution.

A Future With Bike Sharing

The deadline has slipped before – so we’ll see if the spring goal is met for the bike-sharing pilot. But if all goes well, a thriving bike sharing community could soon get its start here in San Francisco. In a city that embraces environmental causes, but faces ever-increasingly unreliable public transportation, this kind of cheap, easy biking solution is finally some good news from the SFMTA.

Learn More

Bike sharing is a part of resetting transportation in San Francisco. On August 23, mayoral candidate Phil Ting is holding an Ask an Expert panel discussion, to discuss solutions for making San Francisco’s public transportation actually work better – for all of us. Please join us to discuss bike sharing, Muni and all things San Francisco transportation. RSVP online.