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Palo Alto Rolls Toward Bike Share Program

Eight bike rental kiosks are expected to be up and running throughout Palo Alto by October.

If you have visited Washington, D.C. in the past two years or so, you might be familiar with Capital Bikeshare, a bike sharing system that loans its 2,000 bikes to an estimated 4,000 riders a day at its 165 stations throughout the city. The rental program helps residents and tourists alike get throughout town in an efficient, environmentally friendly manner without having to buy their own bike or find space for it on public transportation if they choose to take a longer trip. Boston, Minneapolis and Chicago have similar programs, all of which have been hugely successful.

Now, after two years of planning, Palo Alto is scheduled to get its own bike sharing system.

According to plans released by the Palo Alto Architectural Review Board, eight bike kiosks are to be installed around Palo Alto, mostly in areas with heavy foot traffic like the Stanford campus and California Avenue and University Avenue business districts, as well as in neighboring towns. Riders could apply for memberships or rent on a single use basis, similar to the Capital Bikeshare rental model.

Pricing is yet to be determined for bike rentals, but most similar programs use membership systems in which riders pay an initial fee plus an additional amount depending on their usage. The program in Boston charges just $5 for a 24-hour membership, $12 for three days or $70 for an annual membership. Once a rider is a member, they then pay about $3 per hour of actual bike rental, up to a 24-hour rental for $75.

Although it is just now coming together, with hopes of it being up and running by October, City Council member Pat Burt said that Palo Alto has been working towards starting a bike share for over two years. In 2009, the City Council appointed a group to work with the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) on starting a regional bike share program. At the initial meetings, it was decided that a regional program that could include towns all over the Peninsula would be more useful than solely in Palo Alto.

“We had applied almost 2 years ago and its finally getting implemented,” Burt said.

Julia Elise, a student in Washington DC who was born in the Bay Area, commutes between San Francisco and Palo Alto on Caltrain for an internship. Despite some skepticism, she is hopeful for the project.

“In DC, the program [Capital Bikeshare] works because there are so many stations and a lot of people rent their bikes for just half an hour to go across the city,” Elise said. “I think the idea is great but I’m not sure how effective it will be unless there are rental stations all over.”

Currently, in addition to Palo Alto’s current eight planned stations, a handful of potential kiosks (including places like Town and Country Village and the Main Library) are in the works as well as an estimated 90 more docks that will be installed throughout the Peninsula. These kiosks would be home to about 1,000 bikes, which could be rented and then returned at any of the docks throughout the Peninsula.

The Architectural Review Board will look at kiosk designs at its regular meeting Thursday. They meet at 8:30 a.m. at Council Chambers in City Hall.

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