They can be spotted all around The City: the sea foam-green bikes that are part of the region's new bike-sharing network. From downtown to the Cliff House at Ocean Beach, people can be seen meandering through various tourist spots. And on weekends, they are in Golden Gate Park, being used by residents and visitors who are headed to barbecues, parties and other events.
With the immediate success of the bike-sharing system, it makes sense for officials to begin preparations to roll out the stations to neighborhoods across San Francisco and on the Peninsula as the program extends to San Jose.
Adding bikes to outer neighborhoods in The City makes sense from several angles. The first is that it would allow residents to use the bikes as a commute option. Not everyone is willing to jump into bicycle commuting full time, but more rental stations would provide an option for the fair-weather riders or beginners who want to test the waters.
Neighborhoods with tourist attractions also could benefit from having more stations. As it stands, riders are racing the clock in many instances so they can return the bikes within a short time frame. Additional docks in neighborhoods would allow people to be off the clock while shopping, dining or otherwise enjoying San Francisco.
There are obvious challenges with adding more bikes, especially since the docking stations would take up room in some neighborhoods in which space is a valuable commodity. The overall benefits, though, are likely to outweigh the problems — especially when it comes to tourism. Few people who visit The City are apt to rent cars, and the bikes open another avenue for tourists to reach the many neighborhoods that make San Francisco what it is.
The plans from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which is in charge of the program, call for the number of bikes in San Francisco to increase from the current 350 to 500. Many have bemoaned that seemingly low number, pointing to bike-share programs in cities such as Chicago and New York, which both have far higher totals. But it should be noted that San Francisco is just one part of the regional program, and expansion needs to be done in a reasoned and thoughtful way.
Expansion in The City needs to be balanced with additional bikes in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties to get the most out of the program without spending unreasonable sums and hitting snags like those that have been well-documented in New York.
The bike-sharing network is an exciting new piece of transportation infrastructure for The City and the region. But ill-planned expansion would do more harm than good in the long run. New stations should be installed based on information and data, not on anecdotes and self-interest.
The long-delayed bike-sharing network has taken off at full speed since launch, and it must grow at a rate that will keep it on course.