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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bike Vallet

Air Date: Week of

Commuters in Berkeley, California now have an incentive to ride their bikes, instead of driving their cars, to the BART subway station. The city has installed a bicycle valet cage inside the station, guarded by attendants --and it's free. Deirdre Kennedy reports.


CURWOOD: In Berkeley, California, officials fighting smog and congestion are trying a new way to entice commuters into leaving their cars at home. If restaurants and hotels can park patrons' cars, why not encourage those who bike to mass transit with the same kind of pampering? So, at one subway stop in downtown Berkeley, the city will greet you with its new valet bike service. Deirdre Kennedy reports.

(Echoing voices)

KENNEDY: Most cyclists who want to use the Bay Area Rapid Transit have two choices. They can tie their bikes up outside the station and hope to see them again later, or they could squeeze their two-wheelers onto a BART train full of angry passengers, that is, as long as they don't want to travel during the prime commute hours, during which bikes are banned.

(Rolling wheels)

KENNEDY: But cyclists who use the downtown Berkeley BART station have a new option. Now they can leave their bikes with all the trimmings -- bike pumps, lights, and even helmets -- in the city's new valet bike parking facility. It's a completely enclosed cage inside the station that provides secure parking for about 60 bikes, and it's free. Already the facility is about half full most days. Caycee Cullen is a public health care worker and manager of the downtown Berkeley BART station bike parking.

CULLEN: I'd say the majority of people who use the bike station are professionals who are commuting. I mean, if you look in the cage, most of the bikes are pretty nice. But, you know, we get older people and younger people, and I'd say a very diverse amount of people.

(Rolling wheels)

KENNEDY: Every day cyclists trickle in between 6 and 9 A.M., handing off their bikes to the attendants in exchange for a receipt.

WOMAN: This is the signature form.

MAN: Yes.

WOMAN: Just so we have it on file in case you need your claim check.

KENNEDY: For most cyclists security is the most appealing part of the program.

MAN: Parking it on the street, I've had things stolen off the bike. I had a wheel stolen once. My son had a bicycle stolen right up above here, right in broad daylight.

WOMAN: I tend to be in such a hurry that I don't take enough precautions to lock my bike. So this is nice because I can be kind of slack about it but still know that my bike is safe, without having to put, like, a million locks on it.

KENNEDY: Bike theft is a major problem in the Bay area. In fact, Bicycling magazine recently ranked Berkeley third in the country, along with San Francisco, for bike thefts. But the bigger goal of the program is to encourage more people to leave their cars at home. Bima Sheridan is program director of the bicycle-friendly Berkeley Coalition.

SHERIDAN: If you start your car in the morning and drive to BART, it's like 95 percent as bad as just driving the whole way, because the majority of the pollution is emitted when you start the car in the morning.

KENNEDY: So far it's difficult to tell if Berkeley's valet bike parking has succeeded in getting many people to give up four wheels for two. A casual survey suggests that the bike cage is mainly attracting commuters who already would have pedaled to BART or work.

MAN: Oh, it's great. It's long overdue. Normally I take my bike on BART, but in the rain I don't want to ride in San Francisco if I can avoid it.

KENNEDY: Berkeley's valet bike parking is the third such facility in California. The others are in Long Beach and Palo Alto.


KENNEDY: But unlike those parking lots, BART's bike cage is down three flights of stairs inside the station. Cyclists aren't allowed to ride the escalators, and the elevators are frequently broken. So anyone who wants to park their bike there has to be something of an urban warrior. Facility manager Caycee Cullen says that may be a deterrent for some would-be cyclists.

CULLEN: We don't want to make bicycle commuting only for the strong, you know? I mean, like, we want everybody to feel like they can bike to work if they need to. If you're constantly being challenged with carrying all of this stuff, that is just another reason not to do it.

KENNEDY: Berkeley BART's valet bike parking is an 18-month pilot. After that, the city will have to come up with another funding source to continue the program. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which is helping to fund the project, is hoping the experiment will inspire other communities to make it easier for cyclists to use public transit. For Living on Earth, I'm Deirdre Kennedy in Berkeley, California.



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