The Berkeley Bike Station is an idea whose time has come! Located at 2208 Shattuck Avenue just outside BART, it serves the commuter population in so many fabulous ways. The original station started about 11 years ago inside the downtown Berkeley Bart station and was run by the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition. The above ground version has been in the works for years, but opened just five months ago.
Alameda Bicycle, working with the community and BART, started their first bike station for the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, and has branched out to include services in Berkeley and the San Francisco Embarcadero station with plans to open a 4th facility at Ashby BART. You just roll your bike in, sign your name for your ticket, and staff takes your bike and parks it for you, valet style. It just takes a minute, and with a screen that displays BART train departure times, you’re on your way in no time! The valet parking area has spaces for about 160 bikes and the 24 hour paid parking area has about 120 spaces to accommodate people going out of town or returning after 9 PM. We’re talkin’ green, people, as in eco-sensible!
I spoke with Jim Burakoff, manager extraordinaire of the Station, and here is what he had to say:
What are the benefits and services available to users of the bike station?
We park bikes, rent bikes, do repairs, and sell commuter gear – especially lights, locks, and bags. People who sign up for the self-park area also get access to lockers and a restroom. We’re pretty excited about our rental program. The bikes are all equipped with lights, locks, bags, and helmets. So, if you know someone who might be interested in bike commuting, they can try it without spending a few hundred dollars on all of the essentials and get an idea of what it’s like when you’re really prepared. Too many people commute without the basics, and are left with the impression that it’s a real hassle, when the opposite proves true for most of us. On top of that, if the person likes the bike they were riding, they can buy it and credit all of their rental costs, and half of those of others who have rented that bike, towards their purchase.
Is there an emerging demographic of users thus far?
We work with pretty much everyone. Our clients are high school and college students, teachers, homeless people, professionals, tourists, artists, families, and children. It’d be hard to find a demographic that wasn’t represented during a day at the Bike Station. It’s one of the things that I love about this place.
How can we inspire others towards embracing a less car-dependent society?
I think that one of our biggest hurdles is people’s perception of using bicycles for practical purposes. I was a “drive two blocks to the corner store” guy before I started riding; a mile ride sounded like a real ordeal. Once I started, it was incredible how fast those distances seemed to shrink. I’m most inspired by people going through that process against much larger odds. Car free families, people with physical disabilities, people who commute truly great distances to work. I think that the biggest key to moving in that direction will be the good examples set by those truly awesome cyclists.
I understand there is free parking weekdays from 7 AM to 9 PM. There is a separate, secure, keycard accessed parking area for longer term and late night parking. Now, are there any plans to expand to include weekend hours?
Yes! We’re still working out exactly what we’ll be able to provide, but we’re hoping to roll out Saturdays when the weather starts looking nicer.
As the manager of the Berkeley station, what’s the best thing about coming to work everyday? What is the biggest challenge?
The best thing about coming to work here is that I get to help other cyclists in a way that I can really identify with. I sold my car about six years ago and finding safe places to park my bikes has been one of the hardest parts of making that transition. When I get to work, I basically get to spend all day solving that problem for people. On top of that, we get to know the people who park with us over time, and see the positive impact that we have directly. The biggest challenge has generally been keeping things moving smoothly when tons of people show up at once, all needing different things. It can be a tightrope act to make sure that no one has to wait more than a minute or two for their bike, but also get repairs checked in and questions answered. I think we’ve learned a lot along those lines, and things are moving more smoothly than ever at this point.
What do you think of community bike-sharing programs that exist in several European cities and do you think that will ever be a viable idea for the Bay Area?
I love the idea, and I think we’ll get there. I know that bike-share for San Francisco is in the works, and I’d love to see that reaching us out in the East Bay.
How can the community become aware of your services?
People can view the web site at bartbikestation.com for fees and services. Right now, we mostly rely on word of mouth and hosting events. Going into warmer weather, and our first full summer above-ground, we’re going to put a lot of work into involving ourselves with the community. It’s going to be great!