01/27/2013 05:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Marin Bike-Sharing? Push To Implement Program Begins

Marin Commuters needing to cover that last mile or so from a transit stop to a job may have a new option in a few years: a public bicycle.

A public bike-share system is being analyzed by the Transportation Authority of Marin, whose board voted last week to spend $25,000 to see if sponsors can be found to help fund the project.

"It is definitely doable in steps," said Alisha Oloughlin, planning director with the Marin County Bicycle Coalition who sat on a TAM committee that looked at the plan. "The first phase would have bikes at transit hubs like the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, the Transit Center in San Rafael and downtown areas."

Under a preliminary plan, bikes would be available at the transit centers and town centers where people would pay to unlock a bike and take it to their destination. The bike would later be collected by a company and brought back to its original or another locale.

A potential pilot project would have four stations and 30 bikes between the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and Canal neighborhood in San Rafael.

If that is a successful, a first phase in Marin -- which would cost about $300,000 -- would include 12 stations and 100 bicycles. A potential 37-station, 300-bicycle bike share system in Marin County using common 3-speed or 7-speed bike share bicycles would cost about $1.2 million to put into place. Some type of public/private partnership would make the most sense in terms of funding, according to the plan.

In the region, the San Francisco Bay Area Pilot Bike-Sharing Program, expected to launch this summer, includes San Francisco, San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Redwood City. A similar program has already been established in Denver and Boulder, Colo., where success has been reported for its "B-cycle" bike-sharing program. The Boulder system charges a $55 annual fee for use.

The study on the Marin plan puts an annual fee at $70, with one-time use options as well.

Last January, the TAM Board provided $25,000 in voter approved Measure B vehicle registration fees to look at how the program might operate in Marin.

Among the goals of the program: Provide mobility options for Marin residents, workers and visitors; reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions; serve transit-dependent communities; complement transit service and bicycle infrastructure; promote active and healthy lifestyles; encourage economic development; and be financially sustainable.

"This is happening across the country, and given the support for bicycles here, it seems like Marin is the perfect spot to give it a shot," Oloughlin said.

If the money is found, an initial program could launch in two years, officials said.

But there are some challenges, in particular the county's hilly topography, making a system difficult to use for those who are less fit.

"We are not dense here in terms of population," said Dianne Steinhauser, executive director of TAM. "You also have to figure out a plan on how to pick up bikes when they are used, that's where it can get tricky and costly. But if we can focus on transit hubs and business parks, maybe it can work at some level. But we are being very cautious."

The bikes would likely have some type of tracking devise to monitor and gather data on trips, and to make sure they are not stolen or vandalized, officials said.

A second phase of the system in Marin calls for expansion to SMART train stations, large employers and colleges, with a third phase adding the bikes to other areas with a demand.

Fairfax Mayor and TAM board member John Reed said he'd like to see the plan incorporate tourists as a form of funding to support the program. He also said it wasn't quite clear in the study how it would serve future SMART train riders.

"We're basically looking at getting workers to and from the SMART train," Reed said. "It seemed to me in reading (the) study, that didn't really pencil out."

But Andy Peri, advocacy director for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, said the bike project has great potential.

"We enthusiastically support this project and love the report," he said.

IJ reporter Megan Hansen contributed to this report. Contact Mark Prado via email at ___