Berkeley bike commuters now have the luxury of free, valet parking at the downtown BART station. The underground bike parking was moved three months ago into a spacious storefront just a few doors down the street at 2208 Shattuck. Providing another incentive for people to leave their cars at home, the new bike station offers a secure, convenient place to leave their bikes as well as a host of other amenities.
Alameda Bicycle, a company that has been in business for many years, has the contract with the city and BART to run the bike station. Jim Burakoff manages the station with energy and enthusiasm. “I'm not into racing,” he says, “I love commuter bikes. … What the station is about (is) helping people get to work on their bikes and use the bike for practical purposes.” The station does that in spades! A happy commuter described the process; “You just roll your bike in, sign your name they give you a ticket and take the bike and park it for you. It takes a minute.” All the convenience of valet parking … “and you don't even have to leave a tip.”
The bike station has 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. They do repairs at rates comparable or lower than the average bike shop they and sell locks and lights and basic commuter accessories. And there are great plans for rental and sales programs. Jim talks about his plan to “rent out a fleet of commuter bikes already set up for basic commute with lights etc. so people can try it out without having to invest hundreds of dollars for getting initially set up. Every time the bikes are rented the price goes down so someone can, if they really love it they can purchase it and if it's a bike that's been well loved before they can purchase it for pretty cheap. So it's a good way for people to ease their way into a bike.”
Jodi Kaufman is an enthusiastic patron of the bike station. She teaches Tai Chi and works out at the YMCA around the corner. She used to drive but there was always the hassle of finding a parking space and worrying about getting ticketed if she was delayed for over two hours. On the other hand riding her bike downtown was not a good alternative because, she says, “typically when you park in Berkeley you have to take your helmet, if you have a nice bike you have to lock the front tire, the back tire, you have to remove your nice seat, you have to remove your lights, you have to remove your mileage counter—because anything that's easy for someone to take, they'll take. So what is nice about the bike station is you can leave your seat on, all your lights, all your bags, and it's still there when you get back.” Jim confirms that “as long as stuff doesn't get in the way of the next bike they can leave whatever they want on the bike.”
The valet parking area has spaces for about 160 bikes though they can accommodate more than that in the course of a day because people have different schedules. The 24 hour paid parking area has spaces for about 120 bikes for people going out of town or going to a movie expecting to be back after 9 PM. Jim estimates a core of about 75 BART commuters and students leave the bikes for the whole day, and the rest are people doing local errands or going to the Y. The peak so far, has been 155 in one day. That can mean a significant saving in greenhouse gasses.
Bob Burakoff, Jim's father, was visiting from Boston when we were having our conversation. “I'm totally impressed with the whole thing,” he said as he sat watching. I asked if they have anything like this in Boston. “ I don't know if this is happening in Boston but I'm gonna go back there and tell them about it”.