Sonoma County transportation planners are looking to solve a major dilemma that has potentially suppressed SMART ridership in the rail system’s first year: How do you get riders from the station to their final destination?
For the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, the solution may be a new bikeshare program. The agency received an $800,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to launch a one-year bikeshare pilot.
“There is a lot of interest in how people get to and from trains, and whether station parking is adequate,” said Dana Turrey, a planner with the transportation authority.
The agency is accepting proposals through March and will evaluate them in the spring. The format of the program will depend on the winning bid, but models in other cities include dock-based bikes, which are rented and returned to a fixed dock, and others that can be locked to any location and found using GPS.
The program will initially focus around SMART stations in Sonoma and Marin counties, Turrey said. In Petaluma, that would mean a passenger arriving at the downtown SMART station could pick up a public bike and ride it the last mile to a restaurant or concert in downtown. Other bikes could be stationed at the Petaluma Community Center for riders on the east side, according to the proposal, which calls for about 300 bikes overall.
If the pilot program is successful, it could be implemented permanently with government subsidies or via sponsorship, Turrey said. A bikeshare program in Healdsburg is sponsored by area hotels.
“We’d need to make sure it is well used,” she said. “We need to make sure it is getting people out of cars.”
The cost for the rider also will be determined by the bids. Some programs require riders to sign up for membership and pay by the month, while other systems charge per ride or mile. There has been early interest in Sonoma County’s program by bikeshare companies owned by Uber and Lyft, prominent ride-hailing companies.
While the Sonoma County transportation authority and the Transportation Authority of Marin would run the program, cities and SMART would be partners.
Having bikeshare options around SMART stations adds to the commuter rail agency’s other cycle-friendly features. Trains can accommodate bikes, and bike parking exists at most SMART stations. Also, the agency is building segments of the planned 70-mile bike path set to parallel to the eventual Cloverdale-to-Larkspur rail line.
Bringing a bikeshare option to Petaluma would help get more people on bikes and make the SMART train more useful for visitors, said Bjorn Griepenburg, chair of the city’s pedestrian and bicycle advisory committee.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “It will complement existing transportation options really well, especially with the SMART system.”