How Many Bikes Would Make a Proper Bike Share Program in San Francisco?

Paris_station_inventory_window.pngVelib Google-Map mashup tells you how many bikes and how many vacant spaces are at each station

5328 bikes, to be exact. 

After excoriating Mayor Gavin Newsom a few weeks ago for his bike share media stunt, a lot of commenters weighed in with advice for making bike share work well in San Francisco.  There were some who thought that a small system is a good start, better than nothing, and could be improved upon when the injunction is lifted and the budget crisis lessened, while others weren’t concerned with size at all but with having a large advertising company control a public transit system.

Colin Hughes, a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning, wrote Streetsblog SF with some general parameters for public-use bike systems (PUB) based on his studies and worked up a rough calculation of the number of bikes and station spacing for San Francisco, relative to three of the world’s biggest and most successful systems 

Colin suggested that PUB systems should be thought of as a mode of public transit, just like the bus or the BART:

The Paris Metro is the densest subway network in the world, with 300 stations within the city.  The trains run from about 5 am to midnight, and users might have to wait about 20 minutes for a train in off-peak hours. In comparison, the city also has 1451 bicycle stations – a transit network almost 5 times denser than its subway system.  Users can access these bicycle stations 24/7, they can ride them wherever they like, and the cost is free for the first 30 minutes.

Paul DeMaio, the founder of the consultancy Metro Bike LLC who also writes the Bike Sharing Blog, said a good bike share program ought to have one bicycle for every 150 residents and should place five stations every square kilometer.  For San Francisco, that would equate to 5328 bicycles at 605 stations.  Even if San Francisco were to be more modest that DeMaio’s suggestion, adopting Barcelona’s metrics, we should have 2960 bicycles at 484 stations.


MTA spokesman Judson True said the city is looking closely at best practice PUB systems around the world, so hopefully they are communicating with the Mayor to revise his proposal up from 50 bicycles at 5 stations. 

Also, a number of you probably read the BBC story that reported Velib was going under.  Streetsblog in New York ran this recent story, which quotes former Deputy Mayor of Paris, Denis Baupain, saying that JC Decaux is using bad publicity as a bargaining chip to get more money out of the City of Paris.  Velib is not going away anytime soon!

  • mcas

    Wait a second— so what you are saying is that Gavin’s declaration really was just a publicity stunt…?


  • Does Velib has a discernable impact on the ridership of Paris Metro then?

  • it seems the only way this works is if the bikes are ubiquitous enough so that people can reliable assume the likelihood of one sort of near by is somewhat high.

    I know a lot of people who maybe don’t want to buy a bike (as they’d be casual riders at best) who would like something like this because they’d only “use what they need” and then let someone else ride afterwards.


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