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Update on BikeLink electronic bike lockers

Two weeks ago I wrote about BikeLink electronic bike locker from eLock Technologies in Improving bike access to airports. I discovered some new information about the lockers about changes being made to a bike parking facility in San Francisco, California. Later, after watching a Streetsfilm video on the novel system, I realized I mistakenly identified the electronic access method.

BikeLink news in San Francisco

In October 2009, the Embarcadero BART station switched from a valet-based bike parking facility to using a BikeLink-controlled cage. The San Francisco Examiner thinks the lack of a hired attendant will deter people from parking here. The reason was cost: The labor needed to staff the cage cost $3.22 per bike while the electronic system costs only $0.42 per bike. Members pay only 3 cents per hour between 8 AM and 8 PM, and only 1 cent per hour at all other times.

The writer found three people to go along with the story and question the converted facility’s safety/security.*

The article doesn’t give up further details, but Alameda Bicycle (a local bike shop) fills in the missing information:

  • New members sign up and pay for an access card from BikeLink online or one of several physical locations.
  • The member opens the cage with their card and finds a place to park inside the cage. This is the sign-in.
  • The member locks their bike (there may not actually be an object to which one can lock their bike) and removes any easily-removed parts (like lights and bags) and exits the cage.
  • The member then exits the cage and inserts their card into the read to perform the sign-out. If 10 minutes has passed and the member has no signed out, an audible alarm will go off, and the cage operator (Alameda Bicycle) will be alerted.

There are some other rules that apply to cage use. You have to also register your bicycle so that the operator knows which bicycle belongs to which member so they can better track misuse of the facility. The operator will conduct random checks to verify this. Because of the way this electronic cage works, members have an incentive to not let non-members into the cage.

*The San Francisco Examiner article went so low as to publish this worthless quote from an individual, “I have plenty of cards already in my wallet,” said E.M., who takes his bike from Richmond to the Embarcadero station daily. “Why do I need another one for parking my bike?” The benefit of having a card to lock your bike is that you can use the same card to securely lock your bike at lockers up and down the state.

Smart card, not magnetic stripe card

I wrote that the “debit card” is a magnetic stripe card (like a credit card or transit fare card), but instead is a smart card, with the member’s data and current balance stored on an integrated circuit chip. Occasionally, some people equate smart cards with proximity, contactless, or RFID cards. It seems more popular though to only identify a smart card as one that has a gold-plated chip visible on the front side. These are more popular in Europe and Asia.

Streetfilms (a sibling of Streetsblog) visited Oakland and El Cerrito, California, in 2007, to show how they work and how they compare to traditional, leased lockers (short story: electronic lockers are on demand and can serve multiple, unique users in a day or week, while the leased locker has one unique user). Watch the video:

Helmets, hygiene, hair… help?

I subscribe to a Google News feed for “bike parking” where I find many articles about grander issues but they get caught in the search. When people talk about increasing or improving bicycling, they almost always talk about parking (it’s a necessity). A recent article talked little about bike parking; The short blurb about a hygiene “problem” of helmet hair piqued my attention.

A bicyclist on her first commute by bicycle wears a helmet in San Jose, California.

Helmets

As DOTS pushes biking, gender gap persists” (by Lauren Redding in the Diamondback, student newspaper from University of Maryland). DOTS is the University’s Department of Transportation Services, which has a goal of 9% of students getting to campus by bike and recently conducted a count that found only 20% of biking students are female. The article cites DOTS as saying that safety and hygiene are the major barriers that keep the frequency of women bikers low. Somehow, hygiene is related to helmet hair.

Helmet hair is not as important as building safe bicycling routes to the school, educating students on how to ride safely and locking their bikes correctly. The article in no way describes the University’s Transportation Services group as “helmet pushers,” but this comment bothers me: “For women especially — when you put on a helmet, you mess up your hair.”

Let’s stop building bike lanes and deal with this, stat! Okay, for real: There is a gender gap, but dealing with helmet hair will never match the effects of making cycling safe (or normal) on increasing the number of women who bike.

After I began an obsession with Dutch bikes and bicycling “culture” (a culture of safety and high numbers riding bikes), I learned more about helmets and the reasons people use them. My position about wearing and promoting helmets has changed somewhat, but my behavior, so far, hasn’t. Rarely does a Dutch person wear a helmet. From the research:

In the Netherlands, a survey of pediatricians found that 94% never wear helmet, but that 82% agree that helmet use should be advised for children (source). Overall, “less than 1% of adult cyclists wear helmets, and even among children, only 3–5% wear helmets” (source: “Making Cycling Irresistible” [PDF], the best article describing bicycling in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, comparing it to countries with low bicycling rates, United States, United Kingdom, and Australia).

I bought this new helmet in Summer 2009, to be more comfortable and to look better. Like I said, my position has changed, but my behavior hasn’t. I think everyone should make their own decision about helmets; helmets are only useful to prevent head injuries once a collision or crash has occurred. It’s more important to build facilities and educate people to reduce the likelihood of a collision or crash.

My Dutch fixation continued to the end of the last semester – I presented and wrote a paper for my Sustainable Development Techniques class about what makes bicycling in the Netherlands safe and easy, and how the United States can learn. Dutch bicycling presentation for class (PDF) and the Dutch bicycling presentation for class (DOC).

The bike helmet-American relationship is amusing. I can’t explain it as eloquently as Mikael Kolville-Anderson in Copenhagen: he mentions it a hundred times (search of Copenhagenize for the term “helmet”). The latest news, although not about America, but relatable: Israel is getting ready to repeal part of the all-ages helmet law, which is seen as discouraging bicycling in the country.

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