Ford goBike program represents worrying tendencies

CITY ISSUES: Bike infrastructure betrays problematic policy choices even as improvements are made

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Willow Yang/Senior Staff

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Someone in the East Bay really wants us to ride our bikes.

The Bay Area rails to trails program is now roughly 70 percent complete, with about 350 miles wrapping around the Bay Area and new sections being added rapidly. Since the passage of T1, an infrastructure bond measure, road improvements and bike lanes are becoming a priority in the city of Berkeley.

But no move on bike infrastructure has been quite so grand as the unveiling of the new Ford goBike bike sharing program. When not everybody can afford to buy a bike, bike share access marks an attempt at leveling the playing field. They even have a low-income plan and a student discount. Still, the cost of this program may be higher than Berkeleyans realize.

The Ford goBike program, for example, takes something as exciting as bike share and slaps this big corporate name on the side. And while private partnerships such as this one bring in much-needed funding streams and speed, they also mark a recession of public power.

Keeping big corporations out of the city of Berkeley used to be a higher priority. Bay Area Bike Share surely could’ve chosen a more local bike supply.

That isn’t, of course, to denounce the financial savings or ignore that private partnerships leave more room in local budgets to address other badly-needed projects. A Ford partnership was just one of the the cheapest options.

But that doesn’t make the partnership any less lamentable. Let’s not forget Ford’s record of using prison labor or the company’s general trend of environmental neglect.

Again, one would think it incredibly satisfying to see the East Bay make strides toward inclusivity in its transportation infrastructure for low-income communities. Surely bike sharing is a way in which the East Bay can make its support of those communities clear.

But the city governments of the East Bay have flubbed that part of the plan. In Downtown Berkeley, the student-dense spots seem to have been the primary target for station placement. In largely ignoring east Oakland in the careful placing of bike sharing stations, Ford goBike isn’t starting out on the right foot for inclusivity. Bikes shouldn’t be reserved for just the wealthy.

The Ford goBike program and East Bay city governments can’t expect to continue neglecting low-income parts of the city without consequence. Inclusivity should be the top priority. Moreover, the addition of bikes for disabled individuals could have shown residents that our local bike share is at least partially inclusive.

The Ford goBike program has the potential to be a great one, in spite of its faults. Hopefully the program expands and serves marginalized communities better in the future.

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