Berkeley residents take to bike sharing amid pandemic

Photo of Lyft e-bikes
Katie Lee/Staff
Biking is a transportation method that has been repopularized by local residents amid COVID-19. This includes motorized scooters and e-bikes, which have increased in use.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a slew of life adjustments for everyone during the global shutdown. Among these changes is a repopularized hobby taken up by many Berkeley residents: biking.

The Bay Area as a whole is a hub of tech innovation, so it came as no surprise to residents that motorized scooters and e-bikes were the cool new way to get around. Based in San Francisco, Uber and Lyft are two ride-share companies that share in the creation of cutting-edge public transportation methods. Dave Campbell, advocacy director at Bike East Bay, was quick to notice this trend and its impact on locals.

“We found that the electric e-bikes and the scooters are much more successful. They’re more used than the pedal bikes that are dock-based systems that we currently have in Oakland and Berkeley,” Campbell said. “They’re helping more and more people get around.”

Campbell also noted that a diverse set of people use these motorized scooters and e-bikes. He added he was pleased to see this, as these vehicles grant a lot more people access to transportation.

Biking has led to increased sustainability as there are now more people who are biking than before the pandemic, according to Campbell. It is a way of getting outside and still social distancing.

Additionally, bike safety education classes have been expanded to help get new riders familiar with the rules of the road. Campbell noted that May is bike month, which will be the city’s first opportunity to promote biking during the pandemic to reach more riders.

One of Bike East Bay’s most impactful local efforts is with the city of Oakland’s Slow Streets program, which aims to minimize vehicle traffic, according to Campbell. Both Bike East Bay and Walk Bike Berkeley were involved in this initiative to promote safer streets for biking and walking in various Bay Area communities.

Walk Bike Berkeley member Alfred Twu added they were also able to assist Walk Bike Berkeley with a walking tour of San Pablo Avenue. Through this tour, they were able to identify areas of improvement along the street, as well as conduct local campaigns encouraging people to write letters to city representatives advocating for safer streets.

Twu explained how cycling has become more popular in the last year because it’s an activity that people could do outside, especially because people cannot go to indoor gyms right now. They noted the addition of the Slow Streets program has helped because there is less traffic as a result of its work.

“I know that biking has become a lot more popular in the last year just because the public transit service has been reduced,” Twu said. “Where public transportation is useful is that not every trip can be made on bikes, so sometimes you want to go further or maybe it’s raining out, it’s often more convenient to take the bus.”

Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson emphasized the importance of having access to bikes, as they are a great way to get around.

Robinson himself does not own a car and said his transportation usually consists of foot, public transit and bikes, including Lyft’s bike share program Bay Wheels.

“I use BayWheels religiously and am a strong believer in the promise of bikeshare programs,” Robinson said in an email. “Long-term, every metropolitan area should be looking towards publicly owned and operated models of bikeshare services.”

In addition to these services, public transit systems have also been impacted by the pandemic.

According to BART spokesperson Christopher Filippi, BART has implemented a number of initiatives to bolster cleaning and provide room for social distancing on trains to ensure the service it offers matches what’s demanded by the riding public.

In addition to requiring face masks, BART is using hospital-grade disinfectant in all stations, elevators and trains. Train cars are disinfected every 24 hours.

“BART is a leader in the region when it comes to sustainability and improving the Bay Area’s air quality,” Filippi said in an email. “On average, BART is 10 times more efficient than a typical car driven alone (on a passenger-miles per gallon basis of comparison). During the peak commute period BART is 20 times more efficient.”

The pandemic has changed the way people have gone about life, including the way they commute.

Twu highlighted the essential nature of both public transportation and ride-share programs such as Bay Wheels. The availability of transportation options they each provide allows for maximized accessibility for anyone, everywhere, Twu said.

“(It’s) not so much that (BART and bike share programs) are competing for transportation,” Twu said. “They all kind of work together.”

Contact Mia Scher and Imani Salazar-Nahle at [email protected].