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Another El Cerrito First – Those Electronic Bike Lockers

BART added hundreds of new electronic bike lockers in recent months to many stations, including El Cerrito del Norte, marking a significant expansion of a successful bike-parking system that originated in El Cerrito.

Many people know about the increasingly popular electronic bike-locker system that is being widely deployed by BART and is spreading to other parts of country.

Far fewer people know that it originated in El Cerrito.

You may have noticed the new metal-mesh bike cages recently installed at the del Norte BART station in El Cerrito. They replaced old plastic, opaque lockers and offer an important advantage.

The new lockers are accessed by electronic cards and are shared-use – like parking meters (except there's no time limit). The old plastic cages had keyed locks and were rented by one user for three months or a year, meaning that they often sat empty.

BART still has the old keyed, rental lockers at several stations, but they are giving way to the electronic BikeLink system, which now has been installed in about 500 lockers at 25 BART stations, according to Steve Beroldo, manager of access programs for the transit agency.

El Cerrito origin

"El Cerrito Plaza and the city of El Cerrito was the birthplace of the technology," said Steven Grover, head of Berkeley-based eLock Technologies, the company that developed the BikeLink system now installed at 100 locations in the Bay Area and beyond, including Santa Cruz, San Diego, Portland, OR, Washington, DC, and soon the Seattle area.

The 48 lockers at the El Cerrito Plaza BART station began operation in June 2004 and sit under a distinctive wavy green roof on the east side of the station. They are wedge-shaped and arranged in pods, each shaped like a half a pie sliced into eight pieces.

The 24 recently added to del Norte station are rectangular and sit under the elevated station.

Users obtain an electronic card from BikeLink that costs $20 and has $20 of value on it. The card is both a refillable cash card and the key to open the locker. The rental or parking fee for the locker is 3-5 cents an hour.

"We've gotten tremendous feedback," said El Cerrito's manager of environmental services, Melanie Mintz. The users report that the system has "changed their commute patterns completely," she said. "If they didn't have them, they wouldn't be biking to work."

The lockers overcome the chief obstacle for commuters who would like to bike to BART – theft.

"If you ride your bike to BART with any consistency, it will either get stripped or stolen," Grover said, referring to those who park at the open bike racks.

What about the bikes in the lockers?

"I don't think we've ever lost a bike from El Cerrito, except when somebody forgot to close the door all the way."

Japan – where the inspiration began 

Grover credits Steve Price of El Cerrito as the chief source of the idea. Price, who has served on the El Cerrito Planning Commission and Design Review Board, said he got the idea from Japan.

"I've always been impressed with the huge number of bicycles at train stations in Japan," said Price, who travels to that nation periodically to visit his wife's family. He said he saw many secured lots with attendants that "hold thousands of bicycles."

"I come back and see the BART station in El Cerrito, and I go, 'Wow,'" he said. "It just struck me – hardly any effort is being made to accommodate bike access. We just said, 'Gosh, what's the lesson to be learned from Japan?'"

Price said he began working with Ed Phillips, El Cerrito city planner, seeking grant funds for secure bike parking at the BART station.

The city succeeded in securing funding for the architecture and infrastructure for a secure bike area. The winning bid came from Steven Grover's architectural firm, Steven Grover and Associates, which he also still operates in addition to eLock Technologies.

Grover's contract included the roof that now covers the bike lockers at El Cerrito Plaza but not the lockers. He developed those simultaneously on his own, he said.

"I carefully studied all the secure bike-parking technologies that were on the market at the time," Grover said. "It became pretty clear that the solution that works in Japan may not work here."

"The project inspired me to invent a new technology and new solution to the problem of bike parking at transit (stations)," he said.

Jill Keimach, then director of community development in El Cerrito, also deserves credit for steering the project to success, Grover said. "Without her, the project wouldn't have succeeded, I don't think."

And BART's subsequent embrace of the lockers became the main launching pad. "BART has been such an important part of this program," Grover said.

"We like them," said BART's Beroldo, "and more importantly the bicyclists like them."

BART likes them so much that the agency will add 200 more lockers in the coming months, including 24 more at El Cerrito Plaza, Beroldo said.

Correction: The original version of this article misspelled Jill Keimach's last name. It's been corrected.

Chris March 29, 2012 at 05:49 PM
I use the lockers at the Plaza BART. I had my bike stolen at the Plaza when I was just locking it to the bike rack so now I use the lockers. They're really cheap. Only 3cents / hour and definitely gives the extra security.
George McRae March 29, 2012 at 07:19 PM
we tend forget the controversy as time goes by. The original lockers at the Plaza station cost wise were in the 10K each area. And for a very long time indeed were horribly underutilized. I Wonder how much the installation of the additional lockers cost us the taxpayers, and Bart users. From what source was the money obtained. Was there public comment allowed in the discussion, openly as to how much this was going to set back out collective pocket-books.
Hannah Peragine (eLock Technologies) March 29, 2012 at 08:32 PM
It's also good to remember that this project turned an underutilized muddy area with standing water and litter into a resource for everyone in the community. Most of the costs for the original project were for basic infrastructure - re-grading, new drainage, etc. The electronic lockers themselves at the Plaza cost around $1300 each - close to the cost of keyed lockers at that time and a great deal considering they have been serving cyclists for close to 8 years and have been used by over 500 different people in just the last 12 months!
Betty Buginas March 29, 2012 at 11:43 PM
I love these lockers. The initial money was about more than just that set of lockers. It seems like the funding did exactly what it was supposed to – show they can work and inspire expansion. It takes time for use of a new approach to catch on; the more that are built the more they provide a viable option for commuters. Alternatives to driving benefit not just those who directly utilize them but everyone who breathes.
Kyle March 30, 2012 at 03:46 AM
I love those lockers! They make bike commuting to BART feasible (not having to worry about bike theft, vandalism, etc.), as the article says, I discovered them several years ago, and they've allowed me to totally upgrade my commute. I use them every day. And - for those who might resent their presence - that's one more care space available for those who choose/have to drive. I had been aware that they were developed for El Cerrito, and it's nice to see that fact get some press. Thanks EC Environmental Services Dept! As far as cost, I wonder how the cost of locker compares to that of an automobile parking spot (the cost of land for the spot itself, as well as access, plus paving, etc). I suspect you can fit 10-20 lockers in the space needed for one car. And the elevated garage at Del Norte probably cost a bit more per space than an on-grade lot.

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