Red Riding Good

September 16, 2011

If you’ve been wondering what to get Capital Bikeshare for its first birthday, I know just the thing: its millionth ride. Someone is going to help CaBi hit that milestone over the next few days, which isn’t so shocking given how ubiquitous those bright red bikes have become since the program launched Sept. 20 of last year. But even though hopes were high, no one expected little CaBi would grow up quite so fast.

“We’ve doubled most of our projections,” says Chris Holben, who manages the program for D.C.’s Department of Transportation. He’s talking ridership, membership (17,000) and the number of one-day rentals (more than 60,000). Now that CaBi’s on a roll, there’s been a surge of interest from other area jurisdictions. Montgomery County has secured funding to start a pilot with 20 CaBi stations, and Alexandria’s considering joining the program, too. And it’s time to gear up for an expansion in both D.C. and Arlington, with 62 stations being added to the map (beyond the 110-plus already in the system).

The goal is to establish a presence in every neighborhood and make bike riding an attractive option for commuting, running errands or spending leisure time. “We want people to be considering Bikeshare for every trip,” says Chris Eatough, BikeArlington’s program manager. Plenty of folks seem to be doing that already, notes Holben, who’s heard a host of reasons why users adore the program. “It’s fun and easy and cheap and green. You don’t need to put on Lycra, and you don’t need to store a bike in your house,” he says.

There’s one complaint the program’s heard more than it was expecting, however. Riders say the morning commute becomes hectic when they have trouble finding an available bike near home and a place to park near work. When everyone empties out of the residential neighborhoods and floods downtown simultaneously, the current system can’t handle it. Some riders have offered to pay a surcharge to reserve bikes during busy times, but so far, CaBi isn’t interested. “It adds layers of complication,” Eatough says. “Everyone has the same right to the bikes. It’s called sharing.”

Besides, the managers hope that by building more stations, redistribution of the bikes will happen more naturally. The National Park Service recently announced it would welcome stations on the Mall, provided the bikes don’t sully the pretty monument views. But where else can they go in the already saturated urban core? That’s a question for Holben, who needs to find flat, empty spaces for 6-foot-wide, 50-foot-long stations. “They’re solar-powered, so they can’t be in the shadow of a tall building or under a dense tree canopy,” he adds. As the program expands out to the borders of the city, where houses aren’t as close together, the problem becomes locating spots that will still be accessible by enough users.

Somehow, I suspect CaBi will figure out where it belongs — and will have racked up another few million rides in time for its next birthday party.

B-Day Bash!
Celebrate cycling at CaBi’s birthday party at Yards Park in SE next Thursday (which is also Car-Free Day) from 6 to 9 p.m. Festivities include a slow bike race (last one to the finish line wins), a paperboy race, moon bounce games and free stuff. Details at Godcgo.com.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · September 16, 2011