Capital Bikeshare commuters share why they ride — and its drawbacks

February 1, 2012

Capital Bikeshare’s expansion into the suburbs could lead more people to consider pedaling across state and county lines.

For commuters who already use Bikeshare as part of their daily routines, the same benefits of traveling this way were cited repeatedly: money, time, exercise and convenience.

“Unless you walk to work, there’s simply no cheaper way to go,” said Josh Stephens, 37, of Adams Morgan. “The cost savings have been ridiculous.”

And it also saves Stephens time. After he joined Bikeshare in October 2010, the trip to work that used to require timing two buses in the morning for a 45-minute commute now takes only 12 minutes.

Many of the perks Bikeshare acolytes mention are available to anyone commuting on a bike. But Bikeshare offers added advantages, members say. There’s no lugging along your bike to happy hour, no maintenance issues and no concerns about where to keep it overnight. And you don’t have to worry about someone stealing it, which is what happened last year to Gareth Sparks, 27, of Halethorpe, Md.

Commuting this way isn’t immune to drawbacks, of course. Two people said the smartphone Spotcycle app, which identifies what Capital Bikeshare stations are loaded with bikes, was unreliable. Before Bikeshare expanded across the District in the fall, users said it could be tough to find a bike at certain stations. And some of the cons apply to anyone who bikes or walks, such as bad weather and drivers who aren’t happy to share the road. Sparks, who bikes from Union Station to Farragut Square after taking the MARC train from Maryland, said a commuter bus bumped him. Andrew Cunningham, 25, of Columbia Heights said he’s been “lightly clipped” by cabs.

As weather changes, demand might change as well. Cunningham — who, like many members, owns his own bicycle but still finds reasons to use Bikeshare — said when it was warmer, he would have to wake up an hour early to score a bike. “Right now, there are always bikes,” he said. “When spring comes again, I’ll probably depend on my [own] bike.”

Bikeshare members mostly extolled the service, listing many more positives than negatives. Michelle Terry, who used to take the bus to the Metro, said she came to Washington not even considering biking as an option.

“It’s really great to travel on my own terms,” said Terry, 23, who lives near the H Street corridor in Northeast Washington. “Eventually, I got tired of waiting for the bus. So on a whim, I decided, I’m just going to get that bike, and I’ve never gone back.”

Some riders don’t use the bikes for more than the short distances to and from Metro stations. Tyler Brown uses it to travel the six miles between his home in Capitol Hill and his job in Crystal City. “It feels better,” Brown said. “It starts your day off right.”

The trip takes him about as long as it would on the Metro, he said. But instead of switching trains at L’Enfant Plaza, he’s exercising while crossing the Potomac River and riding down the Mount Vernon Trail.

“Ever since it came to D.C., it’s been one of my favorite ways of getting out of the city — in, out and around,” Brown, 26, said.

Bicycle commuters often mention how their trips become free of delays. For Cunningham, who works and studies at George Washington University, the best example was last summer’s earthquake.

“The day we had that earthquake, GW closed at 3, and everyone talked about how awful it was going to be to get home,” he said. “And all throughout my ride home, I didn’t see a car move, but it took me the exact same amount of time to get home. . . . It doesn’t matter what is going on in the city: My commute is the same, and it’s great.”

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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