The backdrop for Montgomery County’s launch into the Bikeshare age Friday was fitting, if unintentional: a massive construction crane looming over Rockville Town center, symbol of the relentless development that has spawned this suburb’s mind-numbing traffic.
County officials and biking advocates hope that the new network — a planned 51 Bikeshare stations and 450 bikes across Silver Spring, Bethesda, Takoma Park, Rockville and Shady Grove — will be a small but significant step toward a less auto-centric community.
“These little red bikes are a great symbol of change,” said County Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large), one of a dozen local and state officials who spoke at the ceremonial ribbon cutting for a station with 15 bikes at the corner of Maryland and Montgomery avenues, among the first 14 sites activated Friday.
Montgomery, the first local government in Maryland to adopt Capital Bikeshare, joins the District, Arlington County and Alexandria in trying to reshape the way residents travel. The short-term rental system allows bikes to be picked up in one location and returned to another. Trips under 30 minutes are included in the membership fee, which ranges from $7 for 24 hours to $75 for a year.
In the southern part of the county, stations will be placed along the east and west legs of the Red Line, from the District line to Silver Spring and Takoma Park on the east and the Medical Center Metro stop on the west. Bike stations in the Rockville, Shady Grove and the Life Sciences Center area will be part of a pilot program to encourage lower-income residents to commute to jobs or school.
While Bikeshare has been rolling in other communities since 2010, it happened in Montgomery only after extensive discussion and negotiation with public- and private-sector landowners about where to place the bike stations. In April, buoyed by more than $2 million in federal and state grants — and private contributions — the county signed a contract with Alta Bicycle Share, which operates the program.
“I’m sad to say it took too long to get to this point,” said County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), adding that he was proud the day had finally arrived.
“It’s fantastic,” said Chris Eatough, program manager for Bike Arlington. “This is exactly what we had in mind when we started Capital Bikeshare. Arlington and D.C. had the initial partnership, but . . . this was part of the vision to have it expand to our neighboring jurisdictions.”
Expansion is key in a region where so many people live in one jurisdiction but work or socialize in another, Eatough said. Bikeshare members may not necessarily all use the red bikes to travel from city to city, but they can ride them at the beginning or the end of their trips.
“We have a lot of people that might take Metro or a bus or a different mode to go between the jurisdictions but then use Bikeshare for that last mile,” Eatough said.
Bikeshare members can use the same device to unlock bikes at all the stations across the region, making it a “seamless” system, said Kim Lucas, who manages bike sharing for the D.C. Transportation Department.
“Suppose you live in Arlington and you work in Montgomery County,” Lucas said. “Now you can use a bike at home and at work with the same key.”
Bike boosters understand that the advent of Bikeshare doesn’t automatically make Montgomery bicycle-friendly. It will be a challenge, especially in the Silver Spring and Bethesda central business districts, to carve out more bike lanes. Moreover, county law allows bicyclists on the sidewalk, which can cause friction with pedestrians.
“We have some challenging areas within the county,” said Emil Wolanin, the county transportation department’s chief of traffic engineering and operations, told the County Council on Tuesday.
But bike riders were happy to see the county get a start. While elected officials climbed on the bikes and mugged for the cameras, Michael Benefiel, a county resident and professional mediator, thought about where he wanted to go.
“I think I’ll ride around the block,” he said. “I don’t know where the next bike station is.”