This spring, Capital Bikeshare might become the latest attraction on the Mall.
The National Capital Planning Commission will vote March 1 on expanding the popular regional cycling network to include five bike stations from the Smithsonian Metro station to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial.
If approved, one or two stations of the familiar red bicycles will be available by the beginning of the National Cherry Blossom Festival on March 20, according to Chris Holben, Bikeshare project manager at the District Department of Transportation. All five stations would be operational by the end of the summer, he said.
The program has grown exponentially since it was founded in 2010 by Arlington County and the District. More than 133,000 people have registered to use the bikes, and 3,248 single-day passes were bought in January alone, according to Capital Bikeshare data. Capital Bikeshare now has more than 1,200 bicycles at 140 stations in the District and Arlington, and Alexandria and Rockville plan to join up this year.
The new bike stations will offer an inexpensive, eco-friendly, healthy transportation alternative, Holben said. “You can take a pedicab or walk or hop on the buses or use your own car, so this is just another way to get around,” he said. “This allows people to see more of the Mall, especially during those hot days of summer.”
According to the National Park Service, the proposed locations are south of the Mall entrance of the Smithsonian Metro station at Jefferson Drive; south of the Lincoln Memorial at Daniel French Drive; south of the Jefferson Memorial at East Basin Drive; east of the Washington Monument at Jefferson Drive; and adjacent to the FDR and MLK memorials at West Basin and Ohio drives.
The Mall’s stations will be able to accommodate up to 23 bicycles at a time instead of the standard 19, offering more capacity in a high-traffic area, according to Holben. Each station costs about $50,000 and will be funded by the Federal Highway Administration.
“This will give [everyone] another place to go to bring their bikes back or to get bikes,” National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said. “The national park is a place not just for tourists, but for local residents to play on and to take advantage of.”
Johnson said that the Park Service has been working to provide new transportation options for Mall visitors since Tourmobile shut down in October because of financial troubles.
“We know that our visitors range from very young to very old, and we’re trying to look at a number of different options so that everybody gets what they need,” Johnson said.
The Park Service hopes to address the rising demand for bicycle accommodations with the Capital Bikeshare stations, which will supplement the existing bike corrals provided during busy times on the Mall, such as the the Fourth of July.
“We see people riding bikes around the Mall every day, but especially so around events,” Johnson said. “People want to avoid the congestion on the roads around the area. . . . It’s easier to do that on a bike than in a car.”
Greg Billing, outreach and advocacy coordinator at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said the expansion will help ease the stress on public transportation in a bicycle-friendly area.
“Our city is very bikeable: It’s flat [and] distances are relatively small,” Billing said. “It’s very cheap in the overall transportation equation to accommodate and provide for bicycles . . . nowhere near the cost of putting in new Metro lines or buying new buses.”
Bikeshare expansion is one of several efforts by WABA and the Park Service to make the Mall more accessible, Billing said. They include examining gaps in bike routes, trails and lanes across the Mall as well as improving signs and markings on Mall-area routes for those biking across the D.C.-Virginia line.
Billing said WABA hopes to have five to 10 more Capital Bikeshare stations installed on the Mall.
“The stations are going to be mostly focused on the west, so eventually we’d like to see more stations across the Mall, but five is a great start,” he said.