Students and residents in College Park, Md., will soon be able to rent a bicycle at one of at least 10 bike kiosks to be installed in and around the University of Maryland campus.
What they won’t be able to do is ride it to one of the 354 docking stations in other parts of the Washington region, the closest of them just over three miles away in Takoma Park. The College Park bike-share system expected to launch next spring won’t be part of the fast-growing Capital Bikeshare network available in the District, Alexandria and Arlington and Montgomery counties.
“We are no longer considering them,” said Terry Schum, the city’s director of planning, community and economic development. “We are excited about the future, though. We look forward to having a really good system that meets our needs and hopefully will be cost-effective to operate.”
City and university officials had hoped to join Capital Bikeshare early last year. They were close to having a deal with the company when the system’s bike provider filed for bankruptcy in January 2014, stalling negotiations. Last spring, College Park and the university sought alternative bike share operators, and Motivate, the company that runs Capital Bikeshare, was not one of the new bidders.
The plan is to install a minimum of 10 stations with 100 bikes across the city, including five on university property and one at the College Park Metro station. The city and university are negotiating the details of the new contract and expect to award it this fall.
The arrival of Capital Bikeshare was widely anticipated in College Park as the first step to bring the popular system to Prince George’s County. Some envisioned an expansion into other dense communities of the county that border the District and Montgomery and a wider reach to Washington’s famous bike network. Now, some county residents and bike enthusiasts say they welcome any bike share program, Capital Bikeshare or not, that would provide connectivity, with potential to extend beyond College Park to neighboring towns along the busy Route 1 corridor.
“We would definitely love to get bikeshare in here, and even if it’s not quite the same as downtown it would be great to get a system up and running,” said Jeff Lemieux, a bike activist in the county who lives in nearby Greenbelt and frequents his wife’s bike shop in College Park. “From College Park extending down to Riverdale and Hyattsville and up toward Greenbelt, we have a lot of bike riders who make short trips. This could be a really good bikeshare node even if it’s not completely compatible with the downtown system.”
Those who use two wheels to get around see the arrival of a ride-share system as an opportunity to grow an increasingly popular mode of transportation, just as much as Capital Bikeshare brought biking to the next level in the District. They also see it as an effective strategy to discourage driving in one of the most congested corridors of the county, and they say that it could help speed up infrastructure improvements and make streets safer for biking and walking. The state recently announced funding to reconstruct part of it to a four-lane divided road with a median, along with bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements.
From the regional perspective, however, introducing a new system that can’t be integrated into the region’s expansive bike network could have its downside.
“It is great to see that College Park is still committed to bringing bike sharing to the community,” said Greg Billing, advocacy coordinator with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “But it is unfortunate that it is not going to be Capital Bikeshare and it’s not going to be integrated. College Park really isn’t that far … These distances aren’t as great as they seem, so it is a little unfortunate that they wont be integrated fully with the rest of the system.”
Still, he said, it’s not unprecedented to have two independent systems operating in a metropolitan area. In the region, George Mason University launched Patriot Bikeshare in fall 2012. The program was discontinued the next summer when its bike operator went out of business, university officials said, but the university is once again working to develop a new bike loan program and even considering a larger network with the city of Fairfax.
In College Park, officials say they had to move on from the failed attempt to become the fifth jurisdiction member of Capital Bikeshare to secure funds for the program. The city and the university received a state grant of $374,980 to help cover costs to start the program, and they had a pressing deadline attached to them.
“For a while we were hoping to find a resolution but then it got complicated because of our grant restriction and ultimately we couldn’t move forward with Capital Bikeshare and had to start over,” said Schum.
She said the city has not given up on the idea of having some kind of interface with the regional bike system and will look for options. It’s unclear, however, how two systems, using different equipment and run by unrelated entities, can be compatible. A Capital Bikeshare user, for example, can’t use their membership to rent from Divvy Bikes in Chicago or Citi Bike in New York, even though they are operated by the same company and with the same equipment.
For now, the vision is to launch a bike network that is well integrated with the city’s other transit options, including the future Purple Line stops, and the College Park Metro station. If it is successful in the town of about five square miles and 32,000 residents, it could expand along the commercial corridor.
“We could have quite a robust bike-share system that extends across the border,” Schum said.