ROCKVILLE, Md. – Montgomery County officials Wednesday signed the formal contract with Alta Bicycle Share to set up more than 200 bikes at 29 sites by late summer.
Alta Bicycle Share is the same company that operates the bikeshare program in Washington, Arlington and Alexandria.
“At this point, we are ordering the bikeshare equipment. It takes Alta about four to five months to get the equipment from their manufacturer,” says Sandra Brecher, Montgomery County Transportation Department Chief of Commuter Services.
Brecher said the bikes should be available to the public in late August or September but she wouldn’t say if a specific start date has been set. She says that reports about September 21 were inaccurate and taken out of context.
Currently Montgomery County officials are selecting the specific locations in Rockville, Bethesda and Silver Spring where the stations will go.
Consultant Paul DeMaio will work with engineers to make recommendations in the coming months. DeMaio worked with D.C., Arlington and Alexandria during their launches.
Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen is concerned that without dedicated bike lanes, bicyclists will not be safe on the county’s densely packed roads.
“My goal is to make sure wherever we put those Bikeshare stations, we have an obligation to make it safe places. That means putting lines down the road that those are bike-only lanes. It means putting up signs to let drivers know that they don’t own the whole road,” says Floreen.
She also criticized the Department of Transportation for not working hard enough on dedicated bike lanes.
“Some feel people, bicyclists can just share the road with a car. I don’t think that’s the right approach. People on clunkier bikeshare bikes are going more slowly and will need more protection than the carbon bikes. I’m not proposing we eliminate all the parking spots in Bethesda or Silver Spring, just repainting some roads so that the travel lanes reflect some room for bicyclists,” says Floreen.
When asked whether she’d be okay with eliminating parking spots, Floreen said the world continued to keep moving when D.C. eliminated about 150 parking spots for a bike lane on L Street NW.
“One thing bike sharing is great at is getting less experienced people riding. But they need to have places to ride that feel safe and where people don’t feel they are fighting with aggressive drivers all the time. Montgomery County needs to put in these lanes. In D.C. that has meant taking out a traffic lane on roads with the capacity. And Montgomery County should do the same in appropriate locations,” says David Alpert, editor of the transportation blog Greater Greater Washington. He advocates for alternative transportation solutions to the area’s congested roads.
“Either way, adding Capital Bikeshare will be a great step for Montgomery County. They can maximize the investment by also providing good bike infrastructure,” Alpert says.
“Picking the right sites is the first step to make everyone safe. Remember, bicyclists can ride on the sidewalk in Montgomery County. But it’s about education, learning whether there are parallel streets or quiet sidewalks if you don’t feel comfortable using a heavily-traveled road,” says Brecher.
Councilman Roger Berliner adds that transportation officials should consider shared-lane marking. D.C. and Arlington already use shared lanes on their roads.
Those shared lanes includes signage that indicates to drivers that bikers are also using the road. Those signs increase awareness, Berliner said.
Brecher says transportation officials are looking at spots to add lane markings and signs and other short term measures to make things safe for everyone.
One complication is that the Maryland State Highway Administration maintains Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue and other busy roads, not Montgomery County.
“It’s always a balancing act. You have a limited amount of right-of-way. Who is going to use it? You have to have autos. You can’t tear down buildings, so there’s only so much space we can use,” says Brecher.
“Bikeshare has demonstrated that it’s safety record is good. Bikers go slower, they’re far more visible to motorists. The safety issue is not as big as it is for the commuting biker. There’s a difference between the two,” says Berliner.
Berliner says he’s confident all cars and bicyclists will be able to share the road and the program will be a success.