Bike Advocate Talks Promise Of Bikeshare In Montgomery County

Capital Bikeshare station at Norfolk and Cordell AvenuesCapital Bikeshare officially opened in Bethesda on Sept. 27 and the full rollout of 12 Bethesda-Chevy Chase area stations wasn’t complete until about a month later.

Montgomery County officials and Bikeshare observers agree it’s too early to know how the system is doing in its newest, most suburban location.

Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, spoke with us about what he has seen so far and his feeling that Bikeshare will be just one important part of a future Montgomery County with more transit options. Farthing also shared his thoughts with the Action Committee for Transit this week.

A quick look through Capital Bikeshare’s fourth quarter 2013 trip history data shows there were about 190 Bikeshare trips made in December from or to the Bethesda Row station at Bethesda Avenue and Arlington Road, one of Bethesda’s most popular.

Most of those trips were 10 minutes or less — riders biking from and back to stations on Montgomery Lane, Battery Lane and elsewhere in Woodmont Triangle. Some came from destinations indicating a trip on the Capital Crescent Trail. We found one that made a 19-minute trip from a Tenleytown station to Bethesda Row.

Our Q and A with Farthing follows:

BethesdaNow.com: Generally, how are things going for Capital Bikeshare in Montgomery?

Farthing: It’s a little too early to tell where ridership is going to come out. It really opened with about four days left in September, when the rest of the system is showing decreasing ridership because of the weather. Because it’s new, both of the Montgomery County areas — Shady Grove-Rockville and the Downcounty stations — are showing increases mainly just because it’s a new thing people can sign up for. You won’t be able to tell in a  fair way how it’s going until the spring. The promise is there.

BethesdaNow.com: How do you think Bikeshare will work in such a suburban setting? It seems like a lot of people are interested to see if something like this can work in a place so different from D.C. and parts of Arlington.

Farthing: I think that Montgomery County right now is confronting a level of growth that’s making it rethink how transportation is going to work. If the county keeps going the way it is, not everybody is going to be able to get around using a single-occupancy vehicle. I don’t think that bikesharing is really a separate thing form the the major transit investments happening right now.

It goes along with BRT. It goes along with the Purple Line. It’s another option so you’re not routing people on the same dozen roads that feed everything and clog up everybody’s commute every day. Bikeshare is sort of the first move of this big change because it’s a smaller investment and it’s a more flexible system.

What the real promise is, is when these other investments come in and when we start looking for ways that Bikeshare can work with other types of transportation. When you have that BRT there and start having the Purple Line there and start having these sorts of non-linear transit options, then you’re essentially creating transfer options.

Right now, that’s not there yet but Bikeshare is a prime mover of it. I don’t want to oversell it. I don’t think Bikeshare by itself is a magic bullet, but I think it’s one very flexible piece that ties in with all these other investments and allows some of them to function better.

Even right now there are a lot of folks who have it and only use it when the Red Line is delayed. It’s that pressure release valve. People in DC use it to change Metro lines when there isn’t an automatic transfer.

There’s not the density there is in DC and Arlington, so you’re going to see it used and integrated with other transit. So maybe somebody who doesn’t want to drive to work will ride Bikeshare to park and ride or ride it to the BRT stop and take the BRT down to wherever they’re going.

BethesdaNow.com: What kind of feedback are you hearing? What kind of situations are people saying they use Bikeshare for in Montgomery County?

Farthing: I’m mostly hearing about people getting around with sort of short hops in Silver Spring and Bethesda. We’ve heard from folks who move in to those areas because they are a bit more urbanized, people using the bikes to get to their apartments and condos.

We also hear about people taking trips they otherwise wouldn’t have taken — to get to dinner at a restaurant. Those trips are economically valuable.

BethesdaNow.com: As a bike advocate, do you view Bikeshare’s introduction to Montgomery County as a big opportunity to get more bike lanes, paths, infrastructure and people interested in biking?

Farthing: Yes, as we’ve got people to focus on this effort they’ve become tied to its success. And one of the ways to cover the cost of the system is to increase ridership.

It’s a good opportunity for bike advocates and government officials to get on the same page. There are people who have their own bikes who also use Bikeshare. It’s also a gateway for a lot of folks who are not experienced urban cyclists to learn. It creates the opportunity to get better infrastructure and better education about the rules of the road.

You want to show people where to ride. You also want to show motorists where to leave space for riders and you want to invest in some level of education because there is a learning curve.


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