The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Remember when a few people opposed bikeshare?

It's been fascinating to watch some of the coverage and debates over bike sharing in New York. In so many ways, it mirrors what happened in DC. At first, many people didn't understand it or opposed it. Once it opened, fears faded away.

Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

DC saw some contentious public meetings about whether stations belonged in certain neighborhoods. That's all long gone. Now, when an ANC takes up bike sharing, it's usually either to push for more stations or debate whether a station belongs in one spot or across the street.

New York started with the "don't understand it" phase. Some, like Gothamist and Reuters' Felix Salmon, first jumped on the fact that it will cost $77 in overtime fees to keep a "Citibike" for 4 hours. That is steeper than it needs to be, but it's also looking at the wrong thing.

Very few people will keep a bike that long. The purpose of bike sharing is for short point to point trips, not long rentals. But a lot of folks initially placed the system into their mental box of "bike rentals," and evaluated it accordingly. That'll pass, if it hasn't already, once people actually get to try using it.

Last night, at a public meeting in Brooklyn Heights, a few residents argued against bikeshare stations on their streets. Bikeshare supporter Mike Epstein (who's also a personal friend) tweeted some of the objections from the meeting:

Mike Epstein @mikepstein
"This is a terrific idea" but "not compatible with residential streets" #bikenyc

Mike Epstein @mikepstein
This guy is afraid of a bikeshare station turning into a place for people to hang out, but says he likes the program and will join. #bikenyc

Has a single station in DC turned into a "place for people to hang out"? Not that I'm aware. But some people worried about that here, too.

A BID employee from Montague Street, in Brooklyn Heights, wanted to keep 5 parking spaces instead of add 39 bikeshare docks, while a MetroTech BID representative was pleased there aren't stations in their area.

DC residents know what will happen:

Bryant Turnage @turnageb
They'll eat those words once it's live. RT @mikepstein "I love bike share, but I don't want it on my block." #bikenyc meets classic NIMBYism

Kriston Capps @kristoncapps
@turnageb @mikepstein It's going to be so annoying when everyone comes around on #bikenyc and NYers are all so proud they invented bikeshare

The system will open, and residents will realize that bike sharing is nothing like their worst fears. Neighbors will clamor for stations. Actually, many already are. Residents in Park Slope, which isn't getting Citibike yet, are eager for expansion.

Meanwhile, pass the popcorn.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


Add a comment »

When have NIMBYs' fears ever come true?

by cmc on May 16, 2012 3:32 pm • linkreport

I will eat some crow here. I thought that bike sharing would fail. The first iteration (the white bikes) made me look at bit like Nostradamus, but once they figured out the kinks and implemented the new system, I have to admit it is working and a very good thing for the city.

I still hold that the streetcars, if they ever run in my lifetime, will not work, but we shall see.

by dcdriver on May 16, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

I still don't see how someone can justify being in favor of a transportation device yet not want it on their street/neighborhood, especially something as low-impact of the installation of a bike share station.

by X on May 16, 2012 3:38 pm • linkreport

Disagree on the number of people using it for 4 or more hours. Actually, a huge number. But they are tourists. Their revenue helped establish a model. NYC doesn't need to validate model bc of Citibank

by Charlie on May 16, 2012 3:42 pm • linkreport


Well, according to the chart David linked, it's not a huge number at all, in fact, you can barely see the bar for users in the 4-5 hour range.

by cmc on May 16, 2012 3:57 pm • linkreport

Yes, but those small numbers of 4-5 hour users drive up average revenue per user quite a bit..

by Phil on May 16, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport

Suprisingly, I will say that the hanging out on bikeshare can happen. My station in columbia heights is occasionally occupied by guys sitting and watching the soccer games on the adjacent field, but they are courteous enough to move when I walk up with my bike helmet in hand.

by jal on May 16, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

jal: Wouldn't they be there if there were a bench instead of a bikeshare station? In other words, they're hanging out there because there's a soccer field and they want to watch the play; there just happens to be a station in the space they want to be.

I doubt any of the folks in Brooklyn Heights have an attraction people would want to watch, but the absence of a bench makes people stay away, except if there were bikeshare they could sit.

by David Alpert on May 16, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

dcdriver - I totally forgot about those old white bikes and their 7 (more?) stations! You're right that if those were the bikes launched as the full system, it would have gotten a big fat F for Failure.

by Shipsa01 on May 16, 2012 4:51 pm • linkreport

It's kinda comforting that one of the world's most progressive, urban cities still has a large share of NIMBYism virtually indistinguishable from smaller cities or suburban areas.

And yes, those articles about the $77 four hour ride were surely silly. It's like opposing Zipcar based on the fact that renting one of their cars every day for a month is very expensive. Most rent for a few hours, making the service pretty affordable for most people.

by Scoot on May 16, 2012 5:03 pm • linkreport


Smartbike had ten stations and 100 bikes. You're right that they would have crippled the system if they stuck with that system. The bikes were silly looking, their paint jobs faded in just one year and worse of all, the stations needed a Pepco hook up to work.

by TM on May 16, 2012 5:27 pm • linkreport

Bike share in DC has been far more successful than I expected.

by Geof Gee on May 16, 2012 8:04 pm • linkreport

@David, You conveniently skipped over the fact that many many people (drivers AND pedestrians) are upset about the increase in lawlessness by bicyclists ... particularly those using CaBi bikes given their typical inexperience with cycling and its do's and don'ts.

Yes, I guess if you cherry pick the complaints it's easy to say that people's fears didn't come true. But if you honestly acknowledge problems that were foreseen, you'd have to admit it happened ... and is only getting worse.

by Lance on May 16, 2012 9:42 pm • linkreport

Has there been an increase in "lawlessness"?

How is that measured? Certainly not by number of accidents, because at almost 2 million rides in less than two years there have been about 20 collisions and I can only think of one that was serious. That shows me things are getting safer for cyclists in the city not worse.

And I haven't seen any articles or particular comments about "scofflaw cyclists" that point to CABI more than anything else.

by Canaan on May 16, 2012 10:44 pm • linkreport

@Lance: You conveniently skipped over the fact that many many people (drivers AND pedestrians) are upset about the increase in lawlessness by bicyclists

Is that a fact? If so, surely you can cite it.

And didn't you predict that the streets would be 'filled with blood' (I think those were your actual words) because of all the inexperienced cyclists hitting the road. You conveniently left that out.

by David C on May 16, 2012 11:24 pm • linkreport

But some things have come true: the annual-fee rate structure has limited the growth. The recent advent of Car2Go has made a comparison possible. It took Capital Bikeshare more seven months and a cut-rate Living Social deal to break 6000 members. Car2Go in San Diego had 6000 members after a 100 days. Car2go Austin has 20,000 members after two years. Rather than charge high annual fees, Car2go has tried to get broad membership, relying on usage fees for revenue.

What if CaBi had done the same (or if they just offered a pay-to-use membership plan that would allowed them to try to get CaBi keys into the hands of as many people as possible)? We might have 180,000 rather than 18,000 members today.

by egk on May 17, 2012 12:51 am • linkreport

What do sharrows, cycle-tracks, roundabouts, bike-share, HSR, etc etc have in common?

Doesnt matter how many cities theyre implemented in with a thunderous success, when its proposed for a new town, its like the world ends at the city line.

Look for the exact same articles in Chicago and San Francisco this summer.

We live in such a connected world, but so many people refuse to look beyond their daily routine to see how proven concepts work.

by JJJJJ on May 17, 2012 12:53 am • linkreport

This is all pretty positive compared the inaccurate and ludicrous objection we here about Bikeshare in Melbourne.
Build it and they will come.... By bike.

by One bicycle on May 17, 2012 3:21 am • linkreport

Gotta admit I was skeptical of Bikeshare too, though I didn't oppose it. My skepticism was personal, as in why would I need it if I already owned a bike? Then they opened stands on the same block as my home, my office, and my favorite bar, and I saw the light.

To the person who claims an increase in lawlessness, as a long time biker I have actually seen the very opposite -- the more bikers there are, the more incentive there has been to obey the laws. When bikers going the wrong way or running lights endanger other bikers, we start to get it. I always tell wrong-way cyclists off when they come my way -- that is one of the most dangerous things you can do on a bike.

by Kucing on May 17, 2012 7:20 am • linkreport

I lived with streetcars in Europe and know they can work wonderfully. I hope the streetcars here are expanded quickly so they can prove naysayers wrong. The H Street line needs to be extended to Chinatown asap to make it a viable committing option for locals.

Streetcars can be the right fit for this city; we just need a little vision--just like we did to launch bike sharing.

by k on May 17, 2012 8:19 am • linkreport

It took Capital Bikeshare more seven months and a cut-rate Living Social deal to break 6000 members.
Untrue, CaBi hit just over 6,000 members in March 2011; the LivingSocial deal was in April and nearly doubled the membership. Now membership is 20,000+.

Why is "members" the right measure anyway? I'm a "member" of Car2Go (because it was free). I have used it once, and do not find it super convenient. If the membership is free then of course you will have lots of members. Isn't usage a better measurement?

by MLD on May 17, 2012 8:39 am • linkreport

@CMC; look at the data. That is from the winter -- not when tourists use the bike.

Overage charges were in the range of $800K the first year.

by charlie on May 17, 2012 8:41 am • linkreport


The data clearly says Sept 2010-Dec 2011. I.e. an entire year and three months... I assume you read it wrong.

Sure, there were plenty of trips where people had overage fees. But as a percentage of the whole they were small - 88% of trips were under 30 minutes.

Complaining that "this is expensive and so nobody will use it" because 4 hour trips cost $77 is misleading - the VAST majority of trips are shorter than that and a large majority are under 30 minutes.

Some tourists do use the system like that - but the system is not specifically designed as a tourist system. If they want a cheaper option there are tons of places to rent a bike for a day.

by MLD on May 17, 2012 8:56 am • linkreport

Cabi needs more stations in Arlington. It is great that they are near the Metro, but please spread them out around the neighborhoods too. Otherwise, I have no place to dock.

by Rob on May 17, 2012 9:17 am • linkreport

Most of the lawlessness I see on the street every day involves drivers. Just this morning, on my short walk to the cleaners and then Metro, I saw ten drivers using their cell phones (I'm sure they were having very important conversations that just couldn't wait), four drivers in a row roll through the stop sign at the corner in front of my house, four cars gunning it to make the light at 17th & Potomac SE, with the last two going through well after the light had turned red, a driver stopped on the crosswalk at 14th & E SE and blocking pedestrians, including children walking to school, another driver parking illegally (and incredibly incompetently) in front of the cleaners on 14th Street SE and about six cars parked illegally in front of the Potomac Avenue Metro Station. And that was all in the space of about 10 minutes! I see plenty of illegal behavior by bicyclists, but not nearly on the scale of what I see from drivers. So stop nitpicking about selectivity unless you are willing to admit that you are being selective as well.

The only blood I have seen on the streets since bike share started has been the result of car accidents, including a horrific one outside my office and a maniac who ended up in a neighbor's front yard. (I'm sure she was obeying the law and driving at the speed limit of 25mph when that happened.) If you are really worried about blood on the streets, worry about cars -- 40,000 American die in car accidents every year.

by rg on May 17, 2012 9:53 am • linkreport

1. Apparently in Paris, people do hang out at Velib stations to get dates... But in Montreal and DC, they are just equipment stations. People get the bikes and go.

2. Good general point for the post.

3. It is true that when people don't understand how the system works, racking up time past 1/2 hour costs a lot. But when you look at the trip data for Cabi, it's still pretty low.

4. There are some interesting issues here in terms of membership. Generally, membership levels are not rising significantly across the big systems in N. Am. Denver and MPLS and Toronto have paltry membership numbers. Boston finished an abbreviated year (something like July to Nov.) with 3,700 members. (I think the systems that pull up the equipment over the winter probably have reduced membership somewhat compared to 12 mo. systems.)

DC's is ok, but it's 1/2 of Montreal, and Montreal never did the deep discount for membership. DC does really well with casual use.

I think this means that a lot more marketing-outreach-communication needs to occur. People need assistance to make the transition from other modes to the bike.

At the same time, the systems are still very early in the experience-learning curve and have lots of opportunity for growth.

That being said, you need the classic Jane Jacobs factors (density, short blocks, mixed primary use) for the systems to be effective. Denver isn't DC. Minneapolis is spread out too. And they don't have the kinds of ridership that the Cabi system has. OTOH, Arlington is more like Denver and MPLS and their ridership statistics are more comparable.

by Richard Layman on May 17, 2012 10:03 am • linkreport

DC's is ok, but it's 1/2 of Montreal, and Montreal never did the deep discount for membership.

True, but Montreal is also more than twice the size (166 vs 406 stations). The systems cover a similar physical area but Montreal's is much more dense (and therefore more useful).

Agreed that the systems suffer from shutting equipment down (Denver) or taking it out (MPLS/Boston) over the winter.

Bikeshare in New York is going to be awesome - same number of stations as Montreal but twice as many bikes/docks.

by MLD on May 17, 2012 10:32 am • linkreport


I gotta come and defend Denver's "paltry" membership numbers here. It is my job after all to do the sales, marketing & communications here so when someone says I'm doing a bad job I'm inclined to respond.

In 2011, in terms of total users, Denver B-cycle had more half the total users (44,995) that Capital Bike Share did (84,534) with a system less than half the size. Personally, I feel we've had significant growth in membership numbers in our two years of operation. From 2010 to 2011 and we saw 48% growth in Annual Members and so far in 2012, we are 19.5% ahead of 2011.

You said it best "Denver isn't DC," but I still think we are achieving a pretty high level of success given the factors we can't change like density, population, and how our city is constructed.

Finally, if you want to check out some of our advertising around town please visit our Facebook page there are plenty of examples posted of our 2012 launch campaign.


by B-cycle Ben! on May 17, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

I was really surprised at the number of bikers out today, many using CaBi. Bike week is going very strong (rain + other activities mean this is the first day I've biked this week)! Yes, the weather doesn't hurt. Now, granted, I don't ride very far, but only one cyclist I saw today on my short ride (and that was a LARGE number of bikers) broke the law. He was, not surprisingly, a bike messenger. I almost get run over by those guys on foot and bike pretty regularly. Yeah, yeah, the faster they get their deliveries made the more deliveries they can make the more money they can make, but, hot damn, get off the sidewalk and stop riding against moving traffic! I'm also much more frequently bothered by discourteous bikers in bike lanes and cycle tracks than in mixed traffic. Just a few notes: riding side-by-side in a cycle track is not kosher; stopping in the middle of the bike lane to cross traffic is bad form, especially if you park perpendicularly across it waiting for a cross-traffic green; and if you need to pass me please ding your bell or yell out ("on your left" will work fine) and I will move over as far right as I can, but you should also move left, as well (I don't need a 3-foot berth from a fellow biker, but more than a few inches would be nice).

Anecdotally, I think CaBi seemed to work much better today with the higher number of riders. I was watching the number of bikes at my origin station tick down as I was walking out of my building, and I was pretty convinced that I was going to be SOL by the time I got to the station. Nope, several people pulled up and parked as I was crossing the street, something I've never seen happen at my origin station at that time of day. At the same time, my destination station fills up pretty quickly, and it was full when I departed, so I assumed I'd end up using the alternate station a few blocks away. Nope, there were several docks available by the time I got there. A drastically different experience than I normally have.

Finally, I found an alternative use of CaBi stations today. While I was undocking and setting up my bike and myself, two different groups of tourists walked up to the station. I assumed they were just checking it out, happens all the time. Instead, they used the station map as a wayfinding map for walking! Hey, maybe that means I'll have to give directions less frequently!

by Ms. D on May 17, 2012 7:25 pm • linkreport

Ben, FWIW, from what I've seen, Denver Bcycle does some of the best marketing. That being said, I recommend a different approach even still. Since it's an element of my business' approach to bikeshare (, it's something that for me to write about, I have to get paid for it (or it's submitted as part of an RFP response for operating bikeshare systems).

Our marketing approach is why in the places we've submitted RFPs, we're very strong contenders, often (but sadly) #2. We still get beat out though because picking Bcycle/Bixi is like the old saying "no one ever got fired for choosing IBM."

Hopefully, with our next generation system and some of the quantum changes it will bring to bikeshare (+ lining up some big financing), things will change.

by Richard Layman on May 19, 2012 11:37 am • linkreport

FWIW, I did a blog entry on bike sharing maps serving wayfinding purposes in 4/2011. Now though, with the new maps showing a smaller area, they might be a little less useful.

by Richard Layman on May 19, 2012 5:24 pm • linkreport

Richard, I would assume that there's a benefit to density of stations, as far as wayfinding purposes go. If the tourists can find their way to the next landmark, and there's another station there, they're good to go! These tourists were attempting to find their way from the RRB to Metro Center. Both easily identifiable points on the CaBi map, with stations and their corresponding maps at both locations. Also one of the most frequent sets of directions I give.

by Ms. D on May 19, 2012 11:13 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us