Greater Greater Washington

Bikeshare is a good deal for Alexandria

Alexandria's City Council will soon decide whether to expand Capital Bikeshare in the city. Opponents claim that bikeshare is a waste of money that should be spent on other things, but ridership and revenue are exceeding expectations.


Photo by afagen on Flickr.

On May 6, the council will vote to fund an 8-station expansion, doubling the local CaBi fleet, and add CaBi operating funds to the city budget. However, some say that Alexandria is not getting a good deal. City Council members say privately that these residents have fixated on CaBi as the place to cut the budget in favor of their own causes.

The person leading this charge is Kathryn Papp, who has a history of opposing bicycles in Old Town. Papp argued last year that "adding bikes increases congestion" by slowing down cars. Now, she is presenting straw-man arguments against CaBi expansion.

"Every other city uses dedicated sponsors to cover operating costs, but not Alexandria," she states in a letter to the Alexandria Gazette-Packet on April 12, citing New York's Citibank-sponsored Citibike, which is still under construction. Papp notes that Alexandria also no longer receives federal grants to pay for bikeshare and will instead use $50,000 in development impact fees and $70,000 in revenue from real estate taxes.

In another letter to the Alexandria Times, Papp questions whether the city should pay for a service operated by Alta, a private company, in partnership with Alexandria, Arlington and DC. She claims that a financial dispute between Bixi, Alta's equipment maker, and the city of Montreal and a lawsuit from Bixi's software vendor makes Alta unfit to work with. Instead, she proposes that Alexandria use CaBi funds to reverse a proposed cut in library hours.

Conflating the problems of Bixi with Alta, the private company that operates CaBi, ignores the real question of whether it's actually working for Alexandria.

Alexandria is getting the same deal as Arlington, DC, and other cities with bikeshare systems. Like Denver's B-Cycle and Boston's Hubway, CaBi is a public-private partnership in which the city owns the equipment and contracts out operations to a for-profit company.

As with Minneapolis' Nice Ride system, CaBi lists a number of major sponsors on its website, though Nice Ride covers its operating costs with user fees and sponsored stations. Capital Bikeshare could partner with a corporate sponsor, but it's a regional system, and all of the jurisdictions involved should make that decision together.

Despite what Papp says, Capital Bikeshare also saves money. Capital costs of the proposed eight-station expansion are about that of a single DASH bus. Operating costs per ride are well under a dollar for CaBi, versus over a dollar for Metrorail and over two dollars for DASH. System-wide, CaBi moves about 8,000 people per day, almost as many as the 11,000 that DASH moves.

Papp complains that CaBi will get some financial support from local taxes, but Alexandria recently chose to dedicate 2.2¢ of its real estate tax rate to a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), including 3 designated transit corridors and supporting infrastructure for biking and walking. Given that 2 of the 4 busiest Alexandria CaBi stations serve nearby Metro stations, CaBi clearly fits in with the program's stated goals.

Besides, Alexandria can't simply move the funds to support libraries. TIP money must be spent on transportation, and since it's a new program, raiding TIP funds for libraries would only weaken it as a funding source. Just as CaBi is a transportation service that should be evaluated in the context of Alexandria's transportation program, libraries are a social service that should be evaluated in the context of Alexandria's other social services.

Capital Bikeshare has proven its worth to Alexandria, but a few detractors want to discredit this valuable service. The City Council should listen to the facts and support bikeshare funding. They will be voting on the budget next Monday; you can contact them here and voice your support.

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Jonathan Krall is an advocate for bicycling and walking and a former Chair of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. He lives in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria and has been car-free since 2011.  

Comments

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Kathryn Papp appears to work for some environmental organization too....which seems odd considering her frequent anti-bicycle screeds.
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/kathryn-papp/5/82b/a65

by Craig on Apr 30, 2013 2:42 pm • linkreport

Basically: "Don't support bikeshare because everyone is going to drive still and there will be more vehicles on the road."

Where are these magical new people coming from if everyone is still driving?

The real fear is that car drivers will have to actually pay attention while piloting their vehicle for bicyclists, but they realize it's a losing one so they hide behind circuitous nonsense.

by Alan B. on Apr 30, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

The corporate sponsorships made sense when you consider that bike sharing is a relatively new phenomenon and that there needed to be buy-in (and a decrease in risk) for local governments to really see cycling as an integral part of the transportation network. I think the evidence is there now that bike sharing works (especially in a town like Alexandria) and thus with good planning, is not that risky because its proven so viable. Therefore we should see more gov'ts adding bike share to their general funds. This will be important to decrease the risk from a lot of cities going with Alta who is really stretching themself and their supply network.

by drumz on Apr 30, 2013 2:52 pm • linkreport

she needs up update her LinekdIn profile. Looks like her employment ended with NCSE in 1998(!), and the NCSE website certainly doesn't list her as a current Fellow. She's currently an "independent consultant." Which may or may not be a cover for "angrily denouncing everything in Alexandria that doesn't agree with me."

by Birdie on Apr 30, 2013 2:57 pm • linkreport

What a terrible terrible argument. When you make an argument that includes the following: 960,000 people will visit libraries in 2014, which is 53 times the total number of regional CaBi members, your entire rest of your argument should be ruled null.

Such blatant cherry picking of stats is pathetic. I can do the same: Only 50,000 residents of Alexandria will visit a library at least once next year, well TWENTY TIMES MORE rides will happen on CaBi in the region! See what I did there?

Either way, this one person seemingly is being ignored, and progress is happening. Good to see it. I used CaBi last time I went to Old Town, and it was certainly nice not having to wait for the trolley/walk.

by Kyle-w on Apr 30, 2013 3:07 pm • linkreport

Despite what Papp says, Capital Bikeshare also saves money. Capital costs of the proposed eight-station expansion are about that of a single DASH bus. Operating costs per ride are well under a dollar for CaBi, versus over a dollar for Metrorail and over two dollars for DASH. System-wide, CaBi moves about 8,000 people per day, almost as many as the 11,000 that DASH moves.

I don't really think you can say that CaBi "saves" money relative to DASH. More accurately, CaBi just costs less to operate than DASH. I think in order to determine how much money CaBi "saves", you'd need to determine how many DASH customers are being captured by CaBi. Can the author provide data on this???

Capital Bikeshare could partner with a corporate sponsor, but it's a regional system, and all of the jurisdictions involved should make that decision together.

I don't see why all the jurisdictions should have to agree whether or how to take on a corporate sponsor if each jurisdiction already has the freedom to fund the system as it sees fit.

Capital Bikeshare has proven its worth to Alexandria, but a few detractors want to discredit this valuable service

Has it? I think the best that one can glean from the ridership data is not necessarily that the system provides great value for the city or has reduced congestion, but that the city has spent relatively little funding to provide a service demanded by the public. In that sense I would say it has been successful. In other, more quantitative measures, it is too early to tell.

I think the takeaway from this is that it is very difficult to reason with people who want to defund bicycle programs for the sole purpose of funding their own pet programs. Those people cannot be persuaded by logic. You just have to expose them for who they really are and try to persuade the public not to vote for them in the future.

by Scoot on Apr 30, 2013 3:09 pm • linkreport

"I don't see why all the jurisdictions should have to agree whether or how to take on a corporate sponsor if each jurisdiction already has the freedom to fund the system as it sees fit."

in NYC, which seems to the prime example for corp sponsorship, Citibank sponsors citibike. The bank gets a citywide brand, reinforcing on every bike, in every station, in every mention of the system. NYC still gets consistent branding for the entire system.

If Alex has, say, FargoBike, and DC has CaBi, then A. users will be confused about how the systems are linked and B. Wells Fargo does not get mentioned when people discuss "Cabi in Alex" and does not get the same bang for their buck. Well its probably legally possible for one jurisdiction to get its own sponsor, it probably wont be of nearly as much value (to either the govts or the sponsor) as a systemwide sponsorship deal.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 30, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

if each jurisdiction already has the freedom to fund the system as it sees fit.

You can't put ads on the bikes, because the bikes move between jurisdictions.

Arlington doesn't allow advertising in the public space, and there is no way to keep the bikes with ads on them out of Arlington. And DC has issues with it's existing public space advertising deals. So, they don't have freedom.

by David C on Apr 30, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

"Opponents claim that bikeshare is a waste of money that should be spent on other things, but ridership and revenue are exceeding expectations. "

I think the logic is - if we assume that the ridership justified or close to justified Cabi under projected ridership, than it certainly does given that it exceeded ridership expectations. If actual ridership does not justify it, than the projected ridership had to have fallen far short of justification. And assuming that it was thoroughly examined and debated before, theres no reason to debate it now, given that its done even better than it was expected to do.

Obviously not everyone agrees with the initial decision though.

I think the development link is important. People (in alex, like elsewhere) complain about new development bringing more cars. One answer is to get more folks to bike, and a very obvious way to tie the two is developer contributions to CaBi.

I love libraries, and want longer library hours - but can you really tie that to development in the same way?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 30, 2013 3:22 pm • linkreport

"Every other city uses dedicated sponsors to cover operating costs, but not Alexandria," she states in a letter to the Alexandria Gazette-Packet on April 12, citing New York's Citibank-sponsored Citibike, which is still under construction.

So, she should follow this up with a plan for securing dedicated sponsors for Alexandria Cabi. Obtaining sponsorship and expanding Cabi are complementary goals, not contradictory ones.

Capital Bikeshare could partner with a corporate sponsor, but it's a regional system, and all of the jurisdictions involved should make that decision together.

That's not really possible since each jurisdiction has different rules pertaining to this. I believe DC has sold itself out to Clear Channel such that they have exclusive rights to advertising in public spaces like bus shelters and Cabi. I believe Arlington also has hurdles which Alexandria may not.

by Falls Church on Apr 30, 2013 3:22 pm • linkreport

Can you link to a map showing the locations of the 8 new stations (perhaps with the existing 8)?

by JimT on Apr 30, 2013 3:32 pm • linkreport

in NYC, which seems to the prime example for corp sponsorship, Citibank sponsors citibike. The bank gets a citywide brand, reinforcing on every bike, in every station, in every mention of the system. NYC still gets consistent branding for the entire system.

If Alex has, say, FargoBike, and DC has CaBi, then A. users will be confused about how the systems are linked ...

I would not NYC is the "prime" example for corporate sponsorship; it may just be the most blatant example. Actually, among almost 400 bikeshare systems in the world, almost none of them are named after a corporate sponsor. And to wit, the NYC system is not even live yet.

In Montreal, for instance, corporate sponsorship is much more compartmentalized; corporations can sponsor individual stations,. It is common to see bicycles affixed a bunch of different corporate labels docked at a single station (example here). This sort of compartmentalization would work well for inter-jurisdictional systems.

I don't really see any reason to hinder one jurisdiction's willingness to adopt corporate sponsorship just so that every jurisdiction can buy into it -- even the jurisdictions that don't want to or need to. It's tantamount to arguing for one single funding scheme that every jurisdiction must agree on.

by Scoot on Apr 30, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

Do any systems get as high a proportion of their funding from corporate sponsorship as NYC? I honestly don't know. If they get less, I assume that would still leave a need for govt funding. From what I can gather from above comments, sponsorship of bikes couldnt be arranged by City of Alex, because the bikes don't "belong" to Alex, but travel throughout the system. I suppose the stations in Alex could be sponsored. But that would be more like just putting an add on a bus stop, not naming the system, so would presumably generate less revenue. They would also have to make the ad consistent with the look and feel of the stations, which I guess is part of CaBi's marketing.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 30, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

I don't really see any reason to hinder one jurisdiction's willingness to adopt corporate sponsorship just so that every jurisdiction can buy into it

I'm not aware of any desire by Alexandria council to go for sponsorship, evidenced by the fact that they're putting it into their general ops fund. Rather the desire for sponsorship is from Ms. Papp who opposes the expansion.

by drumz on Apr 30, 2013 4:03 pm • linkreport

I'm not aware of any desire by Alexandria council to go for sponsorship

I'm not aware of any desire either, I am just responding to the assertion from Mr Krall (the author of the blog article) that "Capital Bikeshare could partner with a corporate sponsor, but it's a regional system, and all of the jurisdictions involved should make that decision together."

by Scoot on Apr 30, 2013 4:09 pm • linkreport

http://www.capitalbikeshare.com/partners

"Support Capital Bikeshare as clean, green, and healthy transport while getting your organization noticed for giving back to the community. Your organization can be a sponsor of either a Capital Bikeshare station in Arlington and Alexandria or the entire Arlington portion of the regional service."

looks like these opportunities are already available. Some stations in arlington already have sponsors.

Clearly this is not what Ms Papp has in mind. What she has in mind is NYC, where sponsorships covers the entire costs. And which is only possible because Citibank was able to make the kind of deal that is not possible here, AFAICT.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 30, 2013 4:09 pm • linkreport

here is what Ms Papp has actually written

"This is why Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, where 7,000 bikes are due in May, required that no taxpayer money fund Bikeshare"

She is citing Citibike.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 30, 2013 4:11 pm • linkreport

Scoot,

Well I think that's a decision that should be made collectively as well. Must it be made collectively? Maybe not, there is always a way around anything but my predilection anyway is towards having the jurisdictions take more control on its funding since its proven itself as an important part of the transportation network.

by drumz on Apr 30, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

@ JimT: I don not know of an updated map of the planned expansion. Previous plans for the expansion focused on Carlyle and filling out Old Town. An article and map are here: http://oldtownalexandria.patch.com/articles/alexandria-unveils-capital-bikeshare-station-locations

In any case, there will be public meetings to discuss it. Some new stations will almost certainly be in Del Ray. Based on comments from City Council Members, that is where the strongest support seems to be. I was told by one member of city council that some Del Ray residents were very angry to have not been a part of the original 8-station system.

by Jonathan Krall on Apr 30, 2013 5:23 pm • linkreport

There are many levels of sponsorship. My understanding is that some CaBi stations were paid for by sponsors and those sponsors are listed on the web site. In Alexandria, this has been discussed in the context of the permitting and planning process wherein developers provide amenities in exchange for concessions. However, I don't think Alexandria has a sponsored station yet.

The idea of an advertising sponsorship at the station level is an interesting one, but I wouldn't want to imagine Alexandria slapping advertising all over its stations without some sort of buy-in from Arlington and DC. That would be a little like changing a roadway configuration at the Arlington/Alexandria border to keep those icky bike lanes in Arlington, where they belong. Oops! I guess they did that (Potomac Ave).

As others have pointed out, in the US, Citibike does seem to be the case where sponsorship is strongest, but it isn't proven. My understanding is that New York had to put a lot of effort into finding a major sponsor and only did so on the strength of CaBi's success. However, CaBi only demonstrated success of bikeshare, not the value of bikeshare as an advertising medium.

The fact is that these are all moving targets. Capital Bikeshare is expanding into suburban landscapes and adding jurisdictions, such as Montgomery County. Both changes have risks and opportunities associated with them. There is much more to be learned.

by Jonathan Krall on Apr 30, 2013 5:31 pm • linkreport

Actually, I have no problem with Alexandria "slapping advertisements all over their stations" without such advertising in other jurisdictions. The "wall" on the station means nothing, really. If the basic branding, including the bikes, is there, the outside which currently has additional CaBi branding at most stations going to an ad probably won't confuse anyone for more than a split second. It doesn't hurt the other jurisdictions at all, and if an advertiser is willing to pay for that spot and the city wants to allow it, then, fine. It may work out, it may not. Exploring the option is not a problem. But holding the program hostage to advertising revenue as a funding source is a problem. Fund it, look for advertisers if they want, and if advertising dollars help, move the additional money to something else or into additional expansion if the program continues to exceed targets.

by Ms. D on Apr 30, 2013 7:02 pm • linkreport

Do any systems get as high a proportion of their funding from corporate sponsorship as NYC?

Nice Ride in Minnesota is title sponsored by Blue Cross/Blue Shield. They cover about 40% of system costs. This actually makes a lot of sense, since not only are they advertising, but they're making their customers healthier which saves them money. The biggest sponsor though, is the government, which also happens to be the largest provider of health care. It might make more sense for the Department of Health to "sponsor" bike sharing than for the DOT to do it.

by David C on Apr 30, 2013 9:06 pm • linkreport

I have to admit that I find the arguments against bikeshare to be baffling. Old Town is clearly not a high-speed shortcut. Indeed, for decades the City has gone out of its way to preserve a pedestrian-friendly environment in Old Town (with less success elsewhere). Do these opponents really want Council to promote car use in this area, thus jeopardizing the health (through pollution) and safety (speeding cars and pedestrians don't mix) of their fellow citizens? I like libraries, too, but I'd rather not inflict harm on my City to fully fund them.

by Kevin H. Posey on Apr 30, 2013 11:33 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church
Clear Channel bit is incorrect when it comes to CaBi. Clear Channel sponsored the defunct SmartBike in exchange for advertising space. When that 10-station system failed, so did the Clear Channel relationship.

When CaBi began, advertising on DC stations were not allowed. Nevertheless, I am pretty sure the council passed a provision to allow CaBi to have advertisements in the near future (which will likely make CaBi a profitable public transportation system). Nevertheless, CaBi is not beholden to Clear Channel.

by cmc on May 1, 2013 1:04 am • linkreport

All forms of transit are subsidized (even walking).

Cars have been subsidized since even before the building of the interstate highway system.

Trains were subsidized with huge giveaways to railroads to build the infrastructure.

Mass transit? Subsidized.

Bikes? Subsidized.

The trick is to use those subsidies wisely.

Bikeshare seems a perfectly reasonable use of public funds, assuming it's done as efficiently as possible.

by Hillman on May 1, 2013 6:45 am • linkreport

@cmc

ClearChannel paid for smartbike as part of the bus shelter advertising contract. They are not part of the CaBi setup BUT I think there is some conflict between their rights to advertise on bus shelters and other potential advertising on CaBi stations. The contract they signed with DC in 2006, which included the smartbike program, may give them exclusive rights to advertise on "street furniture" in DC (which would probably include CaBi stations), but I'm not sure.

Alexandria could put some advertising up on their stations, but it would make revenue comparable to advertising on a bus stop or other street furniture, and is not remotely comparable to the amount systems can get from having a single uniform sponsor on all the stations and equipment (a la CitiBike, Hubway, etc.)

by MLD on May 1, 2013 8:45 am • linkreport

I think advertising on stations would be fine, its quite comparable to bus shelters even. The bikes themsevles might be an issue with the mutliple jurisdictions, and people might be put by becoming walking (riding) advertisements.

by Alan B. on May 1, 2013 8:45 am • linkreport

I am really starting to think that Papp's tiresome repetition of her bikes vs. libraries argument just invalidates anything else she says. It just doesn't even make a bit of sense, so why would anything else she says be a good idea? How are bikes and libraries supposed to be mutually exclusive? I use both, for instance, and the bike racks used at the libraries show that many others do as well. Libraries need funding and don't get enough, sure, but as pointed out in the article, they can't get their funding from transportation funds.

by DE on May 1, 2013 8:47 am • linkreport

he contract they signed with DC in 2006, which included the smartbike program, may give them exclusive rights to advertise on "street furniture" in DC (which would probably include CaBi stations), but I'm not sure.

This is how I understand it. At least, it's Clear Channel's position that they're contract is less valuable if the city then competes with them and that it violates the contract. I've tried to ask about the details, but people seem to be keeping quiet about it.

Of course, no ads hardly seems to be the winning position for the players involved (except people who want to limit ads in the public space). DC and CC both get less revenue and advertisers have less options. I would think that DC could just pay CC to waive their claim, but maybe the fight now is about how much that is. Either way, if I were DC, I would not be eager to work with CC again based on their experience with SmartBike and now this issue.

by David C on May 1, 2013 8:50 am • linkreport

re: sponsorship on bikes. My understanding is that individual jurisdistions could sell advertising space on the bikes themselves (and the rear wheel shield is well set up for that, as MN Nice Ride shows with its Blue Cross Blue Shield logos).

While the bikes travel throughout the system and would wind up in multiple jurisdictions, each bike is owned by one of the three governments, and so that city/county could make the decision to allow ads. While it might not be helpful for one to make a unilateral decision for ads on its bike, it doesn't seem to be illegal.

by Jacques on May 1, 2013 8:58 am • linkreport

If the bikeshare program is exceeding expectations in both ridership and revenue, let it pay for itself. There is no need for taxpayer monies, other than some initial startup costs which can be paid back to the City over time.

by Bud Miller on May 1, 2013 9:00 am • linkreport

It might make more sense for the Department of Health to "sponsor" bike sharing than for the DOT to do it.

Intriguing idea but I'd say "and" rather than "or". Cabi should receive funding from DOTs, Health Depts, and Parks & Rec and at the federal level, continue receiving Clean Air money. In DC, some of the performance parking money could go toward local Cabi stations. Advertising revenue could then be added to all these funding streams.

by Falls Church on May 1, 2013 9:13 am • linkreport

Intriguing idea but I'd say "and" rather than "or".

I didn't say "or."

by David C on May 1, 2013 9:14 am • linkreport

If the bikeshare program is exceeding expectations in both ridership and revenue, let it pay for itself.

It doesn't make enough revenue to do that.

There is no need for taxpayer monies, other than some initial startup costs which can be paid back to the City over time.

There actually is a need for taxpayer monies because the program doesn't make enough revenue to pay back start up costs.

In addition, $0 is an arbitrarily chosen contribution to bike sharing. What if $100 investment pays $10,000 in benefits, wouldn't that be a smart way to spend money?

Cities should invest in bikesharing until the marginal benefit of the next dollar is less than the cost - including the cost of taxing that dollar. I don't know what that point is, but it is unlikely to be $0. NYC is making a massive mistake by not adding more of their money to the program and making it even bigger and better.

by David C on May 1, 2013 9:52 am • linkreport

@DE: the thing is, there are several Old Town residents...very prominant residents...who feel the same way Papp does.

by Froggie on May 1, 2013 10:48 am • linkreport

"Do any systems get as high a proportion of their funding from corporate sponsorship as NYC?"

The European model, which was tried here with Clear Channel & SmartBikeDC, is that the entire system costs are paid for through advertising. Under that model, bike share is an extension of the street furniture/bus shelter contract. That said, outdoor advertising (particularly on sidewalks) is more lucrative in Europe, where walking & transit have much higher mode share, than in the car-dependent USA.

Bixi bikes are designed with three ad panels: the basket and both sides of the rear wheel's "skirt guard." The stations have one unlit ad panel, and I've seen decals placed on the back/sides of the kiosk as well.

Similar to BCBS-Minnesota, which uniquely among health insurers won a separate tobacco settlement, Kaiser Permanente was the founding sponsor of B-Cycle in Denver. (Ironically, competitor Humana brought a temporary bike sharing scheme to both of those cities during their 2008 political-party conventions.) Neither company was involved in naming their respective systems, but in both of those cities the real "lead sponsor" was local government.

by Payton on May 1, 2013 11:46 am • linkreport

I don't disagree with some advertising but I think the discussion is being framed unfairly. It's a transportation mode note an amenity. Most roads are paid for with local property taxes not user fees so why is the bikeshare different?

by Alan B. on May 1, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

One positive sign in Alexandria is that, in public at least, opposition to Bikeshare seems less widespread. When CaBi was first proposed for Old Town, prominent civic leaders opposed it, such a Poul Hertel, who otherwise did Alexandria a favor by leading the fight against the Gen On coal-fired power plant. This time around, fewer people opposed it in the press.

by Jonathan Krall on May 1, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

In Minnesota, they have 'advertising' on panels, but it is really station sponsorships. All of the sponsor panels must relate in langauge/imagery to health and active lifestyles.

One example from a local PR firm:
http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8375/8435752313_cc31328ea5.jpg

Another from Target Pharmacy:
http://fionasvoice.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/wpid-2013-04-15_08-21-01_702-e1366073249959.jpg

by Alex B. on May 1, 2013 1:18 pm • linkreport

If the road is exceeding expectations of use, let it pay for itself. There is no reason for taxpayer dollars to be subsidizing personal car use.

Fixed that for you, Bud.

by Ms. D on May 2, 2013 1:06 am • linkreport

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