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


Bikeshare is a gateway to private biking, not competition

One bike shop owner has grumpy words about Capital Bikeshare riders, while some users run into full and empty stations. In fact, bike sharing gets more people biking in general, and its relatively few frustrations, while problems to solve, also encourage people to use personal bikes more.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

A Washington Post article yesterday rounds up many praises and a few frustrations with Capital Bikeshare. Some people still find themselves "dockblocked," where there's no spot available at a station. A Portuguese tourist couldn't find a dock at Dupont Circle, nor could a Justice Department employee when reporter Mohana Ravindranath was there.

This is indeed a problem which DC can't hope to entirely solve, but when it happens, it does dissuade riders from using Capital Bikeshare even more. Capital Bikeshare has added more rebalancing capacity since the system launched, and should continue striving to keep up.

Capital Bikeshare can't meet everyone's commute needs, and shouldn't

Other riders have stopped using Capital Bikeshare for commuting because there isn't enough capacity at the peak. Ravindranath interviews Aaron Ordower, who gave up trying to CaBi from 16th and U to the World Bank because he couldn't count on finding a bike. But in this case, while it would be nice for CaBi to be able to serve his needs, it's less reasonable to expect that.

Officials point out that Capital Bikeshare isn't really meant to be a commuting tool for large numbers of people. Jim Sebastian said, "This is why many members buy/use their own bike if they know they are going to work and back, or on a similar round trip." Ordower decided to walk to work instead. And that's fine.

One follow-up question for Ordower might be, why not bike using a private bicycle? Does he just not have one? Does the World Bank not provide good enough bike parking?

Capital Bikeshare leads to more private bicycling

I personally started biking a lot more often around DC once Capital Bikeshare launched, since it provided an easy way to take a spontaneous or one-way trip and not have to feel forced to then bike home. In later years, while I've kept my membership (it's still cheap and useful on occasion), I hardly use it. Instead, I use my own bike.

I'm not the only one. Chris Eatough, Arlington's bicycle program manager, says that according to a survey of Capital Bikeshare users last year, "82% of respondents reported increased use [of their personal bikes] since joining Capital Bikeshare, and 70% said that Capital Bikeshare was an important reason."

Bikeshare serves as an introduction to bicycling for many people. That's why it's a shame that Simon Pak, who manages The Bike Rack at 14th and Q, had more critical words for bikeshare riders. "Since Capital Bikeshare started, any incident [I've witnessed] in bike-to-bike collisions have been with Capital Bikeshare riders. They're the most inexperienced riders emulating more experienced riders," he told Ravindrath.

Though Pak also says 1 in 10 of his customers are looking to move from Capital Bikeshare's heavy bikes to a lighter and faster personal bike. It sounds like bikeshare is a great source of potential business for bike shops.

Bikeshare's strengths complement transit

Still, bike sharing is not the same as bicycling. This is why a lot of people get confused about bikeshare if they aren't familiar with it. Some New Yorkers expressed shock that a 4-hour ride would rack up $77 in late fees on their Citibike system. As those of us who've used bikeshare know, people don't ride a bikeshare bike for 4 hours, or if they do, they just return it every half hour and reset the clock.

Bike sharing is, in many ways, more like transit: it transports you from fixed stations to other fixed stations. However, it's also different from transit. Transit has more capacity at peak times when there are more vehicles. It costs money to run a vehicle, so you run it when there's demand. Therefore, bus lines in particular are far more useful at times when there are a lot of buses. At some times of day, they don't run at all.

Bike sharing is the opposite. It has a fixed capacity that fills up quickly, but is always available. Bike sharing is most useful off-peak, when the stations aren't filling up or emptying out so fast. It's always available at night.

For this reason, we can think of it actually as a complement to short-distance buses. Someone who lives on a bus line might find that the bus is a better choice during rush, but bikeshare is better middays. Bikeshare also offers more flexibility, since you can ride to any other station, but isn't as good to travel long distances, because it takes physical effort.

New York's Citibike will launch next weekend, and many observers predict the silly arguments against it will mainly evaporate, as they did here in DC when Capital Bikeshare launched. Even so, some people will always be adjusting to what kinds of travel bikeshare works well for, and where it's less ideal. That's the case for every mode of travel.

Thanks to Capital Bikeshare, we have another mode, one that neatly fills in some needs that transit and walking don't perfectly serve. It happens to be a mode that's been especially cheap to deploy. Personal bikes, Zipcar, car2go, street hailed taxis, Uber, buses, trains, and walking all meet some people's needs and not others, and that's natural.

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 »

My local station is perpetually full or empty when I need it. That said I will continue to incorporate bikes into my travel patterns. Why take a bus when I can bike 1 or 2 miles in half the time? I don't use my personal bike much at all because it makes it hard to change plans mid stream when you have to lug a bike everywhere you go. I walk a lot of too but when its more than a mile time becomes a significant factor. I do think hopefully that bikeshare will get more people comfortable with the idea of biking in the city without needing to commit several hundreds of dollars to equipment beforehand. Plus it will still be the only option for most visitors that don't want an extended rental.

by Alan B. on May 21, 2013 11:19 am • linkreport

DDOT/Arlington need to more proactive on putting bikeshare right on bikelane corridors -- rather than a block away.

Then it becomes a better transit option -- ride for 5 blocks, get off, and ride back.

by charlie on May 21, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

The World Bank Group has outstanding facilities for biking. Showers, lockers and very, very secure parking in garages. Lots of staff commute by bike.

by turtleshell on May 21, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

As a close relative of a bike shop owner (my spouse, actually) I can say without hesitation that we would love to see bike share expanded in the inner suburbs! There will be problems (inadequate infrastructure/poor planning/lack of intuitive routes/rebalancing challenges/slow start up), but if bike sharing helps catalyze the kind of economic rejuvenation and energy we're seeing in central DC, it will be a great investment.

by PA Ave Cycletrack -- where have my bollards gone? on May 21, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

CaBi is worthless around Dupont/Logan because of the shortage of docks. Every time someone goes to return a bike and has to search for an hour or more biking around town for an empty dock in a far-off spot they lose a customer.

by Tom Coumaris on May 21, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

CaBi is worthless around Dupont/Logan because of the shortage of docks.

I'm not calling you out or saying you're wrong, but obviously there is a rider somewhere for all these missing bikes.

by drumz on May 21, 2013 11:41 am • linkreport

Bikeshare's strengths complement transit

In some ways, Bikeshare's strengths complement *driving* more than they complement transit. I can park my car in the District and pay once, then get around by CaBi and foot without having to move my car or pay another parking fee. In contrast to transit, pairing Bikeshare with driving lets me make purchases throughout the day and bring them to my car for storage and an easy trip home. Finally, after a sweaty day traipsing around town on a CaBi, it can be uncomfortable to sentence other transit patrons to an hourlong Metro or bus-ride jammed into close proximity with me. Much better to have a private automobile through which to spare others.

by CaBi Driver on May 21, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

CaBi is worthless around Dupont/Logan because of the shortage of docks.
The food here is terrible, and the portions are too small.

by Gray on May 21, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

As an enthusiastic supporter of local bike shops versus buying on the internet - I won't say which LBS is my favorite - I am disappointed with Simon's comment about CABI riders. Even if you hold them in contempt because they aren't actually buying your stuff, it happens to be your job to be cheery and optimistic about cycling, no matter how incompetent you think these folks to be.

Your shop is doing far better due to CABI existing. Don't for a moment believe new CABI riders will become your future customers. The quote sounds a lot like what AAA or other NIMBYs say when being critical of new bike infrastructure construction. Be better than them.

by fongfong on May 21, 2013 11:48 am • linkreport

Strange bits of an otherwise well-done article. Of course, they'd like to find a "counterpoint", but surely they could've done better than the two critiques they found: first, a bike shop owner who's disappointed that CaBi didn't increase bike sales fast enough; and second, the guy who'd love to depend on CaBi as a dedicated commuter option, but who finds himself missing out on one end of his commute or other.

That the system is extremely busy is not a problem with the system. The whole point is to generate bike trips and to be self-sustaining. That *you* personally weren't one of those bike trips is irrelevant.

by oboe on May 21, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

CaBi is perhaps a victim of it's own success. If anything we need more infill stations in Ward 1 & 2 to meet demand. Or maybe I'm just terribly unoriginal and seem to go wherever everyone else wants to go at the same time.

by Alan B. on May 21, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

1. Rebalancing by Alta has gotten better, but it far from perfect. I've been the victim of a reaload when they reload every dock and I'm stuck for 15 minutes.

2. DC has a specific problem in that people want CABI for commuting -- and it isn't good at that -- and we've got a heavily commuter oriented downtown. Not sure we're ever going to be able to solve this.

3. I fully agree need more "central" docks in Dupont/Shaw. DDOT or alta is seriously falling down in installing new docks --for whatever reasons. Again, given that we have a huge advantage in terms of the tourists subsidizing the sytem perhaps that is a systematic problem.

by charlie on May 21, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

I think CaBi is so close to being terrific, but due to lack of docks it can be quite frustrating, especially in peak areas. NYC managed this by creating stations with 90 docks. I don't think it is a stretch to say another 500 docks downtown would be a huge investment, but would also have a huge return in usability of the system.

I am thankful they put in 12 docks at Georgia and Emerson, but more importantly is when I ride to go visit my buddy in Adams Morgan, that there is a dock on the other end. This system is $5,000,000 away from being the perfect system that we all would hope it would be. Is there the political will to get it there, or is this last 54 station expansion all we will see for a while? If so, that is quite disappointing.

by Kyle-w on May 21, 2013 12:15 pm • linkreport

More docks in the most popular areas, but make it an extra set so that there is less likely to be a delay when rebalancing.

by SJE on May 21, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport


In terms of #2, I don't see why we can't fix this... So it takes some 80 dock stations. These huge stations would have the added benefit of people KNOWING that there would be space. So we have to take away some street spots, seems like a no brainer if the demand is there.

by Kyle-w on May 21, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

Re: the dockblock/nobike problems, there was a period when CaBi was experimenting with giving people incentives to go against the predictable flows of commuters to help with some of the rebalancing. I can't remember exactly how it worked, but it was some kind of system whereby people got points for taking a bike from a full rack or leaving one in an empty rack. I'd like to see more of this kind of experimentation.

by eric on May 21, 2013 12:37 pm • linkreport

Yes, the argument is a pretty funny one. It's the old saying that no one comes here because it's too crowded.

I agree that rebalancing has gotten a lot better, and I think locals have for the most part figured out where and when CaBi can be used. I'm able to commute every day, but I can never use a bike around lunch. There are absolutely no docks available around Metro Center and McPherson in the middle of a work day.

by OX4 on May 21, 2013 12:38 pm • linkreport

@kyle-w; my point is that in DC, we have a large, white collar work force that wants to bike into downtown AM and bike out PM.

Not surpsingly, that is because the vast majority of white collar jobs are downtown, not spread out.

While biking may be an efficient way for an individual to get into downtown, I'm not sure that bikeshare is the best way to move lots of people.

by charlie on May 21, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

I started out with a bike share membership. Then I went to CaBi and a borrowed bike. Just this weekend I bought a brand new bike from a local bike shop (and still have my CaBi membership)! All because I got comfortable riding with CaBi.

by DAJ on May 21, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

CaBi is a very good complement to Metro and, as CaBi driver points out, driving, here in DC.

In NYC, Citibike will completely transform east-west travel within Manhattan. I think it will happen almost overnight, and within Manhattan any opposition to Citibike will vanish, except perhaps from cab drivers.

by thm on May 21, 2013 12:50 pm • linkreport

CaBi has absolutely been my favorite thing about living in the district the past two years, it is a key fact that I share with friends who are considering moving to the district, and I show my red key off all the time.

All that being said, because I live near one of the busiest racks (14th and U/V), and because CaBi has become so popular, it is nearly impossible for me to use it now, like I used to use it a year ago, and I am forced to use my own bike for a lot of the short one way trips I used to use CaBi. We really need to fix the capacity issue in inner DC. GGW Grassroots campaign?

by szw on May 21, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

Rebalancing is an issue just like traffic jams and metro delays. CaBi/Alta needs to work to minimize it, but it will never go away.

Other than that, CaBi is fan-tas-tic.

by Jasper on May 21, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport

CaBi Driver,

I was about to ask if that was really common but then I realized that one of the first times I used Cabi was for a situation where I had driven into DC, parked and then used Cabi to get to some other places.

Now I live a block away from a CaBi station, but that experience and another time where I metro'd into town but went all over the city cemented me as a bikeshare fan for life.

by drumz on May 21, 2013 1:12 pm • linkreport


Don't know how common it is, but it's also my approach to shorter trips to Arlington, where it's less about the $$ and more about the hassle of finding parking. Find one meter or 2-hour parking spot, and zip around the Courthouse/Clarendon/Ballston corridor.

OX4: It's the old saying that no one comes here because it's too crowded.

I think we can actually attribute that one to Yogi Berra/

by CaBi Driver on May 21, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

@szw, I'm surprised you've found that its gotten less reliable over the past year. My impression as a black key owner is that reliability has improved since reaching a nadir after the living social promotion in early 2011. Prior to that jump in members, the system could reliably be used for daily commutes.

CaBi got me hooked on daily biking. I have since bought 2 bikes, one to commute and one for fun so I no longer rely on CaBi daily. I have no plans to give up membership though, since it is such a great amenity to have access to all over the city. But for most commuting patterns, if you are still relying on it every morning, you're doing it wrong.

by Dno on May 21, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

I bought my first new bike since I was a kid after resuming bike riding on CaBi. I'm not sure if I would have gotten back into bicycling without seeing shining new CaBi stations seemingly everywhere I walked (I finally decided to hop on one when I was running late getting somewhere and there was no bus in sight). I'm sure CaBi has reminded plenty of people how cool/convenient biking is.

by Alan Page on May 21, 2013 2:08 pm • linkreport

That the system is extremely busy is not a problem with the system.

It's not a problem but it is an *opportunity*. DC needs megastations in popular spots like NYC will have. Of course, NYC can bankroll their megastations with advertising revenue but Cabi needs to get there any way they can. If it means charging higher prices during peak times (maybe no free half hour if traveling in the direction of rush hour) to fund megastations, it's probably worth it.

Of course, it would be nice if DDOT just increased funding for Cabi instead of increasing prices but without charging extra during rush hour, getting a Cabi during that time will always be like winning a small lottery. It's the same concept as performance parking.

by Falls Church on May 21, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

I'm another CaBi convert to biking. After 6 months, picked up a used bike at a Bike&Roll inventory sale, and have spent a couple hundred bucks at local bike shops in the last two years, on accessories and services. Now that my car is almost paid off, I'm getting ready to buy a new bike soon.

by Jacques on May 21, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

CaBi is worthless around Dupont/Logan because of the shortage of docks. Every time someone goes to return a bike and has to search for an hour or more biking around town for an empty dock in a far-off spot they lose a customer.

Surely this must be an exaggeration. I've been a Bikeshare member from the very beginning and rarely have had to journey more than a few blocks away from my intended destination to find an empty dock.

It helps to have the smartphone app that tells you how many bikes/docks are available at each station so you can plan your trip accordingly. If all the docks in the vicinity of your destination are full, it might be a good idea to find another mode of transportation.

I must be one of the 10% who has ridden his personal bike less since CaBi. My bike has been sitting in the bike room gathering dust since I joined CaBi. But then again I don't usually commute to and from work on CaBi.

by Scoot on May 21, 2013 2:59 pm • linkreport

I used take my personal bike from my house to metro, metro into the city, and then use Cabi to bike from the metro station to my office, but once area offices (including mine and the World Bank) started subsidizing memberships I experienced the "dockblocking" mentioned, and reverted to personal bike/metro/walking.

Now I primarily use Cabi for doctor's appointments, occasional lunch time joy rides, etc. Thanks to my work subsidy, my membership is just $25/year, so it's well worth it.

by Hal on May 21, 2013 3:02 pm • linkreport

I'm a huge CaBi enthusiast, and was one of the first raft of riders in the system. The system has gotten more frustrating to use int he city core, with several locations that are either full or empty for large chunks of time. And no, this is not a symptom of success. The statement, "That the system is extremely busy is not a problem with the system," is completely incorrect. Any system condition that results in fewer trips due to inefficiency, is in fact a problem with the system.

I was an advocate of expanding the footprint of the system when it was growing in its first and second phase. I still support expansion. A close look at the capacity of the core, and more generally, simple recognition that more stations and more re-balancing are both effective solutions, is now needed.

Looking at a system with clear capacity issues and stating that there is no problem because the system is working past its capacity, is a syllogistic nightmare.

by CJ on May 21, 2013 3:30 pm • linkreport

Capital Bikeshare is neat but it's basically turned into a gimmick for tourists. I was one of the original bikeshare members but now I can never be sure when a bike or dock will be available. If I'm taking a bike, it's because I'm in a rush. However, that means I'm not going to wait around hoping that a bike will appear or that a dock opens up.

If you're out for a leisure activity or touring around town, then it works great. For everybody else: not worth the money.

by Adam L on May 21, 2013 3:36 pm • linkreport

If you're out for a leisure activity or touring around town, then it works great. For everybody else: not worth the money.

Wow, totally disagree with this. I use bikeshare in the most crowded part of the system - Adams Morgan/U Street/Dupont - and it works fine for me. Can it always be relied on? No, but it's worthwhile most of the time. I would say the annual membership is definitely worth it even if you only take one trip a week, just to be able to grab a bike without thinking about it.

A gimmick for tourists? I see zillions of people riding those bikes to work every day!

by MLD on May 21, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

I was a big fan of CaBi and even paid for it for my tenants (I don't rent to people with cars). I always check online to see if a bike is available at 14th &R and if it's not I'll take the bus, cab, or my own bike.

The first time I had trouble with returning a bike was horrendous. It was mid-day on a hot summer weekend. 14th & R was full and the screen told me to go to 14th & V. It was full when I got there but told me to go back to 15th and P. That was full when I got there and 17th and Corcoran was next. Full again. Finally I found an empty dock at Dupont Circle and took a cab back to my house at 14th and S. I got 15 minutes of extra time when a dock was full but it took me over an hour and a cab ride home.

After that I became much more cautious of using CaBi and I caution tenants on how unreliable it is around here.

The ratio of docks to bikes is too low and the ratio to users in this neighborhood is too low. When a system becomes that unreliable and has high potential for that horrendous an experience, it becomes worthless.

Alta seems a fairly competent outfit. The incompetence of the shortage of docks reeks of typical DDOT gross incompetence.

by Tom Coumaris on May 21, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

I'm with MLD. The system is still useful, and ridership shows that subscribers are still utilizing it extensively. I also think that tourists are part of the solution to the bike flow issue, not part of the problem. Anything that introduces volatility into the system helps with commuter and other group movement issues.

by CJ on May 21, 2013 4:08 pm • linkreport

Pak's comments fit nicely with the experiences I've had the few times I went to the Bike Rack when I first moved here: smug, arrogant and dismissive of casual/novice riders in favor of the spandex set. I've since started going to Bike and Roll at Union Station, where the experience couldn't be more pleasant. And I've never been scoffed at for forgetting the different between a schrader and a presta valve.

by Novice on May 21, 2013 4:18 pm • linkreport


Yeah, if you don't have a smartphone and the app then running into a full dock situation sucks. Does the screen tell you multiple stations nearby that have empty docks and how many docks there are?

by MLD on May 21, 2013 4:23 pm • linkreport

CaBi definitely isn't worthless in Dupont/Logan, particularly during weekends and mid-day, but I understand Tom's frustration. It's too bad that we don't really have a local (i.e. neighborhood) funding source to defray the cost of new stations or bigger stations. Whole new stations are probably way too expensive for local groups, orgs, and businesses to sponser, but I'd gladly contribute money to a group effort to get a few more docks when new stations do come online in my neighborhood.

@Scoot: I've noticed that the smartphone apps are a bit slow when there's a lot of turnover at the stations (as there can be at my home station at 17th and Corcoran on a Thursday night, for instance). I try to check my phone before I get home, usually when I'm stopped at one of the many long red lights on the 15th street cycletrack, but the app is often off by a couple docks. Even the "nearest station" app on the kiosk at my local station has sometimes sent me to a full station that was supposed to have (or 5 minutes earlier had had) a few empty docks.

Anyway, despite the problems at my local station during weekdays, CaBi still rocks on weekends when I need to get to/from Metro at Farragut West or Shaw. No more transfers from the Red Line, and fewer worries over weekend track closures thanks to CaBi!

And on a side note, while I'm happy for NYC, all those pictures of shiny new bikeshare keys that have been popping up on the blogs over the last couple days have been making me a bit jealous! My old black key is all scraped up, and I'm going to have to replace it with a red one soon. First city problems, I know.

by Steven Harrell on May 21, 2013 4:31 pm • linkreport

I'm a casual biker with an uncool Schwinn hybrid and no spandex clothes and I like the Bike Rack. Their free clinics are great, and I've had nothing but good service there. I don't agree with the bikeshare hate, but I'll keep going to the store.

by Linda on May 21, 2013 4:34 pm • linkreport

Are there any technological work arounds in the meantime for dockblocking? Maybe you could reserve a bike/dock for a set amount of time, maybe with a penalty if you abuse the system. Or perhaps if you arrive at an full dock there could be a way to stop the clock on your 30 minutes or top it up 10 minutes to give you time to get to another one?

by Alan B. on May 21, 2013 4:38 pm • linkreport

Or perhaps if you arrive at an full dock there could be a way to stop the clock on your 30 minutes or top it up 10 minutes to give you time to get to another one?

The system already gives 15 minutes of extra time to find another dock. I think you have to press a button on the screen at the kiosk to activate it. Maybe CaBi could do a better job of advertising this feature.

by Scoot on May 21, 2013 4:45 pm • linkreport

@Alan B
If you put your key into the slot on the kiosk on a full station, the system will give you 15 extra minutes.

Another thing specifically about Tom's situation is that that area needs more stations. It could use a station at 11th & Q, 11th/12th & S, and probably more docks at 14th & RI.

by MLD on May 21, 2013 4:51 pm • linkreport

Good to know!

by Alan B. on May 21, 2013 4:54 pm • linkreport

Whoops, looks like according to their FAQ you have to enter your key number into the kiosk. I've never actually done it, just heard before that there was a slot for the key. Would be tough for me to enter the number as the bar code and number on my key are LONG gone.

by MLD on May 21, 2013 4:57 pm • linkreport

@ MLD; I think ther are two types of docks -- some of the newer have the keys slot. MUCH easier.

You can also just call them and they'll look you up.

by charlie on May 21, 2013 5:00 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the good article David. Your analysis is spot on. Nicely said. You were an early proponent of the system, well before it was even launched and your advocacy helped ensure a regional system too. And we'll (the locals who provide the system) get better at this as we deploy more stations.

by Chris Hamilton on May 21, 2013 5:03 pm • linkreport

CaBi is awesome. I commute by my own bike each day and park in the garage, but use CaBi to get to meetings, meet folks after work, etc. It is awesome.

I think the bike shop owner's comments were right on, however. Most of the bad riders in town seem to be CaBi riders. It's not prejudice, it's safety. Please learn to ride and do a better job not angering drivers, sidewalk users, and fellow bikers. Biking is a world of joy, but it entails some responsibilities to those around us.

Also, if docks are full then there's another station nearby. I don't have to deal with the busy station commuters' problem, but I do run into blocked docks here and there. The app works and there are others nearby.

by BikeCommuter on May 21, 2013 5:14 pm • linkreport

The bike shop owner's implication was that people who ride bikeshare have not been 'good' for biking. This is completely and totally wrongheaded.

I see plenty of dumb behavior committed by people on all kinds of bikes. I would not say CaBi riders are worse than anyone else.

by MLD on May 21, 2013 5:34 pm • linkreport

The capacity issues discussed here make DDOT's slow pace and uncommunicative approach to expansion all the more frustrating. I was hoping we'd have the 54 installed and be on to the next round. Clearly there is demand for it.

by Dno on May 21, 2013 6:23 pm • linkreport

It's too bad that we don't really have a local (i.e. neighborhood) funding source to defray the cost of new stations or bigger stations.

Performance parking revenue could be a local funding source to fund Cabi stations in those neighborhoods. It seems like an intrinsically fair approach -- if you're going to charge people more money for parking, then give them some other transportation options.

by Falls Church on May 21, 2013 7:20 pm • linkreport

I doubt it's really such a money problem with increasing the number of docks in existing stations.

Initially CaBi needs to pull a certain number of bikes to free up more docks. Until the ratio of bikes to docks is better, the potential for customers to experience terrible problems returning bikes is too great, will happen too often, and CaBi's reputation will be tarnished.

The biggest problem is getting permission for a station. Developers don't like them in front of new buildings on public space (which is valuable for sidewalk seating, etc.). We almost lost the station at 14th &R when renovation of the old C&P building into condos started and CaBi was kicked out. Fortunately the Whitman-Walker Clinic allowed it to be moved to the public space in front of their building and there's room for twice as many docks.

Change zoning to allow a certain number of required parking spaces to be swapped for a set ratio of bikeshare docks on property or on adjacent public space.

by Tom Coumaris on May 21, 2013 7:40 pm • linkreport

Developers don't like them in front of new buildings on public space (which is valuable for sidewalk seating, etc.). We almost lost the station at 14th &R when renovation of the old C&P building into condos started and CaBi was kicked out.

That has more to do with the requirements of construction to close the sidewalk, does it not?

by Alex B. on May 21, 2013 8:03 pm • linkreport

The construction's done, the station isn't coming back. At 14th and S we even lost our bus stop to a new development. Maybe there are some but I don't know of a single developer who's voluntarily incorporated bike share stations or even allowed them on adjacent public space.

by Tom Coumaris on May 21, 2013 11:36 pm • linkreport

I just went through my second year of having a CABI subscription. I have not used it once. Thought I would, didn't. I didn't renew. Maybe someday. For now, walking and Metro gets me most places I want to go in DC.

by Steve on May 22, 2013 6:50 am • linkreport

I agree that Dupont/Logan needs more infill stations or more reshuffling. I live in the neighborhood and if I take CaBi home around 8pm, I typically have to go to my 3rd or 4th choice station. If peak northbound commute out of downtown is ~6pm, I would think 2 hours would be enough time to empty some docks. This area needs special attention because you've got the population who are arriving home plus the population who are arriving to go out for the evening. Seems like the refill drivers should go continually between mid-city (say P St to U St) and downtown between 5pm and 8pm, but I don't think they do.

I understand that costs are what's kept CaBi from expanding faster, but I'd still like to see it continue, in terms of both infill and expanding the edges of the system.

by Moira on May 22, 2013 8:37 am • linkreport

The construction's done, the station isn't coming back.

The station moved across the street, right? And the business that the bikeshare station is in front of just underwent construction and renovation and it seems they wanted it kept there?

Why should DDOT spend the energy moving the station 300 feet across the street, just so it can be back where it was?

The bus stop will probably come back. Meanwhile there are bus stops like 500 feet from this site. There is one at R and one at T.

by MLD on May 22, 2013 8:51 am • linkreport

"I was a big fan of CaBi and even paid for it for my tenants (I don't rent to people with cars)."

Those car owning bastards! God forbid they have children, need to take care of a relative, or simply have different priorities!

You sound like a real peach....

by Andy on May 22, 2013 9:18 am • linkreport

"Officials point out that Capital Bikeshare isn't really meant to be a commuting tool for large numbers of people."

Really?? This is like saying that buses aren't really meant as a commuting tool for large numbers of people, which is ridiculous. If you can't reliably take the bus, you won't, and if you can't reliably take CaBi, you won't either. Articles that defend a system that is poor at meeting the demand are not helpful. If anything we should be celebrating too much demand and falling over ourselves trying to meet it. We have official goals of increasing bicycle use by XX%, and here is this obvious pent up demand for cycling. Instead of trying to accomodate that demand, we tell people "we're sorry, but bike share is only meant to be useful for people who commute before 8:20am." Telling people to "buy a bike" isn't helpful either, as bike share can't always be replaced by a private bicycle, and is in fact part of the very reason it can be such an effective tool. No worries over maintenance, storage, theft, etc.

Come on, David. I know you want to support DDOT and CaBi, but that doesn't mean you can't push them for more and better service when it's so obviously needed.

by Bike Sharer on May 22, 2013 9:26 am • linkreport

@Bike Sharer -- I generally agree with you on the need for more improvements and more expansion. But it's also true that despite any amount of improvement, there will be capacity constraints.

If you look at an area like Mt. Pleasant, the main CaBi station empties out daily by 8:15 or so, and any time it is partially refilled after that, it empties again in 30 minutes or less. What this tells me is that there is a ton of latent demand, and that even if the station was doubled or tripled in size, it would likely still be empty by the end of morning rush. In a sense, this is a version of induced demand: the more reliable a station is, the more Bikeshare members in the neighborhood that don't currently consider using it will.

The pent-up or latent demand will continue to be an issue in DC until Bikeshare hits some kind of saturation level, and I'm not sure what that level is (maybe 300 stations in the city? 400?).

Somewhat counterintuitively, saturation would likely make the system much more efficient, as most users would be reasonably sure that they could get a bike (or find a dock) whenever they needed one. It would also theoretically reduce the need for rebalancing efforts.

But it would require a significant capital investment, which is a bit of a heavier lift, now that the federal grants supporting DC bikeshare seem to have dried up.

by Jacques on May 22, 2013 10:14 am • linkreport

There is a ton of unmet demand, because for people with a membership every trip is free.

There are a couple ways you could work to solve the problem - you can either put in more capital investments so there are more bikes, or put in more operating investment so you can move more bikes during rush hour.

But I don't think the goal of bikeshare should be to provide a bike for everyone who wants to commute to work by bike every day. It should serve some of that demand and also serve to introduce people to how easy it is to commute by bike. If you want to bike to work every day, you should buy a bike!

by MLD on May 22, 2013 10:35 am • linkreport

@MLD; well said.

I've read elsewhere that the "cost" of bikeshare is basically a dollar a trip. Not sure how they came to that figure.

Based on that DC is running a complete cost recovery, arlington is around 60%. We can only expect that to go down with time.

There is clearly a need for more docks. More bikes? It does seem the general wisdom is larger docks are better than mutliple docks in the area, but I think in DC it may be reversed. For instance, on Dupont, would it be better than have (1 laarge station north and 1 small south) or 5 stations all around the circle?

by charlie on May 22, 2013 10:47 am • linkreport

@charlie/MLD my urban planning wet dream would be a small bike share rack on on every single (residential) block. It doesnt even have to remove on street parking if it shared space with the fire hydrant. And for Dupont it absolutely makes sense to have a rack on each corner. Anything you can do to remove wheeled transit from that interchage is a good thing.

by szw on May 22, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

re: the hydrant sapce, obviously i'm dreaming about this. I am not sure that small 3/4 bike share racks are economically feasible, and I doubt that the firefighting community would go for it, but it certainly should be explored.

by szw on May 22, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

@Jacques & others,
A big part of the problem is that there is only one station in Mt Pleasant. The more successful bike share systems have more frequent station spacing and larger stations to better meet demand. Compare a map of the Paris, London, Montreal, or NYC systems to CaBi and it's immediately apparent that those systems have more frequent station spacing.

Yes, it cost money to build more stations and make existing stations bigger, but the system revenues are already matching costs, so we're not talking about a big money-loser. Also, we haven't even begun to tap additional revenue streams, such as advertising and sponsorship.

In short, unmet demand is a good thing. When a bus route is overcrowded, we look for funds to expand service. When a bike station is consistently overcapacity, we should do the same and expand the station or install a new station or stations nearby.

by Bike Sharer on May 22, 2013 11:10 am • linkreport

Mt P definitely needs another bikestation (Irving? or Adams Mill?) or just more capacity at the existing one. I think demand in Ward 1 in general is woefully unmet. Also why isn't there a station right at Columbia Heights Metro Station, should be an obvious choice?

by Alan B. on May 22, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

@Bike Sharer, I'd definitely agree that Mt. Pleasant needs another station.

However, Bikeshare is meeting (or in DC, exceeding) its operating costs, while new stations are capital costs (and at ~$50,000 each, not insignificant ones).

While DC has budgeted for 10 more stations in the 2013 budget(not counting the current 54 station expansion) and 10 more in the FY2014 budget, I would love to see some kind of more systematic way for BIDs, neighborhood associations, developers or others to get new stations in by fronting all or some of the cost to add new stations. We're seeing "and a new Capital Bikeshare station" in PUD applications and press releases for new developments in a handful of neighborhoods, so I hope that those stations are being paid for by the developers, and are in addition to the 10 that DC is paying for, not just a substitute income source for the same 10 stations.

Alternatively, I'd love to see some kind of leveraged DC funding used to spur businesses, BIDs, or citizens associations. If DC has money budgeted for 10 stations at $50K each, what if the plan was to set aside 4 stations for system-wide priorities, but then to take the money for the remaining 6 stations, and offer 12 stations, sited at the desired locations of the first 12 businesses/organizations/neighborhoods to pony up a 50% match.

This way, the market could help speed up the expansion, from 10 to 16 stations per year, while DC still used dedicated city funds to place the remaining four stations in locations that they felt were important but would not likely be able to put up the funds for a match.

by Jacques on May 22, 2013 1:03 pm • linkreport

@Alan B -- I think there's a planned station (for the 54-station expansion) right behind DCUSA, which would be less than a block from Columbia Heights metro.

by Jacques on May 22, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport


While I agree that stations and bikes are expensive, compared to the cost of additional bus service they're quite cheap. In NYC, the government (city, state, or federal) isn't spending a dime on the system. How much money do we spend each year fixing potholes? How much was the new 11th St Bridge? How much was the the Streetcar? I guarantee that Bike Share is pennies compared to these projects, yet no one is complaining about how expensive they are.

As for a more systematic way of expanding, the key word is systematic. Haphazard station placement, based on which politician/business/resident requests it is no way to run a system. Politicians and businesses don't consider how the system must be designed to operate most effectively, they only see an amenity and want it.

This leads to the current state of affairs where there is a bike share station on 5th & Kennedy and the next closest one is 0.7 miles away. If you go to a station like this and it's full/empty, the next closest station is a 15 minute walk away, making the trip unreliable.

by Bike Sharer on May 22, 2013 1:18 pm • linkreport

"Also why isn't there a station right at Columbia Heights Metro Station, should be an obvious choice? "

That's one of the busiest pedestrian areas in the city and is slammed with vehicular traffic all the time. I see pure chaos in adding Bikeshare riders to that mix. Experienced cyclists who stay on the road are one thing, but the average CaBi rider looks like they haven't been on a bike since they were 12.

by washingtonian on May 22, 2013 1:20 pm • linkreport

The CaBi system needs an objective metric for station capacity. An area with a station that is either full or empty for more than X amount of time, should be slated for either increased capacity, increased balancing, or both.

That isn't brain surgery, and it is a similar solution to that used by virtually all forms of public transit. The acceptable amount of time for a blocked station is certainly up for debate and adjustment, but it should be set longer than stations that are recognized as not having a problem (never, to some defined short period) and shorter than the duration of blocking at some subset of acknowledged problem stations.

Any system administrator who is saying that CaBi is categorically unsuited for commuting is throwing out a dog whistle for the fact that they do not plan to implement the above solution, or something like it.

by CJ on May 22, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

Last time I checked their were bike lanes on 14th. [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Alan B. on May 22, 2013 1:56 pm • linkreport

The CaBi system needs an objective metric for station capacity. An area with a station that is either full or empty for more than X amount of time, should be slated for either increased capacity, increased balancing, or both.

The CaBi tracker website does a lot of data tracking and may be useful if someone wanted to compile something.

by MLD on May 22, 2013 2:25 pm • linkreport

@Bike Sharer -- Personally, I think it would be great if DC greatly increased the amount of stations that it's adding per year (living in an area where my nearest two stations are .4 and .7 miles away, I use my personal bike, my car, or the bus to take many trips that I would bikeshare for if a station was closer).

My suggestion about leveraging funds dealt more with how to increase the speed of expansion in the absence of more funds. And given that the FY2013 budget has long been set and the FY2014 budget will be voted on fairly soon, it's not likely that DC will be greatly increasing the amount of public funding for expansion any time soon.

I would argue that there are few if any neighborhoods with an excess supply of bikeshare stations or docks in DC right now. Neighborhoods that have high usage could certainly use more stations to absorb the demand, and neighborhoods with low usage tend to have a relatively small number of stations, decreasing the utility of Bikeshare for short trips. These also tend to be the stations on the edges of DC, from which riders can only travel in a limited number of directions, and which tend to involve steep hills.

In that vein, and in the absence of a big increase in public funds, I would posit that of the two situations:

a) 10 new stations per year, centrally planned, or
b) 15 new stations per year, 5 centrally planned, and 10 subsidized by neighborhoods/institutions.

Situation B is a better approach, particularly if they cost the same amount in public capital funds.

Once there are neighborhoods that hit saturation points, the calculus changes, but I think we're far from a saturation point, right now. So (as long as a rough balance between central business district and non-CBD stations is maintained), more stations = better system.

by Jacques on May 22, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport


Fair point, but there need to be set guidelines about where new, privately-funded or sponsored stations can be located, so those stations will fit well into the existing system. We don't want to constantly create new gaps in the system before we filled in the existing gaps.

by Bike Sharer on May 22, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

Here's something i wrote a while back, on how CaBi ought to be more explicit and proactive in encouraging this 'gateway' activity. If, as Jim S says, CaBi isn't really intended for the everyday peak O/D round trip, why not try to prime the pump to encourage frequent peak users to get onto their own bikes? Benefits everyone.

by darren on May 25, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

For a bike share system to work reliably for commuters, especially those going from popular residential areas to popular work areas, the system needs to be much bigger than CaBi currently is, and have a higher density of stations. The last time I lived in Paris, I used Vélib' bike share for about 80% of my commutes. Paris and the near suburbs have 2,000 stations with over 20,000 bikes, serving a population of about 2.5 million. The last I checked, it had about 110,000 daily trips on average.

Of course the economics are different: subscriptions and time-based charges are slightly smaller, but JC Decaux, which operates Vélib', expected to lose money on bike share. That's because in exchange for running it, they got exclusive access to advertising on public property in Paris (bus stops, tram stops, billboards, etc.).

by Brian Ogilvie on May 28, 2013 4:56 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