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Is Gaithersburg the next frontier for Capital Bikeshare?

Gaithersburg is considering joining Capital Bikeshare with up to 21 additional stations. But with turbulent bikeshare rollouts in College Park and Rockville, it may not be easy.

Proposed bikeshare stations in Gaithersburg. Map by the author, using Google.

The Gaithersburg City Council is mulling whether or not to join Capital Bikeshare, and how to fund the program if they join. At a meeting on Monday, the council worked out preliminary plans for 8 initial stations, to be followed by around a dozen more later.

Gaithersburg has a growing collection of mixed-use neighborhoods that will someday be connected by the Corridor Cities Transitway. Adding bikesharing to that mix makes sense, and can help Gaithersburg transition to be a less car-dependent community.

But is expansion even possible right now? And if it is, does Gaithersburg have the right plan?

Trouble in College Park and Rockville

Theoretically the next expansion of Capital Bikeshare in suburban Maryland should be underway in College Park right now. But with Capital Bikeshare's parent supplier company in bankruptcy and reorganization, no new bikes or bike stations are rolling off the assembly line. As a result, College Park's expansion is on indefinite hold.

Eventually the assembly line will start rolling again. But how long will it take, and how huge will be the backlog of existing orders? It may be some time before anybody can accept new orders.

Meanwhile, nearby Rockville has its bikeshare stations already, but they're poorly used.

One big problem appears to be that Rockville's stations are spread too far apart. Instead of placing stations every couple of blocks, Rockville only put one or two stations in each neighborhood. Cyclists have to commit to a long ride to use the system.

Based on the map of proposed stations, it looks like Gaithersburg is shaping up to make the same mistake. It might be better for both cities to rethink their stations, and cluster them together in a smaller part of town.

But implementation details aside, it's great news to see more and more communities looking to progressive transportation options.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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How is NYC dealing with Bixi's status? I assume they have a rather large unfulfilled order...

by Jasper on Mar 26, 2014 12:20 pm • linkreport

Expanding CABI to college park, rockville, gaithersburg and suburban locations is stupid.

It makes some financial sense, as it might allow MoCo to capture bikeshare users from MD as part of their take.

This goes back to the ill-planned idea to get a TIGER grant for bikeshare all the way out to Reston.

Density. That is what we need.

by charlie on Mar 26, 2014 12:30 pm • linkreport

Have you been to any of the locations in your post, charlie?

by selxic on Mar 26, 2014 12:42 pm • linkreport

@ selxic; no, and judging from the usage not many people have.

I was hoping to use the ones in Rockville next time my car goes in for service.

by charlie on Mar 26, 2014 12:50 pm • linkreport

The Bixi issue seems looming until some US company steps up to the plate though I suppose patents may make it tricky for a good while at least. From a planning point of view I think unless the city picks a dense area of say a square mile with stations every 1500 ft or so its going to remain of limited utility. Those stations look too dispersed to be useful to most people. After all sometimes stations are empty or fill up, using Cabi shouldnt make your trip longer.

by BTA on Mar 26, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

People keep implementing bike share, as if it's a magical solution to all their transportation problems. In reality, Bike Share is a tool to that can help overcome some barriers to bicycling. These barriers include not having a bike at the end of a transit trip or not being able to store a bicycle in a dense urban space. In some locations, like the dense environments of NYC or DC, this can make it a powerful tool, since a large number of people in those areas don't own cars, have limited space to store a bike, and often take transit, which doesn't quite reach their destinations. It seems to me, however, that the biggest obstacles to biking in Gaithersburg (and Rockville and many other suburbs) are high-speed roadways that are hard to avoid to get anywhere, few bike facilities that connect destinations, and sprawling development that makes distances too far to bike. Bike share can't solve these problems, so if the goal is to get more people biking, then perhaps money and political capital would be better spent addressing those issues instead of subsidizing a bike share system that will get little use.

by TransitSnob on Mar 26, 2014 1:20 pm • linkreport


At least in NoVa folks are quite aware of the need to coordinate bike infra with Bikeshare expansion. That is why Reston (with an extensive trail network and access to the W&OD, and bikeable density at RTC) is being prioritized over Tysons, which does not yet have appropriate infra. It will still face issues of relatively low density, and isolation, of course.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 26, 2014 1:27 pm • linkreport

I don't disagree TransitSnob, but I do think there is a last mile argument to be made, if implemented properly. We do have to start off from the premise that some people can't or won't just drive by preference but can bike. By that line of thinking, a system oriented at connecting housing/ job centers to transit makes sense. I know in DC i've taken the bikeshare to Metro and I could see hoping on a bike to go somewhere in Bethesda or Silver Spring from the Metro. The question is whether MARC and RideOn have enough natural base to make this useful for people. Maybe they should offer a student discount to appeal to high school and college kids. Obviously safety is and will continue to be a major issue too.

by BTA on Mar 26, 2014 1:28 pm • linkreport

I think that's what @charlie meant by "Density. That is what we need." I think the two go hand-in-hand because the density tends to increase the amount of walkers and bikers. However, I do have to say that even tough Downtown Silver Spring is dense, it still has those huge highways that cut through it making walking/biking more difficult. But then the question becomes, how do you re-purpose these places? Road diets? Tunnel the highways? They are a huge obstacle to walking/biking in Rockville, Wheaton, wherever MD or VA.

by dc denizen on Mar 26, 2014 1:31 pm • linkreport

It might be helpful if the map were to include the existing and pending (i.e. Shady Grove Metro -- still can't believe they launched without it) bikeshare stations in the area since they mesh so closely into these proposed locations. 

When the Bixi asset sale is complete the only question is how long it will take whoever picks up the IP (station and bike designs) to get things moving again, either by restarting or licensing production. 

by cabi addict on Mar 26, 2014 1:39 pm • linkreport

Building from my own map and the map from Dan, you can see the proposed Gaithersburg stations (in blue), current stations (small red dots), and the currently planned Montgomery County stations (in green) in a Google Fusion Tables map.

You can also scroll around and sell all the other planned expansions (in green), proposed expansions (in blue), and existing stations (small red).

by Corey H. on Mar 26, 2014 2:43 pm • linkreport

The proposed CaBi expansion to Gaithersburg is a positive sign that the City of Gaithersburg is seriously considering transporation alternatives. The City has recently proposed a one year implementation of its bike master plan for infrastructure, already has an extensive system of trails and shared use paths and has invested heavily in mixed use town center designs with nearby employment centers. It is unfortunate that many still think of the City as some far out pasture or sprawl induced highway system. Almost 50% of Gaithersburg residents and workers live within 10 miles of their jobs and the town centers offer destinations and attractions that make bike share feasible and reasonable. The Phase 1 stations don't all make sense, but my group has posted suggestions for improvements ( Rockville's investment in bike share would be enhanced by the addition of Gaithersburg since many residents and workers commute between them.

by josephmarkallen on Mar 26, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

One important thing to bear in mind is that the Mid-County Bikeshare's primary mission is not ridership focused, but per its grant: it is intended to provide mobility options for low-income commuters, connecting a few key points rather than building-out a more robust system.

by Bossi on Mar 26, 2014 3:45 pm • linkreport

As I've said elsewhere, Daimler should really buy the BIXI assets and intergrate them into the car2go brand.

by charlie on Mar 26, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

Gaithersburg joining Capital Bikeshare would be even a poorer choice than Rockville, College Park, or Silver Spring.

Suburban Maryland doesn't have the density, infrastructure, or culture to make a success of Capital Bikeshare, and it doesn't want to.

by cminus on Mar 26, 2014 4:34 pm • linkreport

Why are si many people here negative on College Park? With the metro station about a mile from alot of classes and people coming and going at different times, this would seem to be a promising suburban test case.

by JimT on Mar 26, 2014 4:55 pm • linkreport

BTA, there is an American company called Bcycle. They built the only profitable system in the country, in Miami Beach. They also operate another dozen systems and are backed by Trek.

DC selected Bixi and Alta in a no bid contract because Klein had ties with the company. He did the same in Chicago and got sued. Boston and NYC went with them even though they werent the best bid because of name recognition. SF and Portland also selected them.

Every system after DC saw a 1+ year launch delay because Alta has never delivered a promise. They launched late in every market, failed to meet expansion goals in every market including DC, and have failed their maintenance and recalibration mandates in every market.

When you pick the system you have ties with, rather than the one with the best bid, thats what happens.

Now every major city is tied up with Bixi and their bankruptcy and bike share is going to suffer a nationwide step backwards thanks to the cronyism.

In every city, alarms about Alta and Bixi were sounded during the bidding process, but were ignored.

by Mr Bike on Mar 26, 2014 5:27 pm • linkreport

I recognize that I am biased as I live in Gaithersburg. Still, the facts don't really align with many of the comments on this page. The density of Gaithersburg equals or exceeds the density in much of Northwest DC (just check any census data web site and you can see these facts). Sure, it is not Columbia Heights or Logan Circle, but it has developed a decent set of mixed use villages with significant employers and residents (over 7,000 per square mile). The culture of these areas is changing along with the build out of these developments. It is no longer some distance farmland with a few cul de sac communities. There is an impressive bike culture already present between Ride Allegheny, MoCo EPIC, local commuters, families, Kidical Mass rides, etc. The infrastructure is evolving and there are a few challenges (355, 270), but I can bike and walk to over 60 restaurants, two movie theaters, a local community theater, several locally owned shops, several large employers and start-ups, and talk directly with the City staff and Mayor and Council when needed. I love DC as well, but Gaithersburg doesn't have to be DC to innovative and support the people who live there.

by Joseph A. on Mar 26, 2014 5:37 pm • linkreport

As someone who used to live in Gaithersburg, I absolutely agree with Joseph A.

Plus, you come off as rather snobbish just dismissing Gaithersburg out of hand when you know little to nothing about it.

Not everyone can afford to live in DC or inside the beltway. That doesn't mean that they should be denied the opportunity to live in a walkable urban area.

by Paul on Mar 26, 2014 5:46 pm • linkreport

Dismissing any of the locations is silly and highlights unfamiliarity some have with the region. Also, systems don't need to connect to exist. Using the same vendor has been a bonus for some users.

by selxic on Mar 26, 2014 8:14 pm • linkreport

Its unfair to dismiss the bikeshare expansion in Montgomery County. Many of the stations were not installed until the weather started turning for the worst. One of the worst winters in history. Rockville Metro station was installed last rather than first and Shady Grove Metro station hasn't been installed. Gaithersburg would make a natural extension of the bikeshare system , although I believe priority should be North Bethesda and Wheaton to fill the gap between the existing bikeshare systems. If grant money is to fund the Gaithersburg expansion, then North Bethesda and Wheaton should be ahead of Gaithersburg

by Cyrus on Mar 26, 2014 9:36 pm • linkreport

DC selected Bixi and Alta in a no bid contract because Klein had ties with the company. He did the same in Chicago

This is not accurate.

1. DC selected Bixi and Alta because Arlington had already signed with them. Klein thought it made sense to be on the same contract with them and by that time Arlington was ready to sign the contract. So it was either jump on with Arlington, or have two separate systems. But Arlington picked Bixi not DDOT. At that time Klein had never worked for Bixi or Alta.

2. I don't know if it was a "no-bid" contract, but Arlington shopped around quite a bit before it settled on Bixi.

3. Klein recused himself from picking the Chicago bike sharing system, because of his work for Alta after he left DDOT. In fact, it was the city council, not the DOT that picked Alta/Bixi.

4. Chicago was not sued. The competitors protested. These are different things.

by David C on Mar 26, 2014 9:48 pm • linkreport

I hope College Park buys up a pile of beater bikes from public auction and puts them by the Metro with the words "loaner bikes- please use" Oh wait, there'd be people calling the cops to have them removed, saying "but what about BikeShare"
For-profit BikeShare keeps being treated as a public service instead of an unfortunate financial black hole with an ensured monopoly. I don't think a bike rental company should need continual hand-holds, public investment, and sponsoring. I'm going to ask directly - do they have to pay in full or at all for their business stations?
I'm not against people who love it and biking is healthy for many so naturally want it to grow, but there's something very wrong about such a company acting hesitant to serve College Park.

by asffa on Mar 27, 2014 8:17 am • linkreport

This article needs to be corrected. The article states:

“Theoretically the next expansion of Capital Bikeshare in suburban Maryland should be underway in College Park right now. But with Capital Bikeshare's parent company in bankruptcy and reorganization, no new bikes or bike stations are rolling off the assembly line. As a result, College Park's expansion is on indefinite hold.”

Capital Bikeshare is operated by Alta Bicycle Share, a company that is fully solvent. The supplier of equipment for Capital Bikeshare as well as other bike share systems in the US, Public Bike Systems Company, filed for bankruptcy in January.

It seems that the source of that information was the UMD Diamond back and they’ve already corrected their article.

Full disclosure, I'm employed by Alta.

by Eric on Mar 27, 2014 9:44 am • linkreport


The latest on how NYC is dealing with Bixi's status:

Agree that G'burg has good density and walkable streets in some areas that are very appropriate for bikeshare. I'm guessing some folks aren't familiar with places like Kentlands or King Farm which have streets lined with 2-3 story rowhouses and are model innovative planned communities.

by Falls Church on Mar 27, 2014 9:49 am • linkreport

It sounds like the main issue with Alta and/or Bixi boils down to the bike share system software used. Apparently there are two versions out there. Whatever, the bankruptcy and other situations sound solvable if the right people address all the issues involved.

by DaveG on Mar 27, 2014 10:23 am • linkreport

For-profit BikeShare keeps being treated as a public service instead of an unfortunate financial black hole with an ensured monopoly.

There is no such entity as Bikeshare. There's Capital Bikeshare, but it is not a for-profit company (which is good since it has none). It is a public transit entity like WMATA. It is owned by DDOT, Arlington County and the other government. They are Capital Bikeshare's "holding company".

Alta is a for-profit entity. They are not treated like a public service, but have a contract to manage CaBi. They do not have a monopoly, since the DOTs can fire them and hire someone else any time they want.

by David C on Mar 27, 2014 10:42 am • linkreport

Thanks David C, I see - I am corrected how that works.
BTA - Not sure which age you meant, but on RideOn, kids with ID actually ride free before 7pm. Some kids use it to get home from school, or to their jobs afterschool.

by asffa on Mar 27, 2014 11:07 am • linkreport

I think there's half-thoughts that a lot of people would ride the bikes shopping - esp. if they're in Kentlands, Rockville, or Wheaton. The red ones don't have baskets.
Other than directly to another BikeShare, where are they supposed to go with them? Do the stores in these shop-heavy areas have bike racks or bus stop benches? Like condos, businesses care about appearances.
Like condos who refuse to let people keep bikes on their porch, businesses don't often put up bike racks or benches beside the bus stops near them. Many businesses don't think they're pretty.(There are mosaic benches that are pretty, nor have I had problem with the view of bike racks)

by asffa on Mar 27, 2014 11:37 am • linkreport

Like condos who refuse to let people keep bikes on their porch, businesses don't often put up bike racks or benches beside the bus stops near them. Many businesses don't think they're pretty.

Businesses who think a huge parking lot is pretty but can't figure out how to purchase aesthetically pleasing bike racks aren't well run. The reason more shopping centers don't have bike racks is that they weren't part of the initial design and it's too much effort/cost to retrofit racks (or they're plain lazy). New shopping centers are pretty likely to have bike racks.

That said, there's no shortage of existing shopping centers installing racks such as this one:

Also, smart businesses such as Kimco (the largest owner of shopping centers in the country) view installing bike racks as a branding opportunity:

Additionally, we are in the process of implementing a corporate branding program, adding Kimco branding to property signage, benches, bike racks, and other features.

by Falls Church on Mar 27, 2014 2:14 pm • linkreport

On the bixi bankruptcy it sounds as if too many parties are standing around helplessly, hoping someone else will step forward.

Meanwhile the Bikeshare idea, into which many communities have invested millions, hangs in the balance.

A consortium of those communities needs to come together before the Bankruptcy Court to satisfy creditors, buy assets and keep bixi going. The funding comes out of whatever would be otherwise be paid to alta.
Alta will agree to this, given no other choice. Some smart lawyer will figure out all the details...

by pPalisades biker on Mar 27, 2014 3:09 pm • linkreport

"Meanwhile the Bikeshare idea, into which many communities have invested millions, hangs in the balance"

Well that's messed up. Locally - how many millions? What does administration and installation end up costing per rental bike?

by asffa on Mar 27, 2014 10:50 pm • linkreport

Alta operates Capital Bikeshare. It received bike stations, software and bikes from Bixi. Bixi ran into problems because of a dispute with its software provider, 8D. Bixi wanted to buy 8D completely, but 8D refused. Then 8D left Bixi.

Bixi switched to a different software provider for the newer bikeshare systems like NYC and Chicago. The new software turned out to have many problems, leading to delays, subpar performance and disputes between Bixi and the new cities. Those cities have withheld a substantial amount of money because of the software issues, creating a cash flow problem for Bixi. That is one of the major reasons for the bankruptcy.

Fortunately, Arlington, DC and the other local jurisdictions involved with Capital Bikeshare do not have contracts directly with Bixi. Alta reacted to the Bixi bankruptcy by announcing a new partnership with 8D. They promised to have improved bike stations and software. They did say that they still had to choose a bike supplier, but they could very well go with the original supplier that makes bikes for Bixi. (Bixi does not make the bikes.) If Alta and 8D can manage that, then they would be able to offer the same bikes as before, without the problematic Bixi getting in the middle of everything.

(Bixi also runs the Montreal bikeshare system.)

Alta and 8D said that they would be ready to expand in new and current bikeshare cities this summer, depending on when they reach an agreement with a bike supplier.

I haven't heard any updates recently, but I had assumed that Alta was going to move forward without Bixi. Given the problems with Bixi's new software, that's fine with me. (Capital Bikeshare uses the older and better 8D software.)

by Citizen on Mar 28, 2014 4:55 am • linkreport

@citizen; "but I had assumed that Alta was going to move forward without Bixi."

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Alta [has been] over promising and under delivering.

The IP rights of the bikes/docks is also unclear. You are correct on the 8D software. However, without resolving the IP/licensing issues I don't think you can make new bikes and docks.

Doubly so if a bkptcy administrator is in charge of BIXI International assets.

The good thing on the bikes is almost everything except the frame looks like standard components. And they are sturdy frames. I don't see why they can't be rebuilt very easily -- perhaps switch out the handlebars.

You could even switch out the frame but I suspect the docking mechanism is also custom.

Altogether could be a real disruption to the supply chain. All the more reason to pull bikes and docks from underused locations (EOTC, Rockville. etc) into places where they will be used.

by charlie on Mar 28, 2014 7:50 am • linkreport

After probably getting valuable land for free -
40K for 6 bikes/11 stations - 6K per bike initial cost
12K per year cost maintenance 2K per bike maintenance
Those rental bikes aren't worth 8K dollars plus lots of valuable land for free.
See my suggestion of free use of beater bikes? looking even more sensible, especially since BikeShare doesn't even want to serve College Park.


by asffa on Mar 28, 2014 6:01 pm • linkreport

Most of the original bike sharing systems in the world used the beater bike formula. I think this is what people in the business's call first generation Bikeshare. Every single one of them was a spectacular failure. Primarily because all of the bikes were stolen or destroyed or thrown into various rivers.

Capital Bikeshare is what they call a fourth generation system. Every cost-benefit analysis I have seen on Capital Bikeshare has shown it to be a net positive.

by David C on Mar 28, 2014 10:48 pm • linkreport

David C - Regarding your claim that it always fails - the beater bike formula works in Copenhagen.
Wondering which cost-benefit analysis contained businesses bankrupt and 8K per bike

by asffa on Mar 29, 2014 1:52 am • linkreport

David C Thinking about the theft or jerks throwing them in ditches, etc. issue - GPS trackers for bikes go for <200$. Not free, but less than 8K

by asffa on Mar 29, 2014 11:19 am • linkreport

I don't think GPS would thwart jerks or vandals. Also managing the recovery system cuts into the maintenance savings (which only exists if there is to be no maintenance at all. Of course, I don't think heavily used, unmaintained beater bikes that are stored outside all year long are going to last more than a few months anyway, so we can add high replacement costs to the total).

by David C on Mar 29, 2014 1:41 pm • linkreport

In suburban areas like Rockville, Gaithersburg, and maybe College Park, bikeshare with a longer time frame could lead to more use.

As for Gaithersburg, until they make the necessary infrastructure improvements for bicycling, bike share will not be well used. There is no connectivity between the communities of Kentlands, Lakeforest, Olde Town/City Hall, Crown Farm, the Universities at Shady Grove and the Shady Grove Metro. Roads like Routes 355, 124, I-370, I-270 and Shady Grove Road are major obstacles. And, you can still be ticketed for riding on the sidewalk even on 355, going up the long, slow, hill from the Metro to Olde Town and on 124, which isn't safe at anytime of day. In order to have successful Bike Share, Gaithersburg must address these cycling obstacles.

by A Cyclist on Mar 29, 2014 8:38 pm • linkreport

Copenhagen City Bikes was hardly a beater bike program. It's a 2nd generation system that used "coin deposit, fixed stands and specially designed bikes with parts that can not be used on other bikes." It is also no longer in service. It would be odd to go back to such a low-tech system (and impossible to find a vendor), and it would lose the network effect benefits of joining CaBi.

Here's one very good cost-benefit analysis of the system.

While the sponsorship of an 11-dock station and six bikes is $40,000, that is not the cost of those items - that is the cost to sponsor a dock and it's bikes. Nor is it fair to allocate the whole cost to the bikes. The docks also carry a cost. The bikes cost around $1000, which is what CaBi would charge you if you walked away with one.

The land is "free" because it is city or county land, but in almost all cases it could not be sold for anything else, meaning there is little to no opportunity cost. And by freeing up public parking for more residents, it is probably closer to a wash landwise. A beater program would use land too, as bikes still take up space. In fact, if there is no dock, those bikes will likely end up on private land quite often and annoy businesses and residents.

No one saw the Bixi bankruptcy coming, that's true. There are always risks in using vendors. But what is the alternative?

by David C on Mar 30, 2014 12:25 am • linkreport

I had to laugh at "lots of valuable land." Yes, Bikeshare stations are taking up valuable plots that could instead be used for a hot dog stand, or a park bench!

by MLD on Mar 30, 2014 8:16 am • linkreport

MLD you got data on the land value or lack of? And I mentioned the frequent problem of lack of benches or shelters for bus stops.
David C - Bike stands or bike availability is good- what's misguided is continuing support for a bloated, broken, no basket, too tech reliant, 8K per bike, corrupted system that doesn't even wish to serve College Park. Scrap such an inexcusable failure.

by asffa on Mar 31, 2014 3:48 pm • linkreport

Considering the DOT is in charge of locating both bikeshare stations and bus stops, and have standards for doing so (distance from curb, space around stop or station, etc.) it seems safe to say that they are not placing bikeshare stations in places where it is crowding out other uses like transit stops.

Do you have evidence to the contrary?

Since when does the system "[not] even wish to serve College Park"? Did you read the article? They want to serve College Park - the equipment is not available.

by MLD on Mar 31, 2014 4:13 pm • linkreport

Capital Bikeshare does want to serve College Park, it has baskets, and it's neither broken nor corrupt. Whether or not it is too tech reliant or bloated depends on how one defines those things. In my opinion, it is neither.

by David C on Mar 31, 2014 4:14 pm • linkreport

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