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10 things my internship taught me about transportation in DC

Every year, thousands of up and coming leaders come to DC to intern. Knowing how to get around can be difficult at first, but if you follow this advice, you'll steer clear of lighter pockets and grumpy mornings.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

In early January, I arrived in DC with two suitcases and a small budget for transportation. Being a full time student and an unpaid intern who lives just a mile from work, I spend most of my time walking.

There are, however, a lot of times when I take Metrorail. Irvine, California, where I'm from, doesn't have a subway system, so using Metro ("Metrorail" is the official name, since there's also Metrobus, but everyone just calls the train system "Metro") has been a new adventure filled with ups and downs.

Now that I've been here for a while, I can tell you ten things about Metro that will help any intern who's new to DC:

1. Understand the map: DC is divided into quadrants that center on the US Capitol—Northeast (NE), Northwest (NW), Southeast (SE) and Southwest (SW). Be sure to orient yourself properly so you don't end up at, say, 10th Street NE when you meant to go to 10th Street NW. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the Metro map. Before your first day of work, mark the route that you plan to take so you don't miss your stop.

2. Prepare for traffic: The Metrorail crowds can be a big hassle. Go towards the ends of the platforms, as commuters tend to group towards the middle.

3. Different time, different price: The students in my internship program who take the Metrorail every day, spend around $40 per week. However, the fares vary by station and during peak times, they're more expensive. On weekdays, these are in effect from 5:30 AM to 9:30 AM, and 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM. On the bright side, the trains will arrive more frequently at this time of day.

4. Consider a Metro pass: If you use the Metro enough, a SelectPass can save you time and money. This calculator helps to determine which pass will save you the most. Even if you plan to walk or use Capital Bikeshare to get to work, there are going to be times when you'll want to use Metro, and for those, it's important to have a SmarTrip card.

5. Register your SmartTrip Card: Don't forget to register your Metro card just in case it is misplaced or stolen. This is especially important if you've loaded a large amount of money on to it.

6. Know to behave on the Metro: A lot of Metro stations have long escalators. If you're standing while riding them, stay to the right to allow room for those who would prefer to walk. Also, Metro doors do not operate like elevator doors, so putting your arm out to keep the door open will not end well.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Once you're on a Metro car, be sure to move towards the center to make room for others. If you're inside an already packed train, don't underestimate another rider's ability to force their way in too. After being shoved into the armpits of several tall strangers, I've learned to position myself away from corners in order to prepare for the "sardine can" type of morning.

7. Running Late? Metro vs. cab: During my second week of interning, I woke up 10 minutes before work started and figured that taking a cab would be the quickest option. Unfortunately, I was stuck in traffic for twenty minutes. Lesson learned: cabs and ride hailing aren't necessarily the solution when you're running late—they're expensive and can just as easily get stuck in traffic. I've found that most of the time, when you're late, the reality is simply that you're out of luck.

8. The weather can affect your commute: This past February, I experienced my first snow storm. I had often heard jokes that DC residents panic at the mere thought of snow, yet I was still surprised by how cautious the city was about transportation during the blizzard. During this time, the Metro didn't service my area for nearly a week. If you'll be in DC during the winter, frequently check Metro alerts to see if there are any operational changes to the Metrorail.

Photo by Samir Luther on Flickr.

9. Ask your supervisor for a transportation stipend: As an unpaid intern, every penny counts. Since DC has some of the highest fares of transit in the US, I suggest that interns at least ask if their work sites offer a transportation stipend. At my previous internship, I received $150 at the start of every month to cover my estimated transportation costs, which helped significantly. A friend of mine kept receipts of her fare purchases, gave them to her supervisor, and was compensated at the end of each month. Some internships, like those on Capitol Hill, do not offer this option. But it never hurts to ask!

10. Know your options: Capital Bikeshare will let you get some exercise while you commute, but it's also often just as fast as Metro, or even driving. CaBi allows you to rent a bike from over 300 solar powered stations in the DC area. You can also enjoy a view of the city and save a few bucks by riding the busif you regularly do this, definitely buy a pass. The Circulator is another great option, and riding only costs $1! However, this does not service all areas of DC. Last but not least, if you live close to where you need to go, there's one option that almost never fails: walking!

Got any transportation advice for people that are new to DC? Comment below.


The Metro shutdown changed how people use Capital Bikeshare. Here's how.

When Metro shut down on March 16th, it made life tougher on thousands of commuters. But there was a silver lining: the opportunity to see how other parts of our region's transportation network would handle new demand.

Capital Bikeshare data from that day informed a mapping tool and several animations by Mobility Lab's senior tech advisor, Michael Schade, which provide some insight on how the bikeshare system fits within the broader regional network.

The map gives an idea of which bikeshare stations had major jumps in ridership (such as those downtown and in NoMa), and which ones were negatively affected by the lack of Metro riders.

Graph from Mobility Lab.

Looking broadly, the overall bikeshare ridership grew by 21 percent compared to the previous Wednesday, March 9. (It's worth noting, for comparison purposes, that both days had unseasonably warm and sunny weather.) Almost all of this increase came from a more-than-doubling of casual bikeshare trips: registered trips grew by only 1 percent.

One possible explanation for the low increase in registered trips could be the higher likelihood that registered riders own personal bikes. In an effort to make more bikeshare bikes available, those with their own bikes were encouraged to ride those instead. Additionally, Capital Bikeshare made casual trips, normally $8 for 24 hours, free for the day.

While tourists and visitors to the DC area are typically the ones considered as "casual" bikeshare riders, on the day without Metro the category grew to include a massive number of residents trying out the system for the first time.

On a station-by-station scale, 223 (or 63 percent) of all 354 stations saw a jump in traffic on March 19. Trip decreases from certain bikeshare stations could offer a possible insight into where Capital Bikeshare riders typically connect to Metrorail. Some stations near Metro, such as a few in the Golden Triangle area of DC near Farragut West, saw decreases, but the decrease was not uniform or widespread enough to show any particular relation to Metro.

Other factors, such as schools canceling classes or employers allowing telework, would have had a major impact on bikeshare ridership as well.

Given the multitude of factors, and the unique situation of the shutdown, it is difficult to determine some of these exact patterns behind ridership. But the overall jump in casual ridership does make clear: without Metro, many commuters explored a new transportation option through bikeshare.

For more Capital Bikeshare-based data projects, you can check out Mobility Lab's upcoming Transportation Techies meeting on April 28.

Bike counts in the interactive map courtesy of the BikeArlington Counter Dashboard.

This post originally ran on Mobility Lab.


Low-income residents can now buy cheaper CaBi memberships

If you qualify for need-based services in the District, you can now get a year-long Capital Bikeshare membership for $5 rather than the regular $85 fee. DC's Department of Transportation hopes the initiative will encourage more people to use bikeshare and make transportation more accessible for the District's less affluent residents.

DDOT director Leif Dormsjo announcing the new Capital Bikeshare Community Partners Program. Photo by James Huang.

The new Capital Bikeshare Community Partners Program offers qualifying residents significant savings off the regular annual membership fee, as well as a free helmet and introduction to the system.

In addition to the savings, members in the program will also be able to use a bike for 60 minutes instead of the normal 30 minutes before incurring additional ride fees.

"It is critical that those with the most need are able to travel quickly and economically to and from their appointments, jobs, training and classes," said Leif Dormsjo, director of DDOT, in a statement. "By including need-based Capital Bikeshare annual memberships, we are ensuring that all District residents can use this healthy, affordable and efficient means of travel."

The program works through local non-profit and social service organizations, including Back on My Feet, Community of Hope, the DC Center for the LGBT Community, Unity Healthcare and the Whitman Walker Clinic. Clients who qualify for those organizations' services can qualify for the Community Partners Program.

The program is available now to DC residents, and CaBi hopes to expand it to Alexandria, Arlington County, and Montgomery County in the future.

Removing barriers could mean more riders

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) found that paying for an annual membership can be a barrier for lower-income people to using bikeshare systems, in a 2015 report.

The low upfront cost—$5 is less than the cost of three Metrobus trips—will hopefully remove this barrier for low-income residents in DC.

In addition, CaBi's estimates that members saved an average of $710 each in transportation expenses annually in 2014, in its most recent member survey.

NACTO also found that extensive outreach is important to the success of low-income bikeshare membership programs. In 2014, about 18% of the 12,673 members of Boston's Hubway bikeshare system joined through the city's $5 low-income membership program—the highest in the USA—after heavy marketing, according to the report.

A big question for the new program is whether it will expand CaBi's reach to a more diverse group of users. Bikeshare use has grown regularly in recent years, with monthly trips surpassing 360,000 for the first time in 2015, its data shows.

CaBi trips peaked at around 330,000 a month in 2014 and 300,000 in 2013, according to the data.

However, users are "on average, considerably younger, more likely to be male, Caucasian, and slightly less affluent" than commuters in the Washington DC region based on US census data, CaBi's 2014 member survey found.

The new community partners memberships should help shift these demographics. However, more will be need to be done, including marketing the program to those who can benefit from it and expanding CaBi's presence in low-income neighborhoods - there are only 20 docks east of the Anacostia River - to ensure its success.


Here's where Reston and Tysons' CaBi stations will go

Capital Bikeshare is coming to Fairfax County this fall. Reston will get 132 at 15 stations, and Tysons will get 80 bikes at 14 stations.

Reston Bikeshare locations.

The county's Board of Supervisors approved a $1.7 million plan to bring Capital Bikeshare to Fairfax late last year; the county bought bikes, docks, and related equipment after the deal was originally announced. Fairfax plans to have the stations installed and online later this fall.

In some Twitter Q&A earlier on Tuesday, the County noted that there are no current plans to expand the program to Vienna or Huntington "at this time."

Tysons Bikeshare locations. Image from Fairfax County.

Phase one of bringing Bikeshare to Reston is focused on the north side of the city since there's more of a mix of businesses, homes, and shopping areas above the toll road around Reston Town Center.

While shown as one on the above image, the Wiehle-Reston Metro station will have two Bikeshare stands. They'll be approximately a mile away from the next-nearest station, which is down Sunset Hills Road towards Reston Town Center.

Future expansion of the program within Reston will bring bikes to the south side of the Toll Road and "village centers," according to the County's Twitter.

The Bikeshare locations in Tysons will include a stand at all of the Silver Line stations, several at both halves of the Tysons malls, and a few other stations interspersed along other thoroughfares with new housing developments or business establishments. Five streets in Tysons received new bike lanes last year to help make biking in the area easier.

While Fairfax's new stations won't be densely packed in, they should make shorter trips through some areas easier, and likely more enjoyable than by car.


How was your commute?

Traffic this morning was a little worse than usual, but not horrible. More people were bicycling as well. It seems that having advance notice of the Metro shutdown helped many people adjust their plans.

Photo by Kyle Gradinger on Twitter used with permission.

Or, as Adam Lind put it, "Fear mongering = best form of TDM [Transportation Demand Management]." It's true—remember how Pope Francis' visit didn't cause "traffic apocalypse"?

Not to say that roads were clear like during the pope's visit. Ned Russell reports: "The 14th St Bridge and Mount Vernon Trail had more cyclists, especially inbound. My outbound commute was about the same. However, the GW Parkway northbound was backed up to Alexandria from the bridge."

Mitch Wander: "Traffic on inbound Constitution coming off Roosevelt Bridge is at least three to four times normal at 0630. Yes, I'm on a bicycle."

At 8:30, Gray Kimbrough wrote, "I'm sitting at 8th & Van Buren NW in Takoma (story: I got a flat tire last night picking up my daughter from daycare) with a view of Piney Branch. Traffic is much heavier than usual heading downtown here."

Chris Slatt made a page where you can compare the typical traffic to today's. Here's the traffic at 8:30:

This is nothing compared to January's midweek snowstorm, where poorly-forecasted snow caused massive backups in the evening commute.

Traffic congestion in the evening of January 20. Image by Brendan Casey from Google Maps.

Capital Bikeshare, not surprisingly, is seeing heavy use, with few bikes at neighborhood stations and many downtown. Rebalancing crews are working nonstop to try to move bikes outward. There are also three corrals in the downtown area to ensure riders can drop off bikes.

Does this mean we don't actually need Metro? Some people are asking. But as Canaan Merchant noted, "Traffic in town was a bit heavier than usual but not gridlocked. I've seen worse. But there are very few people here in the office today. For anyone questioning why we "need" Metro after today, the answer is that maybe we don't, except that it could mean a big hit to productivity and greater subsidy for other transit options."

Empty parking lot at Grosvenor Metro. Photo by Svet Neov.

How was your commute?


Can you guess which CaBi stations these are?

Capital Bikeshare is hosting another round of "Where's that Bikeshare?" Can you identify the CaBi stations pictured below?

Images 1 (left) and 2 (right). All images from Capital Bikeshare.

Images 3 (left) and 4 (right).

Image 5.

Here are the rules:

Answers must include both streets in the intersection name (Example: 14st & D St NW) OR the major nearby attraction (Ronald Reagan Building). For DC stations, you must include the quadrant. The order of the streets does not have to be exact (D St. & 14th NW is also acceptable).

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil it for the rest of you. We'll post the answers next week.

We at CaBi are having a drawing for some great Bikeshare prizes. If you comment on this post and are one of the people who gets the most right, we'll send them your email address to enter you in the contest. If you don't want to do that, you can say so in your comment and we'll leave you out. (Your email address will not be visible to anyone else regardless.)

Want to suggest a station for the next quiz? Email a picture and the station name to CaBi at and we'll consider it for future editions. Good luck and enjoy!


Two Congressmen want to give bikeshare programs more federal money

Federal law doesn't define bikeshare programs as public transportation, which means they aren't eligible for the sustained funding that most transit is. If a new bill becomes a law, that would change.

Photo by Chris Reed on Flickr.

Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL), both members of the Congressional Bike Caucus, introduced the Bikeshare Transit Act last week. The law would make bikeshare eligible for funds dedicated to public transportation, clearing up confusion that both local communities and the Department of Transportation often face when it comes to keeping bikeshare programs up and running.

There are over 50 bikeshare programs in the US, with our very own Capital Bikeshare being the biggest. While many were started with federal money, funding continued operations has been a challenge. The Bikeshare Transit Act will help pay for everything from bike repairs and keeping rebalancing vans on the road to system expansions and new technology.

In addition to defining bikeshare as public transportation, the bill proposes to make bikeshare an eligible project under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, which supports surface transportation efforts that work to improve air quality. Since bikes are powered by people and emit no pollution, it makes sense for bikeshare programs to receive CMAQ funding.

The American Planning Association is one of many organizations that support this bill.

"Bikeshare programs are helping communities large and small create new and needed transportation options while also improving local economies and quality of life," said APA President Carol Rhea, FAICP. "Bikeshare has become a proven tool for building stronger, more vibrant, and more resilient communities. APA and the nation's planners applaud the introduction of the bipartisan Bikeshare Transit Act. This legislation will make sure that federal policies and investments recognize what residents and cities already know: that bikeshare works."

Crossposted at American Planning Association's Policy News for Planners.


Capital Bikeshare is coming to Reston!

Reston is getting its first Capital Bikeshare stations, including spots at both the Wiehle and the coming Reston Town Center Metro stops. The network will make it a lot easier to get between the area's transportation hubs and its employment, retail, and community spaces.

The bike room at the Wiehle Metro Station. Photo by FCDOT.

Bikeshare facilities are a staple transportation option in parts of DC and other parts of the region, but there aren't any in Reston right now. Fairfax County's transportation department plans is contracting with CaBit to install thirteen stations at locations that include Plaza America, the Bluemont Transit Center, the Reston Regional Library and Reston Hospital. Between all the stations, 130 bikes will be available to rent.

The system will connect residents and visitors to employment, transportation, and shopping districts. In the specific case of getting between Wiehle and Reston Metro stations, which are a mile apart, bikeshare will provide an easy link.

The CaBi stations Fairfax's transportation department has proposed for Reston. Image from FCDOT.

At a recent community meeting, Fairfax Transportation Department Bicycle Program Coordinator Adam Lind said the hope is to have the stations in place by late 2016 or early 2017. That's contingent, though, on the Fairfax County DOT tapping its Federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funds for all the capital construction.

The Transportation Alternatives Program provides federal funding to projects other than traditional highway construction. Eligible projects include bicycle and pedestrian facilities, complete streets and safe routes to schools. The funding is typically split 80 percent Federal and 20 percent State or local match from the sponsoring organization. Related to CaBi in Reston, TAP funds would help with building the concrete station pads and purchase the bicycles.

If FCDOTuses a combination of local and federal funds, the stations might arrive sooner. Splitting funding would allow the county to start building the concrete pads with local funds, which typically has a faster approval. The TAP funds would be used to purchase the equipment. Also, some of the sites will require coordination and approval from private landowners, like the proposed station at Reston Hospital.

There is already a potential built-in user base. It was surprising to learn that there are currently around 1300 Capital Bikeshare members in Fairfax County. The county is also considering expanding to the Herndon Metro station. And the system has the potential to grow through systems in Tysons, Merrifield and even Falls Church.

I asked if there was any concern about placing at a site currently under redevelopment, like Reston Town Center North, only to have it soon removed. Lind explained that the concrete pads that are the foundation of the stations can be relocated as needed depending on construction or usage patterns. A fun fact: the pads are 41 feet in length (You'll thank me on trivia night.)

One person at the meeting commented about the current state of the trail infrastructure, which ranges from good to fair. He asked it there would be any improvements. Lind mentioned that they are working to get money from funds already set aside for area Metro improvements.

The next steps include ridership and financial analyses along with the final bike site designations. Updates will be posted to the bikeshare website. You can also submit questions or concerns to Lind at

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