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Bicycling


Slow start for Capital Bikeshare in Montgomery County

Since launching in September, the Capital Bikeshare stations in Montgomery County have been slow to draw riders, with some stations being used less than once per day on average. This may change over time, but it'll take a more complete bike network to increase ridership.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

I reviewed Capital Bikeshare's trip history data to find lessons from the first few months after the September 27 launch through December 31. Of the 50 stations in Montgomery County, the highest-performing ones were those in Friendship Heights and Bethesda, and those near Metro stations.

To count each station's number of trips, I included any trip that started or ended at the station. Trips that both started and ended at the same station counted only once, but if those trips lasted less than 30 seconds, I decided not to count them at all. To find the trips-per-day averages, I made sure to account for the fact that some stations were installed after the initial launch.

On the maps, blue dots are stations which averaged 10 or more trips a day; green dots at least 5 trips but less than 10; yellow at least 2 trips but less than 5; orange at least 1 trip but less than 2; and red dots were stations with less than one trip per day. Black dots represent stations that weren't installed until this year.

Bethesda and Friendship Heights

The most popular bikeshare station in Montgomery County so far is the one at the Friendship Heights Metro station, which was involved in about 11 trips per day. It has several things going for it. Metro stations are a popular place for bikeshare trips, as we'll see throughout this analysis. The location is also right on the border with DC, which has its own bikeshare stations nearby and, presumably, residents who were already members before the Montgomery launch.


Map by the author.

The next most popular station was at Bethesda Avenue & Arlington Boulevard, in the dense, mixed-use Bethesda Row area. The third most popular was the station at Montgomery Avenue & East Lane, close to the Bethesda Metro stop. Those two each saw between 7 and 8 trips per day.

The most common trip involving a Montgomery station went from Battery Lane & the Bethesda Trolley Trail to Norfolk Avenue & Fairmont Avenue. But this trip only happened 70 times last year, meaning a handful of users could easily be responsible for all the trips. As a result, I'm hesitant to draw any broad conclusions from the popularity of certain trips.

Rockville

Bike sharing in Rockville started very slowly. The only station involved in more than two trips per day was East Montgomery Avenue & Maryland Avenue, which averaged 2.5 trips per day. It's the closest station to Rockville Town Center, and also less than a half-mile from the Rockville Metro stop.


Map by the author.

The most glaring omission in Rockville is the lack of a bikeshare station at the Shady Grove Metro stop. Capital Bikeshare put stations in the King Farm and Fallsgrove neighborhoods, both of which have bike-friendly routes to the Shady Grove Metro.

The lack of a bikeshare station at the Shady Grove Metro seems like a missed opportunity to connect residents to a major destination. Throughout the system, Metro stations are among the most popular sites for bikeshare stations. The two most popular stations in the whole system were the one near the Dupont Circle Metro stop's north entrance and the one near Union Station. Each was involved in more than 300 trips per day from September 27 to December 31 last year.

Silver Spring and Takoma Park


Map by the author.

Like Bethesda, Silver Spring has some of the highest rates of bicycle commuting in the county. But the most popular station in eastern Montgomery County was the one near the Silver Spring Metro station, at Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue. It saw just 4.3 trips per day.

There's no bikeshare station right near the Takoma Metro station. The closest one is at Carroll Avenue & Westmoreland Avenue. It was Takoma Park's most popular, averaging 4.1 trips per day after it was installed in late October.

Comparing Montgomery County to Alexandria

Alexandria was the first jurisdiction outside of DC and Arlington that Capital Bikeshare expanded to. The cluster of stations there is geographically isolated from other parts of the system in a similar way to the Montgomery County clusters.

The growth of ridership in Alexandria since its stations launched on August 31, 2012 could offer a clue for what to expect going forward in Montgomery.

There were 4,736 trips involving at least one of Alexandria's stations during the fourth quarter of 2012. In the fourth quarter of 2013, that number went up to 5,345, an increase of 13% from the previous year.

All eight stations in Alexandria launched on the same day, and there have been no additional stations since then, so it's easy to compare them from year to year.

Notably, and not surprisingly, the bikeshare station near the King Street Metro station was Alexandria's most popular.

Looking forward

Montgomery County can expect bike sharing to grow over time, but it shouldn't assume that such a slow start is normal.

In DC, the station at North Capitol Street & G Place NE opened in mid-December and managed 14 trips per day during the final few weeks of the year, even during a relatively cold month. The 10th Street & Florida Ave NW station, added in October, saw 25 trips per day for the rest of the year.

No station in Montgomery County really came close to those numbers, let alone those of the most popular stations in DC.

If the county wants its investment in bike sharing to pay off, it should fill in key gaps, especially at the Shady Grove Metro. Providing bike lanes or paths to connect neighborhoods to Metro stations would also encourage the kind of trips that have proven popular everywhere else in the system.

Bicycling


Montgomery announces new bikeshare locations

Late this summer, Capital Bikeshare will expand into Montgomery County with 51 stations and 500 bikes. County officials have released maps of where they hope to put the stations, and they will hold meetings later this month to talk about the new service.


Bikeshare stations in Rockville and Shady Grove.


Bikeshare stations in Silver Spring and Takoma Park.


Bikeshare stations in Bethesda and Chevy Chase.

30 stations will go in the downcounty area, including Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Bethesda and Friendship Heights. In conjunction with the City of Rockville, the county will also place 21 stations in Rockville and the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center as part of a pilot program to see whether bikesharing can work in suburban areas, especially for carless low-income residents and reverse commuters.

County Department of Transportation officials will hold 3 meetings later this month where residents can learn how Capital Bikeshare works and offer feedback on the proposed stations. For more information, visit the county's new bikesharing website.

All 3 areas where Capital Bikeshare will go already have higher-than-average bicycling rates, like downtown Bethesda, Takoma Park, and even Rockville Town Center. That's not surprising, as these communities have an older, urban built form that easily lends itself to bicycling.

Bikeshare stations will also serve major employment centers, like NIH and the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, along with local schools, like Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park and both the Rockville and Silver Spring campuses of Montgomery College. This will make bikesharing a real option for residents who live too far to walk, while helping students who either can't or don't drive.

However, the maps also show the need for improved bike infrastructure. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association and MoBike have proposed a network of new bike lanes to compliment the CaBi stations, but it'll be a while before the county actually builds some.

In addition, it looks like some of the stations are spaced too far apart to be useful. The station at Flower and Piney Branch in Silver Spring, for example, is over a mile from any other station and at the top of a hill. That means users are likely to bike from there and not come back, creating a rebalancing problem.

What do you think of the station locations?

Pedestrians


8½ minutes to cross the street

When you get off the northbound bus at Route 355 and Shady Grove Road in Rockville, it takes 8½ minutes to cross legally to the other side of the street. Along the way, you traverse 28 traffic lanes.


Photo from Bing.

Just last week, two pedestrians were severely injured crossing the street at this intersection. I went there Saturday to look around. When I explained what I was interested in, people waiting for the southbound bus immediately pointed me to the bus stop on the other side.

I walked there, taking care to obey the law, and timed the return trip. It took 8½ minutes one way.

From the northbound bus stop (off the picture past point A on the picture below), I proceeded along the Route 355 sidewalk and reached the intersection at B. There I walked across a wide turn lane designed for high speeds that has no traffic signalfortunately weekend traffic in the turn lane is lightand reached the traffic island at C.


Photo from Google Earth.

There is no crosswalk across the south side of the intersection (because there's a traffic light here, there's no unmarked crosswalk). Therefore, I had to wait for the walk signal to cross the 9 lanes of Shady Grove Road. The wait was substantial, because this is a slow light; the signal cycle is 2½ minutes.

When I reached the next traffic island at D, I found a "beg button"a button that you press to get a walk signal. Cars made left turns for a little while, the through lanes began to move, and I got my signal to proceed across the 8 lanes of Route 355. The walk and flashing don't-walk phases, together, lasted 23 seconds.

I walk briskly, so I was able to finish the 104-foot crossing before the signal became a solid don't-walk. But a slower, and strictly law-abiding, pedestrian would have had to stop in the median. There is no beg button in the median, so they would have had to waitwho knows how longuntil another pedestrian came along who follows traffic rules so punctiliously that they bother to push beg buttons.

Having finally reached point E, I had to wait again for a walk signal. This time I had 10 lanes to cross, but here there is a long green that gives you plenty of time. Finally, I walked along the sidewalk from F to G, and after 8½ minutes I arrived at the southbound bus stop.


New beg button at "C." Photo by the author.

The Montgomery County Department of Transpor­tation is not ignoring this troubled intersection. It has installed 4 new beg buttons, not yet operational. But the way MCDOT is using these devices almost flaunts the low priority it assigns to pedestrian safety and convenience.

One of the new buttons is at location C. That's where pedestrians cross a high-speed turn lane that has no traffic light. The turn lane won't change at all. It still won't have a light; you will still take your life in your hands to cross during rush hour. The beg button will only control the through lanes, making you wait through the 2½ minute light cycle if you arrive when the light is already green. Walking will be even slower; a few more cars will get through.

MCDOT is willing enough to spend money on walk signals. Here and there, as at this intersection, it will make traffic islands prettier and improve curb cuts. But getting people where they want to go on foot, quickly and safely, is never as important to the department as moving cars.


Route 355 and Shady Grove Road, as envisioned in the 2006 master plan and as it is today. Left, rendering from MNCPPC; right, photo from Google Earth.

Ironically, this is a place the county has designated for transit-oriented land use. It is only ¾ of a mile from the Shady Grove Metro station and on a future Bus Rapid Transit route. According to the master plan for this area, "Residents will find walking along tree-lined streets and using bike paths as convenient as driving."

The master plan, which the County Council enacted in 2006, specifies that road builders must "provide four-way crosswalks at all intersections." Seven years have passed, and MCDOT can't seem to find a can of paint. It takes as long to cross the street, at Shady Grove and 355, as the Purple Line will take to go from Silver Spring to Bethesda.

Development


Annexation war pits Gaithersburg against Rockville

Rockville and Gaithersburg are nearly identical in many ways, and usually get along. But they aren't happy with each other right now, as they fight over who will annex a property located in the narrow swath of unincorporated land between them. This fight shows how long-term planning works and why it is important.


The disputed property. Image from Google Street View.

The crux of their disagreement is that Gaithersburg wants to annex a piece of land near the Rockville border that Rockville has never annexed itself, but to which Rockville thinks it is entitled. The land is south of Shady Grove Road, which many people think of as the unofficial boundary between the two cities.

But what people think of unofficially is not the law. There are actually laws on the books that govern how annexation works. When the dust settles, Gaithersburg is going to win this fight, because Gaithersburg has proactively thought about its long term planning needs, while Rockville has been strictly reactive.

The State of Maryland requires incorporated cities to adopt a future expansion plan, showing areas that each city may want to annex in the future. The entire point of this requirement is to give cities the opportunity to show where their "unofficial" boundaries are, so that everyone can plan accordingly.

And whether Rockville cares to admit it or not, they never made any kind of claim to the land in question until after Gaithersburg claimed it for itself, despite many opportunities to do so. If Rockville thought itself entitled to everything south of Shady Grove Road, then Rockville should have used the state's process to stake a legal claim.

Here are maps showing each city's adopted expansion plans, taken from their respective growth plans (page 66 on Rockville's on the top, page 30 on Gaithersburg's below):

The property in question is near the southeast corner of Shady Grove Road and Frederick Road:


Map by the author on Google Maps.

The Gaithersburg plan was adopted in 2009, and clearly shows this property as part of Gaithersburg's claim area. It's possible Gaithersburg claimed the land even earlier, but at the very latest by 2009 they had declared their intention to the land. Meanwhile, Rockville's plan shows that they didn't start thinking about this property until 2010, and had even specifically excluded it from their expansion plan during their previous update in 2002.

If Rockville wanted this land, why didn't they claim it in 2002? Or even before? If they really thought of Shady Grove Road as the boundary with Gaithersburg, why not make it official during any of the many updates to their expansion plan over the decades? Why wait until after Gaithersburg claimed it to express any interest?

Rockville didn't plan for the long term, and Gaithersburg did, and so Gaithersburg is going to win. They are set to annex the property at tonight's City Council meeting, and Rockville is powerless to stop it.

This is a good lesson to everyone. Proactively plan for what you want, or lose out to someone who did.

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