Post #387: Capital Bikeshare

Posted on September 17, 2019

I realize virtually nobody cares about this issue, but I thought I would just take a minute to summarize the current state of affairs anyway, based on last night’s Town Council meeting.

To get up to speed, you can read the bottom half of Capital Bikeshare rack location, data analysis, 3/8/2019.  The top half is my analysis of the existing data, strongly suggesting that these Capital Bikeshare racks will be more-or-less a waste of money here in Vienna, as almost nobody is likely to use them.

Just FYI:  Capital Bikeshare is a “docked” bike rental system, where bikes must be returned to some Capital Bikeshare rack.  The system is set up for short rides, as additional charges typically accrue after the first half-hour.  Essentially, you plan your ride to go from one rack to another.  The bike itself is a three-speed fat-tired bike weighing nearly 50 pounds.  It has been quite successful in the DC urban core, and not very successful at all in the lower-density suburbs.

This is completely separate from the issue of “dockless” rental electric scooters and bicycles.  The Town is on a separate track to produce a trial program allowing those devices before 1/1/2020, a deadline that was established by Commonwealth of Virginia statute.  See Post #377.

That said, the last I heard, the Bicycle Advisory Committee was going to suggest locations for the racks, and suggest the number of racks that they thought would be useful. 

Either that occurred and I missed it, or the Town is just going ahead with whatever was suggested in some overall plan for this area as a temporary placeholder.  In any case, the last agenda item in last night’s Town Council meeting included, in part, approval to request a grant for installing four Capital Bikeshare racks in Vienna.  The supporting material gave the size, location, and cost for those racks.

The cost for four racks will be $300,000, mostly paid out of Somebody Else’s Money.  The cost analysis is this document (.pdf).  The high cost of the docks (racks) and bikes is not a surprise, as I have noted that previous postings on this topic.  I also note that the Town didn’t give any revenue estimates, which I think was the conservative thing to do, because the revenues are likely to be negligible, based on the experience of nearby locations (Tysons, Reston).

The proposed locations for the racks are given in this document (.pdf).  It’s fairly clear that this is tentative, because it actually shows five racks in the Town of Vienna.

This appears to be taken from some overall plan for the Fairfax area.  This version calls for two racks directly along the W&OD (at locations where I believe some parking is available), one rack at Navy Federal Credit Union, one rack at Maple and Nutley, one rack at Maple and Center.

I can only urge the Town not to do what Falls Church just did, which was to displace usable parking places with these racks.  I went to the Falls Church farmers’ market last week, and there were several Capital Bikeshare racks that had been placed in the street, displacing street-side parking places.  They may have had little choice, but on net, given how tight parking is in that area, that seemed like a relatively poor tradeoff.

Finally, at least with this one, if it turns out to be a near-total waste of money, we’ll eventually know that.  Capital Bikeshare makes (de-identified) data on bike rental trips freely available.  If ridership is low (as it is with the Tysons’ Metro racks), we will eventually be able to get the data and show the low use rate.