Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Capital Bikeshare, DDOT, and the National Park Service: When might we see CaBi stations on federal land?

October 18, 2010 - 04:00 PM
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(Dave Jamieson)

Tonight there’s a public meeting being held to discuss the Capital Bikeshare issues in Lincoln Park. If you haven’t followed this dustup, here’s what you need to know: The D.C. Department of Transportation wasn’t able to put a CaBi station in the park itself, since the square is actually federal property, managed by the National Park Service. When DDOT tried to place the station instead in a traffic triangle off the square -- a very logical alternative -- some neighbors objected, citing safety concerns. DDOT and residents are now trying to figure out where to put this thing.

The real shame is that the park itself would have made an ideal home for a CaBi station. But as Lydia DePillis pointed out a few weeks back, DDOT can’t put any stations on federal park land because of the vending contracts the government is bound to. The vendors, like those you see running places like Fletcher’s Boat House, basically have the right of first refusal when someone wants to come in and install a bike rental system. (For a nice primer on how many little circles and squares in the District actually belong to the feds, check out DePillis’ recent column on the subject.)

I recently asked Chris Holben, project manager for DDOT, if there’s any chance DDOT and the feds might be able to resolve this issue. When you consider how perfectly suited so many federal slivers of land are to the CaBi project -- not to mention the entire National Mall -- it would seem a small travesty if the NPS couldn’t open its tracts up to at least a few stations. Holben, at least, seems pretty confident. He said DDOT’s upper management recently had a meeting with NPS officials on the issue. Apparently for legal reasons, it would go a long way if Capital Bikeshare could be perceived less as a bike rental system than as a public transit system -- which, in our opinion, it most certainly is.

“We do see it as a form of transit, and we’re working with the park service to come up with a legal definition of what bike-sharing is,” Holben said. “They will also review it legally to see if they’re open to it. Right now they don’t have any legal ground” to allow CaBi stations to be installed. “They’re willing partners. They see it as great thing but their hands are tied.”

Bill Line, an NPS spokesman, certainly agrees with that last assessment. And though he says NPS officials are very receptive to the CaBi concept, in a brief chat he stressed -- over and over -- that the park service is under no obligation to resolve this quickly. “The bottom line is the National Park Service is considering the proposal. We are seeking more information from the District of Columbia. But you need to be aware that the National Park Service, while we’re very open to the idea, we’re under no timeframe or deadline or schedule.”

Line said the agency will have to talk with its lawyers and undergo a “full legal review” to see if they would be in violation of concessionaire laws. Asked for a ballpark estimate on how long this could take, Line said, “I’m not giving you any suggestion as to how much time is involved. I’m not going to say tomorrow, I’m not going to say it’s a lengthy process -- I have no idea how long it will take.”

Neither do we. But hey, this is the feds we’re talking about. How long could it possibly be?

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