Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Arlington is developing a six-year plan for Capital Bikeshare

February 24, 2012 - 12:00 PM
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(Photo: flickr/SLOCountyBicycleCoalition)

Arlington has realized that Capital Bikeshare needs a longer term strategy and is crafting a six-year Capital Bikeshare Transit Development Plan to help tackle the expansion of the biking network throughout the region.

"As far as we know, it's the first strategic bikeshare plan in the nation," remarked Chris Hamilton, Arlington County Commuter Services Bureau Chief, as we sat at one of his Rosslyn office's conference tables and stared at the draft plan as well as a copy of the presentation he gave to the Transit Advisory Committee and the Transportation Commission on Tuesday and Thursday.

Hamilton guided me through the corridors past Bike Arlington, Walk Arlington, GoDCGo, the Arlington Transportation Partners, the Mobility Lab, and more in his empire of commuter amenities. Just that morning, Arlington transportation officials had met with Alexandria to discuss ways the southerly Northern Virginia county would market its own Capital Bikeshare stations that will debut this summer. The Capital Bikeshare service is approaching a year and a half old now, and it's time to get serious about sponsorships, expansion, and a real vision for what the service can mean to the region, especially as it hits 1.5 million trips and is increasingly a model for other cities and counties. One broader purpose of the plan is to establish the system's capital and operating costs in order to properly budget and determine funding needs.

Arlington began studying how to build a longer-term bikeshare strategy from October 2011 and beginning this February, plans a public outreach campaign through April, and hopes to draft a final plan by May, to be presented to the public in June. An online crowdsourcing site is tentatively planned for March 12 through April 13 and will provide "an online forum for Arlington residents to comment on each of the draft expansion scenarios." A general public meeting to present the final plan to the public is scheduled for June 27.

View Arlington CaBi Expansion Plan (through Spring 2012) in a larger map

 The current draft chapter and outlines of the plan include comparisons to other cities such as Boston, Boulder, and Minneapolis as well as plentiful information about customer demographics, the operations of bikeshare, marketing strategies, and lessons learned from the beginnings of Capital Bikeshare. Arlington currently has 23 bikeshare stations and 145 bikes, which cost Alta Bikeshare $270,000 to operate last year. Arlington bikeshare revenue amounted to $218,000 and marketing and management costs came to $142,000. Arlington County's operating cost per bikeshare trip was $8.18 in 2011. The top five busiest stations operate in Crystal City and Rosslyn. Arlington averaged 166 trips per day overall, with an average trip time of 22 minutes in the fourth quarter of last year. The demographic data reinforces much of what's known but provides good context. In 2011, Arlington was home to 992 of 14,912 Capital Bikeshare annual members and 123 of 1,915 30-day members. Overall women comprise 42% of Capital Bikeshare's members. There were 1.3 million system-wide bikeshare trips in 2011, with 66,843 taking place in Arlington (5%). One struggle Capital Bikeshare has faced is how to balance the number of bikes throughout all the stations. Hamilton notes that 40% of bicycles are redistributed system-wide every day in his presentation.

All of this data and more is available in the initial draft of the report, which Hamilton expects will be online as soon as today. The Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning firm has been responsible for assembling the county's bikeshare plan.

Earlier this week, Hamilton guided me through the Arlington Commuter Services offices casually and slowly, pausing to rest at one of the shiny red bikes resting in a conference room. He alluded to the commercial potential of sponsorships in the coming year. The District will issue two requests for proposals in the coming weeks involving such sponsorship, which will include advertising opportunities on the backs of the bikes themselves and on station maps. Several boxes of Capital Bikeshare helmets wait in the Rosslyn Commuter Store to be passed out to riders. Hamilton emphasized the way all his bureau's efforts seek to reduce car trips and help the environment, to make the D.C. metro region more sustainable for the decades to come. Capital Bikeshare is one part of those collective efforts that deserves the label of transit, he said.

"We've always considered CaBi to be an extension of our transit system," Hamilton told me. "That's what we're calling it."

Update, Feb. 29, 1:45 p.m.: Arlington County has publicly unveiled the Capital Bikeshare Transit Development Plan draft on its Bike Arlington website and has extended an invitation to the public for comment. You should read more about the plan, its timeline, and how to get involved here.

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