Alexandria Learns How to Bikeshare
With an eight-station network launching in just a few weeks, how will Capital Bikeshare be used in Alexandria?
On Friday, Alexandria announced it would begin installing Capital Bikeshare with plans to get its eight-station network operational by early September. Months ago, when City Council moved to join the program that has thrived in the District and Arlington County, I began to ponder where the stations would go, who in Alexandria would use the system and how.
Well, now it's time for the answers.
I’m a city resident and a cyclist, but I don’t plan on picking up a membership. I own two bicycles and probably do 85 percent of my travel around town on them. I’m a somewhat recent convert and have seen the advantages in spending less money on gas and getting the blood pumping a little more often. I also find it’s a great way to get to City Hall to cover meetings without having to worry about parking enforcement (Those Saturday council hearings can get lengthy).
Though I don't plan on using the program, it looks like pleny of folks do. After council moved to join Capital Bikeshare, Mayor Bill Euille and Councilman Rob Krupicka said they were inundated with emails from bikshare supporters and people who planned to saddle up and ride.
I’ve already seen plenty of people riding the Mount Vernon Trail in Alexandria or through Arlandria and Del Ray on the big, red bikes they've picked up in Arlington. I also have friends in the District and other cities who swear by bikeshare programs as a fun, practical way to commute or connect to transit.
My buddy Pat Childress is a lawyer in the District who lives with his fiancé near Dupont Circle. Pat has an annual membership with Capital Bikeshare and takes it to and from work, which last I checked is still seven days a week.
“My commute takes the same amount of time whether I use Bikeshare or the Metro, so for me it's an easy choice,” he said. “I don't delude myself into thinking that it's a great source of exercise, but it is a lot more fun than sitting on a crowded train.”
He believes Bikeshare works well in the District because it’s a compact, flat city. Does that sound familiar?
Pat, who grew up just south of Old Town, doesn't anticpate seeing Alexandrians commuting over the 14th Street Bridge on “a clunky, red beach cruiser” but believes people will use them for short trips, liking running errands around town.
My college buddy Chris Valley just finished up his PhD at the University of Minnesota. He used Nice Ride bikeshare in Minneapolis (which is the nation’s No. 1 city for biking, by the way) for parts of his commute to school, mainly to traverse mid-range distances to reach bus stops.
“I’d say the biggest positives are the convenience and the price,” he wrote in an email. An annual membership for Nice Ride costs $65, while Capital Bikeshare runs $75. Chris received a discounted student rate for Nice Ride. “Bike theft in Minneapolis is pretty high, especially on campus, so it’s nice to be able to bike in and not have to worry about locking up a bicycle.”
He added that Nice Ride does a good job setting up manned stations at big events like outdoor concerts and parades. Users can drop their bikes off in an area close to the event and the Nice Ride team redistributes some of them to other areas.
Imagine if Alexandria and Capital Bikeshare set up something similar for future editions of the Scottish Walk and Art on the Avenue.
Pat and Chris both said sometimes they have a hard time finding a bike or a place to dock their ride when stations fill up. With just an eight-station, 70-some bike network in Alexandria, I wouldn’t be surprised if that became an issue at the bikeshare stations at King Street Metro and Braddock Road Metro, no matter how quickly the bikes can be redistributed by a van.
In terms of tourism, I believe bikeshare to be a tremendous thing. It’s a great way to take in any city as a visitor.
I’ve used bikeshare programs as a tourist in several cities, most recently in London and Berlin during a European trip (Oddly enough, I could find no bikeshare program in cycle-mad Amsterdam, though there are already as many bikes as people in the Netherlands). Outside of drinking beer on the U-Bahn, it was the best decision I made on my trip.
In London, I took a memorable ride across Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park on the Barclays Cycle Hire. I also used it to reach sites on the weekend when entire lines of the Tube were shutdown for maintenance in preparation for the Olympics.
I tooled around the streets of East Berlin on a NextBike, rode it down Unter den Linden, through the Brandenburg Gate and into the Tiergarten just as snow began to fall.
In both cities, I found the bikes easy to maneuver with stations conveniently located. They were reasonably priced and I felt safe—even with that whole wrong side of the road thing in London. I never had to worry about my bike being stolen and, maybe most importantly, I saw things I never would have had I opted to stay on foot or hop on a tour bus.
I think it's safe to say you'll soon find people checking out unique streets of Old Town they never would have found had it not been for Capital Bikeshare.
The benefits for both citizens and tourists make it a good fit here in Alexandria. But I do fear Alexandria’s eight stations are too isolated from the rest of the network, perhaps limiting the use of the bikes for local connections. It’s a long ride on those red cruisers from Old Town to Crystal City with no stations in between—a space that includes additional bike trails, attractions and connections to transit options in Arlington.
“There’s kind of a push and tug,” Rich Baier, director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said in May. “Do we cluster them or spread them out?”
If the network in Alexandria proves successful, it will grow. For now, with the red bikes hitting our streets in a matter of days, it will be exciting to see where they go, who rides them and what will happen.
Are you exicted to see Capital Bikeshare coming to Alexandria? Are you opposed to the program? Do you think the city's network should be bigger? Tell us in the comments.
About this column: This is an opinion piece written by Drew Hansen, editor of Del Ray Patch.