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Letter to the Editor: Is Bike Share a Bad Idea?

Alexandria resident Kathryn Papp says the city may be spinning its wheels when it comes to bringing Bike Share to Old Town.

To the Editor:

It is difficult to understand the logic behind the Bike Share Program soon to be installed in Old Town, although the politics are right. This is funded in large part by an air-quality grant from the federal government and is an extension of the Bike Share program I know from Washington, D.C. Extending this service to Old Town and making the argument for air quality improvement is a nonstarter, and here’s why.

Let’s start with the most basic, fundamental and important reasons to put more bicycles on the road—they improve air quality and human health as well as mitigating climate change impact. Measured against these compelling goals the Bike Share Program for Old Town produces a resoundingly negative result. In the context of Old Town the Bike Share program isn’t even neutral, which would make it easier to justify as a long-term educational program.

How is this possible? First, as our City staff has acknowledged:

The program does not reduce normal vehicular traffic—so adding bikes increases congestion by putting seventy new vehicles on King Street;

The streets in Old Town are much narrower (as are the sidewalks) than in D.C.—so delivery trucks, emergency vehicles, weekend surges could easily force bicyclers into risky situations with little room for escape;

The bicycles themselves are redistributed by a large truck that circulates and stops to load the bikes on a regular basis—so we are actually adding truck exhaust to the air. The net result is reduced air quality, increased street congestion, and some real life safety concerns.

In addition, these are one-style bicycles that are heavy and unless you are a good rider, not so easy to control. Making these readily available to tourists—without helmets—without maps—on busy commercial and residential streets seems like taking a big chance. Will the city be liable for any accidents? Will citizens be responsible for injuries that may occur because of uneven, brick pavements—an important feature of historic Old Town? What are we thinking—or are we?

I love bikes and want to see them as more a part of our daily life here in Old Town. But as this program stands now—well, it looks more like PR spin than a program put together to succeed. Time to take it back—and put it together so that it works for all of us here in small scale Old Town. At the very least the city must monitor the Bike Share Program in its early stages, so it can adapt to fit the unique needs of our city. Then, we can count on early success turning into future grants.

Kathryn Papp

Jonathan Krall June 27, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Interestingly, a recent survey of Capital Bikeshare members revealed them to be more educated, younger, and with slightly less income than the general public (think "interns"). I, for one, think Alexandria should be taking steps to attract these young, highly-educated go-getters to our city and am glad we are getting on board with the CaBi system. That same survey revealed that CaBi users drove less and saved money. Sounds like a great deal to me!
DCGigs June 27, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Publius Publicola just got a publius lesson in fact checking. To quote Publius "Voters deserve the truth not party rhetoric, spin, and lies.", and thankfully washcycle delivers.
Eric Wagner June 27, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Yes, Publius Publicola, as you correctly pointed out and "as John Adams said, facts are stubborn things." Maybe next time you don't just post GOP propaganda but try to form your own opinion based on those stubborn facts. Good luck with that.
Michael H. June 27, 2012 at 11:50 PM
The addition of a few rebalancing vans makes up for the fact that potentially hundreds of people will forego driving a car for riding a Capital Bikeshare bike? Really? How does that work? As for the narrower streets, that can actually improve safety in many cases. Car drivers cannot speed down those streets the way they would on a wider street. I ride through Old Town quite frequently on my bikes. I find it much more relaxing than riding on many of the streets in D.C. As for the handling of the bikes, yes they are heavy and slow. But that's precisely what makes them so safe. Even though many beginners have been using the CaBi bikes over the last 20 months, the accident and injury rate has been miniscule. I'm only aware of two serious accidents, of the more than 1.7 million total bike trips. Can any other mode of transportation claim similar numbers? Given how much press coverage the accident in the spring received, I'm very skeptical that there are a lot of unreported serious accidents happening. The critics of Capital Bikeshare would be all over that story if people were getting maimed and injured on a regular basis. It just hasn't been happening, either in D.C. or in Arlington.
Arva Larva June 30, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Some counterpoint from WAMU yesterday... http://wamu.org/programs/metro_connection/12/06/29/from_a_to_b_bike_shop_owners_see_big_returns_from_capital_bikeshare

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