If you live or work in some of the densely populated areas in Greater Washington, you’ve probably noticed a change in traffic over the past few years. Yes, there is certainly more – everywhere, but that’s not all. In many areas you’ll find bicyclists sharing the lanes, riding bravely in traffic on their way to work or getting around for exercise, errands and entertainment. Bikes are quickly becoming part of everyday urban life, offering enjoyment and convenience for complete trips or for the first or last few miles to connect riders to public transit for a multi-modal commute. They’re inexpensive, environmentally friendly and can help to reduce traffic congestion by offering an alternative to solo driving.
Many people have their own bikes of course, but now there are other options. You’ve probably seen the red Capital Bikeshare short-term rental bikes, neatly parked in their docking stations that seem to be popping up everywhere, offering personal mobility with the download of an app and the turn of a key. In some areas like Silver Spring and Takoma Park, there are additional choices with the introduction of dockless bikes that are GPS enabled and allow riders more flexibility for distance and location. These are part of a Montgomery County, Maryland Department of Transportation (MCDOT) pilot project that has completed its first phase after one year and received very positive public response (84% said continue the program). The pilot program originally had more than 700 dockless bikes and resulted in 18,000 trips in the first six months. The second phase is set to continue through December 31, 2019 and may be expanded to include other areas within Montgomery County.
What’s Next? That’s the question. More bikes, a little assist and a small surprise?
MCDOT is currently proposing a one-year expansion of the dockless bikeshare to include Friendship Heights, Bethesda, North Bethesda (including White Flint), Veirs Mill, and Wheaton. For each of these pilot areas, they also propose adding e-bikes (electric, pedal-assisted) and e-scooters (the small versions that riders stand on and guide with a tall upright handle bar), both of which have been successfully rolled out in a number of other states in recent years.
To gather input from the public on these newer personal mobility devices, MCDOT recently held three Town Hall meetings and has distributed an online survey. The meetings offered an opportunity to share some basic information about the pilot project and introduce the two companies that would provide the bikes (Lime Bike) and scooters (Bird). They supply-replenish the bikes daily, ensure maintenance and safety of the vehicles, offer customer service, outreach and education, and share valuable usage data. While there is no public operational funding involved, the County does research other pilot programs, coordinate decision making with the public and manage the process.
With safety being a top concern for bikers, pedestrians and drivers as it has been in Baltimore, Maryland with their rollout, MCDOT and regional organizations collaborate to offer public safety awareness, cycling classes and smarter street infrastructure where possible. Wearing helmets and reflective clothing, obeying bike and traffic laws, and looking out for each other, is key.
Introducing dockless bikes, electric/pedal assist bikes and scooters opens up new opportunities for people who would not usually consider riding a bike, and for commuters who might opt for using an e-bike or e-scooter to get directly to work or to and from public transit. Increasing the number of people using personal mobility vehicles is a big change. It will take patience, education, a forward-thinking attitude, and time for all of us to adapt to these increasing modes of personal transportation! In the end, we’re all working hard to get single occupancy vehicles off of congested roads to make everyone’s commute a little easier.
Want to share your opinion? Participate in the short online survey about the proposed expansion of dockless vehicles at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/dockless-pilot.
Learn more about the evaluation of the first phase of the Silver Spring/Takoma Park pilot project.
Click here for the Executive Summary of the MCDOT Dockless Bikeshare Evaluation report.