Capital Bikeshare has changed the way many people experience Washington DC. It has nearly 100% fee recovery for operations and supplements many forms of transportation. While it is often thought as a last mile connection from Metro for commuting, survey and usage data indicate it actually replaces both car and Metro completely in many instances, links areas with poor transit connectivity and provides a convenient way to do errands and go out for evening (dining, movie, etc). It offers alternatives and a back-up especially for one way commuting not feasible with a personal bicycle. Could an expansion of the system benefit users in the City of Gaithersburg?
The City staff recently presented their preliminary findings to the Mayor and Council. The presentation can be found here: http://sirepub.gaithersburgmd.gov/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=2065&doctype=AGENDA. The staff is applauded for covering all the basics of such a system and putting together a reasonable first draft of potential station locations. The stations are broken into Phase 1 and future phases. Unfortunately, some of their assumptions about how bike share would work in a suburban location are based on how planners think about these in urban DC rather than similar, less dense cities such as Boulder, CO. The Gaithersburg proposed system is based on transit last mile connections from MARC train and RideOn rather than connections between dense, mixed use neighborhoods and regional employment centers. Almost 50% of Gaithersburg residents live less than 10 miles of work and the same is true for employees of companies who are located in Gaithersburg. The primary purpose of bike share should be to provide reasonable transit options for commuting withing the City and nearby not connecting primarily to DC through Metro and MARC. The heat maps below (top showing location of jobs for Gaithersburg residents and bottom showing home locations of Gaithersburg based businesses) show a good concentration of residents and employees within reasonable biking distances in Gaithersburg. In fact, a number of residents are shown to work in the Research Blvd./Medical Center Drive areas where Rockville already has in place Capital Bikeshare locations. Other employment centers include Medimmune, NIST, Sodexho and IBM. Gaithersburg needs to stop thinking of itself as merely a bedroom community. Unfortunately, the currently proposed locations for Phase 1 are not in any of these dense resident and work locations but rather transit locations, parks and other locations far removed from these centers (Metro Grove, Bohrer Park, and QO and Clooper Rd).
Bike share works in areas where there is high density, mixed uses and a demographic that is likely to support a car lite environment. Locations in Kentlands/Medimmune, Spectrum/IBM/Kaiser, Lakeforest/Saybrooke, Washingtonian, and Olde Town should be priorities for Phase 1. People will want to explore a destination when they reach a station and have several places to go in very walkable places. A Walk Score map of Gaithersburg (http://www.walkscore.com/MD/Gaithersburg) shows that many of the proposed Phase 1 stations aren’t in places with high Walk Scores (many amenities of daily life nearby).
The usual rules of .5 – 1 miles and station placement every 1500 ft in a dense cluster don’t make sense in a city with concentrated mixed use town centers. Boulder, CO has an average of 2 miles for its average trip length and it is what should be considered reasonable in Gaithersburg. A bike ride of this length is less than 15 minutes. The proximity of stations is a great bonus for a future phase once the initial system is successful to have some redundancy of docking stations if one if full or empty. The current focus on short commute windows rather than all day locations in the current Phase 1 would actually cause more full and empty docks requiring more rebalancing since they are primarily at transit stops and just outside NIST with its closed off security campus.
What Gaithersburg needs is a connection of its town centers so promote all day use. Bike share could provide a low cost transportation solution for a number of people in Gaithersburg. The operating costs for 10 stations would be less than 1% of its annual operating budget and equivalent to just two times what it spends annually to put on the one month Winter Lights festival which is primarily car oriented event in Great Seneca Park.