Capital Bikeshare blossoms in Alexandria

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(Derrick Perkins)

By Melissa Quinn

With Capital Bikeshare growing more popular in Alexandria, officials have rolled out plans to add more stations throughout the city.

The regional program, which debuted in the Port City in September, loans bicycles to members for short trips in exchange for a small fee. Eight stations are active in the city, and officials want to potentially double that number by fall, said Sandra Marks, acting deputy director for the department of transportation and environmental services.

With Bikeshare stations clustered in Old Town and near the Braddock Road Metro station, Marks hopes to expand the program to Carlyle and Del Ray — where officials have seen an overwhelming demand for the program. Old Town, though, could see new stations as well.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” Marks said. “People are really excited, and we’re constantly getting requests for additional stations.”

In the next 10 years, she said, the city hopes to add between 25 and 30 stations throughout the West End and near Arlandria. Funding for the program’s expansion comes from a mix of grants and federal dollars. Each station costs between $40,000 and $60,000 — depending on the size and location.

While the announcement of Bikeshare’s expansion comes in the midst of budget season, money for the program does not come out of the city’s general fund. Instead, operating costs are paid for through the city’s transportation improvement program fund, dollars designated for expanding transit infrastructure and options.

Marks said the fund will cover Bikeshare’s operating costs for the next 10 years, but she hopes the program will begin paying for itself long before then. And that prospect has the city’s top-elected officials thrilled.

“The most exciting part is [by] our current projections, by 2017 the [membership revenue is] going to be covering the operating expenses,” said City Councilor Justin Wilson. “As someone who’s been making transportation policy for over a decade, that’s unheard of. That’s very exciting.”

The city also has put aside capital funding for the program in anticipation of new stations, additional bikes and making improvements to docks.

Though usage has dipped through the winter months, Marks said ridership has exceeded expectations. Officials originally hoped to see 30 percent of the program’s operating costs recovered during Bikeshare’s inaugural year; projections are surpassing that figure. And with summer around the corner, even more residents and visitors are anticipated to use the ubiquitous red bicycles to get around town.

“Our ridership and revenue has exceeded Arlington’s, so we see that as a positive sign,” Marks said. “It makes a lot of sense to start building out the network.”

In addition to encouraging residents and tourists to eschew their cars, Bikeshare solves what Marks calls the “last-mile problem” — an issue facing people who get off the Metro yet still have a distance to travel before reaching their destination. Wilson agrees.

“That’s one of the big drivers here,” Wilson said. “It helps that last mile, which is what people need to live a lifestyle not dependent on [motor] vehicles.”

The program began in Washington before expanding into Arlington and later Alexandria. Before launching Bikeshare, the city secured enough grants to cover the program’s initial costs.

“Capital Bikeshare provides one more alternative to driving,” Marks said. “As we expand our transit system, we expand our biking for commuter bikers. It’s one more opportunity.”