Capital Bikeshare blossoms in Alexandria

(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.”



  1. Expanding the Capital Bikeshare program in a fashion that does not compete with other City budget needs is commendable, but it is only half the equation. Putting more bikes on Alexandria’s streets exposes more riders to the dangers of riding in the same streets as automobiles. A greater investment in planning off street bike trails and implementing their creation during the site planning process is critical to truly making Alexandria Bike Friendly.

    Despite the “sharrows,” the symbol that is supposed to alert cars that bikes may ride in the same lane with the same rights and responsibilities, car drivers often either fail to notice bicycles (I was nearly struck on Mount Vernon Avenue earlier this year by an SUV that just didn’t see me heading in the opposite direction as it began a turn) or sometimes act as if bike riders are audaciously impeding the car driver from the swift completion of a journey.

    Further, a renter of a Capital Bikeshare bicycle must supply their own helmet. Unless the renter has planned a trip, possesses a helmet and has had the foresight to bring it along, the renter will be riding Alexandria’s streets without a helmet. As a bicycle rider who has been struck by a car on Alexandria’s streets (while abiding by all the laws of the road), I am able to write you today thanks to the helmet I was wearing.

    Alexandria needs to do a better job of planning off street bike routes and connecting those that already exist. For example, as Main Line Boulevard is being extended south of Monroe nearly to Braddock Road, the adjoining hiker/biker trail will not line up with the existing Linear Park bike trail that connects the Braddock Road Metro Station to Cameron Street near the King Street Metro Station. Lining up a curb cut and a section of Braddock Road’s bike lane seems simple enough to me, but I am told that the oversight must be coordinated with the Alexandria City Public School system (as the trail runs near the GW Middle School field) and that it cannot be aligned too closely to the Braddock Road rail overpass. While these may be valid considerations, effective site planning takes them into account prior to the beginning of the construction of major new public infrastructure, like Main Line Boulevard.

    Please do not take this as criticism of City staff. Alexandria may be a Bike-Friendly City, but it is not one that has adequately staffed bicycle planning, nor is it one that effectively uses its Small Area Planning process to implement its Bicycle Master Plan. For example, in the recent adoption of the Braddock Station Small Area Plan, no provision was made to connect the Linear Park trail northward along the rail alignment to effectively connect bicycles to the Washington to Mount Vernon trail. The solution offered involved using existing streets and exploring making a connection through the Meridian property, without regard to its grade differential or the fact that its site is private property with construction having been completed only in the last decade.

    Alexandria must also do a better job of not competing with its bike shops that make a significant amount of their revenue from bike rentals.

    Expanding Capital Bikeshare is a giant step (or should I say pedal) forward, but without looking at the entirety of effective bicycle planning, it is a step that adds more riders to a street system that fails to safely accommodate riders today.

  2. The costs to maintain Bikeshare is budgeted in FY2014 out of two sources: a $50,000 contribution (proffer) from Carr Properties and $70,000 from real estate taxes from residents. Compared to FY2013 ($186,000) we will be operating at a loss, with no plans to fill the gap.

    Arlington’s projected Bikeshare financials for 2014-2018 show a growing deficit with no cost recovery. It loses more money the longer it operates. This is why NYC required the membership program of Bike Share to be totally funded by private money: Citigroup and Mastercard.

    The bike share system, of which Alexandria is a part, is financially troubled and focused on major launches in New York City and Chicago. There are ample grants available from the Federal Highway Administration for both planning and building pedestrian and bike infrastructure. This is what Bike Share was launched with – a CMAQ grant from FHWA.

    As a long term goal more bikes on the road is very good, but right now we are investing tax dollars in Bike Share’s profitability. There is no plan, no financials, no strategy to make this work in the long run or operate well and to users advantage in the short run.

    • Kathryn,

      I think you’re massively underestimating the revenue side of things… the local governments receive revenues from both membership fees (which are $75 for annual members, on down to $7 for a 24-hour membership) and usage fees, for any trip over 30 minutes.

      Membership fees go to the jurisdiction in which the annual or monthly member lives. And the money from 1- or 3-day memberships go to the jurisdiction in which they are purchased at the station. Similarly, any usage fees accrue to the jurisdiction of the station at which the trip originated, which means Alexandria is pulling a fair amount of revenue from any riders who take a bikeshare ride down to Mt. Vernon. As the article mentioned, Alexandria is already collecting more revenue per station than Arlington, and that money goes to Alexandria to pay for bikeshare.

      Alexandria (in addition to DC and Arlington) has contracted with Alta to operate the service. While each entity’s contract is different, Alta is generally paid a flat fee per station, to keep the bikes maintained, process all payments, and keep the system fairly well balanced.

      Alexandria investing in Bikeshare is not a matter of making a company profitable, so much as the city providing a service, charging a reasonable fee to members, and hiring a company to operate it. So it seems to be a pretty big leap to call it “investing tax dollars to make a company profitable.”

      As to the financial troubles, those are not connected to Alta (which operates the system), as much as to Public Bike System (Bixi), the Canadian company that builds the bikes and stations. This has led to delays in getting equipment on schedule–partly due to massively increased demand. Although the delays in NYC and Chicago have more to do with Alta and Bixi trying to roll out a new operating software in their new systems, which is not an issue that DC, Arlington and Alexandria have to deal with.

  3. Bikeshare is a transit system and should be judged as such. Roads don’t pay for themselves [1]. Transit doesn’t pay for itself. That CaBi pays for itself in DC is a huge victory. That CaBi in Alexandria is pulling in more revenue per station than Arlington is another big victory. CaBi is very convenient for short trips, especially unplanned trips for people who are out and about without their own bicycle.

    The only reason NYC’s planned Citibike system has Citibank as a sponsor is because Capital Bikeshare is such a big success. And Citibike doesn’t even exist yet! I realize that some people hate bicycles and wish Capital Bikeshare didn’t exist, but complaining that we are not imitating the non-existent Citibike seem like a very roundabout approach.

    Finally, I’ll point out that bikeshare systems have been shown to increase bicycling to the benefit of bike shops.


  4. Capital Bikeshare makes my life much easier. I use it regularly to commute from King Street Metro/Alexandria Union Station to the waterfront. It’s not hard to keep a helmet in my backpack. I think most drivers can see that I’m obeying the same laws they’re following. Traffic is already so slow on King Street that I’m not slowing the cars down. If anything, the huge volume of cars is slowing me down. The drivers that scare me are oncoming drivers making turns across my path who don’t seem to see me while I’m still in an intersection. I’d like to see a lot more Capital Bikeshare users. If it matters, I am 62.

  5. Lot of noise from the typical elements, but I re-upped my Cabi subscription two weeks ago after an 18 month hiatus. I used to use it in DC when I worked there, and for partial commutes home. I’ve used it in Alexandria now for 8 trips. Alexandria is the perfect size and scale for Cabi, and its much more pleasurable to ride down neighborhood streets and appreciate the scenery than it is in a car. The only problem is the limited network. Need stations around places like Canal Center, Del Ray, etc. When the system first came out a few years ago, I thought it was totally stupid. Then I thought about it, tried it, and love it. Like many others, I still own my own bike, and a car. Bikeshare is more of a transit system, and makes using other transit modes easier. As for whether public money should be spent on it, start charging tolls for the use of streets, or market rate for residential parking on public space then we’ll talk.