Funding Missing for Capital Bikeshare in White Flint, North Bethesda

Bethesda Magazine February 10, 2015

By Aaron Kraut

The redeveloping area of White Flint/North Bethesda seems like a natural fit for Montgomery County’s fourth cluster of Capital Bikeshare stations. The manager of the county’s Bikeshare program agrees. But without funding for the stations — which cost at least $55,000 each — the prospects for Bikeshare in the so called “Pike District” seem far off at best.

“Naturally, we’d like to be able to connect White Flint to downtown Bethesda down the Bethesda Trolley Trail and north to Rockville through Twinbrook,” county Capital Bikeshare manager Anne Root said Tuesday. “Should we get the funding to do that, it would not be difficult to plan.”

Getting the funding is the hard part.

While at least four Pike District developers have promised to offset land for Capital Bikeshare stations, there has been little progress when it comes to those property owners paying for equipment and operating costs.

Short of that, the county may have to wait for a larger state grant, as was the case with the the downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring stations that began opening in September 2013.

The downcounty stations were funded by a $1 million state transportation grant and a $250,000 state bond, plus a $200,000 commitment from the Chevy Chase Land Company. The private developer funded two stations and new sets of bicycles at the Friendship Heights Metro station and at Montgomery Lane and East Lane, both on the company’s property.

Root explained what it would take for Capital Bikeshare in the area at Tuesday’s meeting of the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee. The group is made up of residents, business owners and property owners, a few who asked about the costs of setting up a White Flint Bikeshare cluster.

Root said a typical 15-dock station with eight bicycles would run $55,000, not including any costs of land purchases. A larger 19-dock station and new set of bicycles takes about $65,000 to install.

Montgomery County is also looking for funds to cover operating expenses, which can run at about $22,000 a year for a 15-dock station and $28,000 a year for a 19-dock station. Operating expenses cover payments to the Bikeshare contractor in charge or “rebalancing” stations, equipment repair, snow removal and maintenance of the regionwide Bikeshare call center.

The county has made recent investments in the Pike District’s bicycle infrastructure, including the county’s first-ever cycle track on Woodglen Drive.

Root said any new Pike District cluster of Capital Bikeshare stations would require a minimum of five stations, with an anchor station at the White Flint Metro.

Pike & Rose, NoBe II, East Village at North Bethesda Gateway and Gables White Flint are the four projects that have promised space for Bikeshare stations, according to Montgomery County planner N’kosi Yearwood.

Root said a separate stand bond bill will fund five new downcounty stations by April 2016 that must go between the D.C. line and the Capital Beltway.

The Chevy Chase Land Company has told the county it’s willing to pay for another station near its 8401 Connecticut Avenue headquarters, in advance of its redevelopment plans for Chevy Chase Lake. The county now has 51 stations spread over three clusters: Bethesda/Friendship Heights, Silver Spring/Takoma Park and Rockville/Shady Grove/Life Sciences Center.

Last month, the county said its Bikeshare system exceeded revenue projections during its first full year.

On Tuesday, Root said there were about 35,000 trips from county Bikeshare stations in the first year, with a high of 4,882 trips in September 2014, compared to a low of 1,441 in October 2013 — the system’s first full month of operation.

About 82 percent of trips from county stations lasted less than 30 minutes. But in the peak month of September 2014, the average downcounty trip lasted 22.5 minutes. The average for the entire Bikeshare system, including D.C., Arlington and Alexandria, was 17.4 minutes.

“That’s because we’re new and we’re not as dense as the District,” Root said. “We don’t have that yet. It’s a long-term goal for the more urban areas of the county.” Stations at Metro stations were the most popular, as is the case in other jurisdictions with Bikeshare. There were no reported crashes in the system’s first year. There was some graffiti on a station and some vandalism of bicycles that the contractors saw and quickly fixed.

Root said the county was able to offset about 49 percent of its monthly operational costs from revenue and 54 percent in the high month of September. D.C. recovers almost all of its monthly operating costs from revenue. “We expect our yield to increase,” Root said.

The regionwide system allows for some advantages. For instance, if you’re a Bikeshare member with a registered zip code in Montgomery County, your payments will go to the Montgomery County system no matter where you ride. Also, revenue generated from those with billing zip codes outside of the area is split between all four jurisdictions. Root said that means Montgomery County gets about 13-15 percent of revenue from out-of-towners who might be using Bikeshare in D.C. for major events such as the National Cherry Blossom Festival.



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