Tuesday, September 21, 2010

a bikeshare cynic poops reason all over your enthusiasm


If Anti DC creative director Terry the Tourette's Turtle didn't mark every minute of every day with an expletive, I might not know what time or even what day it is. And judging from his last outburst, I now know it's "Buttplug!" Sept. 21, and I'm typing this at "Suck my balls!" o'clock, which just so happens to be the perfect moment to whip out this oldie-but-goodie -- a photo I haven't seen since four score and seven "Douche taints!" ago. (Terry really is a blackhole of wisdom.)

Yes, all you haters suck my balls. And indeed, how fitting because that's basically what every area blogger has said about the new Capital Bikeshare junks that officially launched yesterday, except with nicer, more grammatically correct words. Here are some of the most enthusiastic:

"Bikesharing is going to be awesome," wrote Beyond DC's Dan Malouff in the Post.

"[T]hings will never be the same again...Capital Bikeshare will change everything," said Greater Greater Washington.

Washington City Paper calls Capital Bikeshare another sign of "our nation's inexorable march to western European-style social democracy."

And the Bike-Sharing Blog wrote, "I guess dreams do come true."

While I'm all about dreams coming true (I'm still crossing my fingers that one day we'll see a shirtless Vladimir Putin bungee jump through a loop of fire to save a litter of baby lions stranded on an island made entirely of Big League Chew -- my dreams rule), I'm not so sure Capital Bikeshare (at least in its current iteration) has ever been one of them. In fact, all the blog hype has made this public transit project sound more like just another topic for Stuff White People Like (think dog parks), rather than a legitimate idea that will transform the transportation landscape of DC. And this argument is seemingly augmented by taking a look at Capital Bikeshare's official Bikeshare map that shows where most of their more than 1,000 bikes will be located so far the bikes have been installed (according to DDOT, there are more to come): they're overwhelmingly in the paler areas of Northwest DC and Arlington, Va. There are two within about a block of each other near the Whole Foods here in Logan Circle alone.

But pshhaw!, said DC's Congressional delegate and voting rights expert Eleanor Holmes-Norton to TBD.com: "African-Americans have dog parks, too. They ride bikes." And common sense agrees. It's just too bad then that Capital Bikeshare didn't scatter choose to install (although DDOT assures me there our plans to install) more of its solar-powered bike depots in majority black neighborhoods in Northeast, Southwest and Southeast. There are more places people need/want to go in Anacostia, I think, than the Metro and the Big Chair.

And really, racial lines aside (like Eleanor Holmes-Norton, I think those arguments are usually overblown and also I don't think the Bikeshare people are racist), this is more about logistics. I fear there's going to be a whole bunch of disappointed bloggers when people start to realize that the current iteration, a rather lopsided layout, won't fulfill its Blog-given destiny to revolutionize transportation in this city. I mean, really, I don't think it's a mistake to assume that most people living in the sections of Northwest below U Street and West of 11th probably don't make up the bulk of the motorized traffic that snarls city streets, not because lots of them are white (myself included; I live in Logan), but because we live close to work, museums, restaurants, shopping, etc. We already have a lot of transportation options, one of them being walking reasonable distances.

And even if every bikeshare bike in Logan Circle, Dupont, and U Street was used, I think the impact on the overall transportation landscape in this city would be minimal. In fact, it might even worsen. Not only would traffic patterns remain the same, but now a bunch of smug assholes, who normally would've been on the sidewalk or underground on the Metro, will be wobbling up the street trying to remember how to ride. Now, not only will motorists now have to deal with a snarlier commute, but so will I, a bike-commuter already, as I'll now have to dodge additional 'tards in the bike lanes. (Although, I guess given the choice, I'd personally rather have smug assholes on bikes who don't know what they're doing mucking up the bike lanes than smug assholes in cars who *do* know what they're doing mucking up the bike lanes. A bike lane is not a parking space.)

But of course, these are the words of a cynic. I'm the type of person who sees sunshine and thinks of cancer. But I assure you, I'm not a pessimist. I actually like sunshine and I like bikeshare initiatives. I just also like sunscreen and smarter implementation methods.

To really test the power of bicycle commuting, Capital Bikeshare should now be targeting areas outside of the city center -- places where people need to trek a mile or more to get to the Metro. Hell, target the suburbs. Those are the areas in and around the city from where most of the motorized road traffic originates, which means those are the areas of the city that could really revolutionize the transit situation in DC. I say let's not wait until October when it's cold and gross out, let's put more operable bike depots now in Eckington, Anacostia, Brentwood, Riggs Park, Trinidad, Truxton Circle, Deanwood, Hillcrest, Congress Heights, etc. Get the Maryland suburbs involved! These are the areas which make up a huge bulk of the regions population and they need more than just a handful of stations if Capital Bikeshare is to be a true success.

Moreover, if the city (and surrounding suburbs) is serious about making this program a success, it should think about making the fees for the bikes tax deductible. Nothing encourages people to go green more than proverbial green, unless of course, we're talking about going gangrene, which just doesn't sound worth it.

But alas, we'll see. Perhaps this is just the beta test. After all, this kind of bikeshare program worked for Paris...uh, and since DC is so much like Paris in every other aspect (especially the fashion), I'm sure this will prove totally successful. Hmm, sarcasm. Of course, on the other hand DC was designed by a French person, so...

We'll give it a fair shot, wait with our fingers crossed and check back on Capital Bikeshare's progress in a "Fart knocker!" or two. However, before I stop commanding your undivided attention today, I have one more suggestion for Capital Bikeshare. This would be a nice prototype for the Phase 2 vélo, oui?

UPDATE: Testament to the power of Twitter, @DDOTDC sent me a direct message: "A good read, but just to clarify there will be @Bikehare [sic -- no one's perfect in 140 characters or less] stations all over the city. The map shows station currently installed." Duly noted and thanks for the reply and, yes, compliment. I will try again to figure out how many stations are outside of the NW quadrant. However, still, it seems rather backward to install stations residential areas so close to downtown before installing them in the outskirts where, like I said, should have the biggest benefit for all.


Allison said...

I agree that Bikeshare should blanket the outer corners of D.C. and the MD suburbs. Add Arlington, particularly South Arlington, to that list. With this program, I'd hope to see supplemental infrastructural development for bicyclists.

But putting more people on bikes, whether or not they're a "bunch of smug assholes... wobbling up the street" probably will not have a markedly negative impact on traffic. Drivers and construction still have the greatest impact on congestion at all times of day. From my perspective in the saddle, most of the time I see drivers braking, swerving, and stalling, it's because of a double parked car, a cab driver, a delivery truck, an auto collision, or construction-- not a smug, wobbly asshole on a bike.

Putting the bikes in downtown areas may also be about trying to get people in high-traffic commercial and employment centers, vs. residential centers with low commercial density.

Marissa said...


I think we agree on most everything. However, while I don't think the Bikeshare as it exists right now with most of its bikes in a certain section of NW will make that big of a difference in traffic patterns (especially if no one is riding them -- I just passed by the depot at 15th and P and they were all there), I do think unleashing a bunch of helmetless, untrained city riders could cause some havoc. Mostly of the hit-by-a-car variety. I dodge cars everyday while cycling here because most cars don't seem to want to bother to dodge me.

As far as the smugness of the riders, well, being probably the most smug asshole of them all (I did just infer the superiority of my bike-riding ability over at least 1,000 others), it takes one to know one. However here's the difference: while I bike for the simple convenience (and maybe because of a slight OCD problem with germs on public transit), I don't ever roll around thinking I'm making this city a better place by doing so, although I am sure I'm making every metro/bus rider's journey less awkward. The problem is, I get the feeling that a lot of the people (at least in this initial NW wave) who will take these bikes out for a spin are doing so to prove a point, not because they actually want to arrive somewhere. Most of them probably even already have their own damn bikes. Then again, sunshine = cancer.

Time will tell. But like I said, I'm hoping along with the rest that this whole thing works out...and that hopefully it leads to more bike lanes and maybe some goddamn bike racks so those of us who will still need U-locks.

Thanks for the comment,


FoggyDew said...

Ditto on that whole city needing more bike racks concept.

Also, I don't think the folks who use this service will have that much of a negative impact on car and bike traffic in the city. They will, however, have a massive impact, and I use that term literally, on sidewalk traffic. There's going to be folks getting hit left and right on the city's sidewalks because bike share folks will, most likely, not want to ride on the streets. So all you pedestrians out there remember to keep your heads on a swivel from now on.

Anonymous said...

I plan to test it out this evening by cycling from Foggy Bottom to Nationals Ballpark to watch a game. I checked WABA's website so I know I am not allowed to cycle on the sidewalk in the capital business district. I intend to ride down 21st St to the Mall, turn left and take the off road trail to Museum of the American Indian, turn right down 4th St, under 395, left on I so I don't snarl up the traffic on M St, and right on 1st which will take me to the drop off location. I had planned to bar hop down 8th after work and take the shuttle from Ugly Mug, but I want to try this system out and tonight's going to be a warm evening, if it works this could be a good backup option for me to connect to an ART bus home when Metro craps out at FB.

Marissa said...


Agreed. DC streets are daunting, with or without bike lanes. Pedestrian bike accidents will probably be a problem till critical mass is hit, which I think would be the bikeshare system time 100. Now that's a day I want to see -- 100,000 bikes on the road, few cars...


Did you ever try it? I've ridden to the baseball stadium before and find it a bit bike unfriendly. I'm interested in your take, especially regarding the drop-off locales.