After a process spanning several months, the Alexandria City Council voted unanimously last night to join the Capital Bikeshare system. The first stations are expected to come online between spring and summer 2012.

This graphic, from the City Council meeting docket, shows the draft list of proposed stations.  The white circles on the map identify the initial round of 6 stations, and black circles potential additional expansion locations. Green circles show stations that will likely come from developer funding, Alexandria’s Transportation Management Program fund, or other grants.

Capital Bikeshare belongs in Alexandria

Alexandria is particularly well-suited for CaBi expansion.  It has the second highest bicycle commuting share in the region, a dense core area with several destinations and nearby Metrorail stations, and a major bicycle route with several other nearby bicycle improvements.  The city is also no stranger to bike sharing: Capital Bikeshare bicycles have been spotted as far south as the Fairfax County portion of the Mt. Vernon Trail.

Over 30 individuals and groups contacted the City Council or sent letters in support of Capital Bikeshare, including the city’s Environmental Policy Commission, the Transportation Commission, and the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

In addition, Mayor Euille and other councilmembers said they were flooded with emails supporting CaBi in the hours leading up to the Council meeting; Euille said he’s never gotten so many emails in one hour on any other topic.

$400,000 of federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding, was already approved last year for the initial round of 6 stations, to be located generally in Old Town.  An additional $400,000 in FY 2013 CMAQ funding, approved by the council on September 27, will add another 6 stations for a total of 12 CMAQ-funded stations. 

These funds will cover station purchase and installation, 108 bikes for the stations, and operating costs for the first year.  Additional operating costs are proposed to be covered by existing Transportation Management Plan (TMP) funds that Alexandria has collected.  The city currently has $400,000 in unused TMP funds available.  This ensures that no general city funds will be needed for the program.

City staff estimate that Capital Bikeshare will generate 40,000 to 50,000 bike trips in the first year of operation.  Experience in DC and elsewhere suggests this will drive additional general demand for bicycles and bicycle trips.  They also estimate that the program will fully cover operating expenses via program revenue by the third year, a conservative estimate considering that DC fully met operating expenses in the first year and Arlington met 65% of their expenses in the first yer.

Joining Capital Bikeshare also opens the door for developers and the TMP to fund stations in addition to the CMAQ-funded ones. Several employers and developers have already approached the city with interested in adding bike sharing stations, and the upcoming Harris Teeter development in North Old Town had a station approved as part of the development and site layout.

Most councilmembers enthusiastic

When it came time for discussion, many councilmembers were clearly very eager. Rob Krupicka asked just how soon the city could construct stations.  Vice-Mayor Kerry Donley went so far as to argue the pilot program “was meager,” and advocated for a much larger expansion.  Both went on record as supporting the use of city funds to support operating expenses as well if necessary. Councilmember Redella “Del” Pepper was enthusiastic in her comments in support.

Not all of the discussion was positive. Councilmember Frank Fannon wanted the program be entirely fiscally self-sustaining.  Councilmember Alicia Hughes wanted to see the city plan out future phases and their potential impact on the city budget, and also argued that the council should be sure to understand the potential fiscal ramifications of joining Capital Bikeshare.

Several citizens, including two councilmembers, questioned why Del Ray was not included in the proposed station list, especially since there’s a large level of support for bike sharing in that neighborhood.  Staff explained three reasons for Old Town and Carlyle:

  1. Bike sharing stations should be relatively close together (about ¼-mile apart) to work effectively. 
  2. The “Potential Bicycle Activity” map from the city’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Mobility Plan clearly shows western Old Town as the area with the greatest potential for bicycle activity and, conversely, the areas with potentially the highest CaBi usage.
  3. Old Town is the densest and most connected part of the city, with several bicycle routes, destinations, and 2 Metro stations to support Capital Bikeshare usage.  While other areas of the city have higher population density, they don’t have nearly the multimodal connections, destinations, and bicycle-supportive infrastructure that Old Town has.

That does not mean the city will stop at just Old Town and Carlyle, though.  City staff have expressed interest in future expansion into Rosemont, Del Ray, Arlandria, and possibly even into the West End as the transit infrastructure (with the Beauregard/Van Dorn St corridor) is further developed.

Stations could come by spring

Now that City Council has given their blessing, city staff and the City Manager will work with Alta, DDOT, and Arlington County to finalize the agreement, select station locations, and begin ordering and installing stations.  The city hopes to have the first six stations in by spring, though it may not happen until summer.  This will be followed up by a second wave of six stations funded from the FY 2013 CMAQ money.

City staff have a draft list of proposed station locations, but will conduct site surveys and preliminary enginnering to finalize those locations.  In the meantime, they plan to consult with citizen groups and roll out an interactive website to gather public input on station locations.

Building a successful Capital Bikeshare core in Old Town should easily build support for the program and enable the city to further expand CaBi into adjacent neighborhoods, eventually tying into Arlington’s Bikeshare stations. Alexandria and its residents will see additional travel choices, fewer vehicle trips, and better health as a result.