Neighborhood opposition has scotched a proposed Capital Bikeshare site near Lincoln Park, disappointing residents eagerly awaiting a station.

I was excited about Capital Bikeshare’s (“CaBi”) much-heralded September 20, 2010 launch in the District.  As a Capitol Hill resident who walks 15 minutes to a Metro stop, I was eager for the arrival of a proposed CaBi station on a pedestrian island near Lincoln Park.  Nine days later, the station is gone from the plans, my neighborhood is stationless, and our prospects for a CaBi station in the near future are unclear.

The promised station would have occupied a bricked-over pedestrian island on the southeast corner of Lincoln Park, where East Capitol and Mass Ave split. 



The island, one of the many triangular plots that dot the District as a byproduct of L’Enfant’s use of a grid street pattern with radial avenues, serves ably as a pedestrian island. Otherwise, this oversized triangle of land is not used.  But after requesting and receiving public input on the proposed site, DDOT opted not to use the island, citing “citizen concerns.” 

As of now, there is no alternative on the table, but there are reports that DDOT is considering a different pedestrian triangle at the NE corner of the park or a site within Lincoln Park. Locating the station in the park would require approval of the National Park Service, and NPS’s existing concession contracts may prevent them from approving anything.

I was disheartened by both the decision and the lack of transparency about its rationale.  Apparently, I was not alone.  This week, a Capitol Hill resident started an online petition urging DDOT to restore the bike station to the SE pedestrian triangle.  As of this posting, the petition has over three dozen signatures.

Given the apparent neighborhood demand for a CaBi station, I am confident that a station will be forthcoming.  Nevertheless, I worry about what this incident portends for future efforts to place CaBi stations in strictly residential neighborhoods.  The experience provides a useful case study that DDOT should learn from as they expand into additional residential areas.

I have heard opponents of the use of the pedestrian island advance versions of four arguments against the use of the site:

Biker Safety: Bikers, the argument goes, would have to cross a busy street to access bikes on the island and thereafter merge directly onto a busy street.  But neither of the two proposed alternatives offers any more safety to bikers.  Under any of the scenarios, pedestrians would have to cross one street to access the bikes, and in each case there are existing crosswalks. 

Furthermore, from any of the locations, bikers would merge with either East Capitol or comparably busy streets (11th, 13th , or Mass Ave).  Arguably, the stop lights at the pedestrian triangles offer more safety to bike users relative to a location within Lincoln Park insofar as the average moving speed of vehicles at an intersection with a stop light would be lower than at other points around the park.

Crime: It’s unclear to me how this argument works.  The claim is not that the bikes would be stolen or vandalized; that argument should apply to any of the proposed sites.  Rather, the claim seems to be that the bikes might be more broadly criminogenic — that they may attract other mischief, nuisance, or criminal behavior. 

This logic seems attenuated at best.  Accepting for a moment that the bikes somehow generate more crime per se, it’s not clear why either of the proposed alternatives would be more acceptable. They would merely redistribute the supposed crime geographically. 

More fundamental, though, is whether the premise of the objection is sound. What kind of crime would the bikes generate?  And who would be victimized?  Is it the bike users, who could choose to weigh the risks against their benefits, or is it the neighborhood residents more broadly who would be at risk? 

If there is a real concern about crime, someone should articulate the specific concern and why the associated risks are acceptable in the alternate sites, but not at the originally proposed site. 

Noise: While potentially related to certain criminal or nuisance activities, concerns about noise levels are conceptually separable.  Might not the bikes, the docks, and the associated increase in people create noise that would impact nearby residents?  How much additional pedestrian and bike traffic would an 11-bike dock create and at what times of day? 

These are reasonable questions and presumably there are empirical answers.  I don’t have any data.  But I do have an intuition.  By my crude estimate, the facades of the houses closest to the SE pedestrian triangle are at least 75 feet away from the proposed site.  My strong suspicion is that the 11 bikes would generate substantially less noise than most individual vehicles that drive along East Capitol Street and Massachusetts Avenue, which pass much closer to those houses than 75 feet.  As CaBi expands into additional residential neighborhoods, it would be wise to anticipate this objection and be prepared with data on noise levels.

Aesthetics: This is probably the most nettlesome and least discussed issue.  People care about how their neighborhoods look.  They also share public space, but not necessarily the same preferences.  At the extreme, this confluence of shared space and divergent tastes can result in situations like last year’s rabid, frothy-mouthed debate in Adams Morgan over a proposed piece of public art. 

I’ve heard various objections that the CaBi stations are “unsightly” and “intrusive.”  I happen to disagree.  It gives me a certain sense of civic pride to see a bike share in the neighborhood.  I will not try to convince anyone of the beauty of CaBi stations.  I will, however, argue that that whatever one’s position about the aesthetic of the stations, it should be weighed against other public values, like the environment, and public transportation needs.