Image by John Leszczynski used with permission.

District agencies and officials have a few more months to decide how to best regulate and support dockless bikes and scooters across the city. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of dockless is the ability to simply park wherever you end your trip, but this also has raised a number of safety and crowding issues in already-congested pedestrian areas.

One solution that would help all bikes, dockless or not: more bike parking. That’s what some of our contributors and DC Councilmember At-large David Grosso think the city should invest in.

What is the future of dockless bike parking?

Amid a citywide discussion about how the District should regulate dockless bikeshare companies, we asked our contributors to weigh in. The District Department of Transportation recently extended the pilot program for dockless bikeshare, and in August it’s expected to release new rules and regulations. (If you want to join the conversation on what these should be, take our survey here!)

The issue of parking came up a lot. It's possible the regulations will change the rules about where and how the bikes can be parked. Right now only one company, JUMP, requires their bikes to locked to an existing structure. Others use kickstands to hold up the bikes wherever the user ends their trip.

Patrick Kennedy, a commissioner in ANC 2A (Foggy Bottom) wrote that he feels the problem of badly parked bikes is getting a little better with time:

Improperly parked bikes are absolutely a thing (e.g., just left in the middle of a sidewalk), but I've noticed far fewer bad parking jobs as the pilot has gone on. Similarly, I've heard fewer complaints about the dockless bikes from residents as time has gone on as well — and the scooter boomlet didn't produce nearly the same backlash as the dockless bikes initially did.

If I were to go around soliciting complaints, I could find them — but people are less inclined to bring it up and many of the more skeptical community leaders in the ward became at least ambivalent — if not totally accepting — after the town hall [which Ward 2 ANCs organized in December].

However, another contributor from Silver Spring argued the opposite.

I think the problem with improperly parked dockless bikes isn't readily apparent yet in DC because there are like 12 bikes in the city.

But go take a look at Silver Spring. There are like 450 bikes that are required to be kept in a relatively small area encompassing greater downtown Silver Spring. (Riders can take them into the District, but the companies are responsible for having the quota of bikes in Montgomery County every night). They are everywhere.

They block sidewalks, driveways, curb ramps, parallel parking door access, etc.

There is actually a lot of thought put into the placement of bike racks. There has to be enough space not to narrow the sidewalk clear width, be back from the curb to allow access, etc.

The dockless bikes just say, there are no rules.

You add 20,000 dockless bikes to DC, and you won't be able to walk on the sidewalk around Farragut Square.

At a minimum, they should be required to be chained to something, like the Jump bikes are, and parking illegally should result in the banning of whichever member did it.

You get a bike rack, and you get a bike rack…

One thing all contributors enthusiastically agreed on: we just need more bike parking. And it turns out DC Councilmember David Grosso agrees.

In a recent letter to Transportation Committee chair Mary Cheh, Grosso writes that he sees “great potential for dockless bikeshare,” in particular as a way to fill gaps in our current transit network.

He also recognizes the challenges posed by a growing dockless system: “I have many concerns about the dockless bikes blocking sidewalks, curb ramps, and more.” Grosso puts forward a proposal: one bike rack for every city corner.

“The best place for a dockless bikeshare user to place their bike is at a rack. The problem, of course, is that we don’t have nearly enough bike racks in our city. There are many in commercial areas, but only a handful on our residential blocks. We should have at least one bike rack at every one of our 7,700 intersections in the city. No one should ever have to walk several blocks from a rack to their destination.”

Grosso outlines how the city could pay for such an investment: “A standard U rack costs $70 in materials, and with labor the total cost for [this plan] would like be $2-3 million to install 7,700 new racks.” He recommends pulling some capital funds for this, and also says the city could use revenue from licensing fees on the dockless operators.

Image by Elvert Barnes licensed under Creative Commons.

Alex Baca, who recently ran Cleveland's bikeshare program (a hybrid system with lock-anywhere bikes planned and distributed around fixed station racks), just published an article about dockless bikeshare regulation in CityLab. She suggests a more aggressive implementation of bike parking than Grosso: taking one parking space on each block and placing a bike rack in it:

I am so extraordinarily tired of non-driving modes being forced into battle with each other. Does climate change keep anyone else up at night? Air quality?

DC, of all places, should have, literally, done this already. This does not need to be done to serve dockless: It needs to be done for people who are riding their personal bikes. But it could close the loop on a lot of the dockless drama by giving operators a point to distribute to. You need a physical place for a bike to be to make that work. The great thing about dockless is that the equipment for doing that can be super-low-scale and it can work for non-dockless riders.

David Cranor added,

Yes, we need more on street parking spaces for dockless bikes. You could probably use the no-parking zone near the stop sign for that, since DoBis won't block the view of drivers like a parked car will. Then you won't even take parking from drivers.

Bike racks like these don't take up a parking space, and instead use the extra road space at the end of a row of parked cars. Image by the author.

We’ll have to wait until August to have a better idea of what the new rules will be for parking dockless bikes. In the meantime, what do you think of these proposals? What else should we be doing to support a robust dockless system that works?

David Whitehead was the Housing Program Organizer at Greater Greater Washington from 2016 to 2019.  A former high school math teacher and a community organizer, David worked to broaden and deepen Greater Greater Washington’s efforts to make the region more livable and inclusive through education, advocacy, and organizing. He lives in Eckington.