Photo by ianseanlivingston on Flickr.

A map of Capital Bikeshare usage patterns makes it obvious that stations east of the Anacostia River get relatively little usage.  However, the map does not tell us why ridership is low.

The discussion here over the map triggered some knee-jerk reactions to abandon the program East of the River.  Others argued that the stations are not used much, but they are being used.

Here are some reasons why ridership is likely low east of the river:

1. Start-up costs. The $75 annual fee is an obstacle for some middle- and lower-income people.  I consider myself middle-income and it was even difficult for me to convince myself to pay the annual fee.  This could easily be remedied by offering a payment plan over several months.

2. Marketing. Most of the marketing of the bikeshare program has happened online via DDOT’s website, Twitter, and blogs.  These media reach a specific demographic group. Social media and the Internet are not going to have the same impact East of the River.

DDOT did do outreach in Ward 7 at the Feet in the Street and Deanwood Day events held this summer.  However, these events draw a demographic that either already knew about Capital Bikeshare, or seniors who are unlikely to use the program.

The bike sharing stations were installed East of the River with little additional education, particularly to young people, on how the program works.  While sitting at a traffic light one day, I witnessed a little boy around the age of 10 trying to dock his personal bike in an empty slot in the station because he thought it was a regular bike rack.  A Ward 7 resident stated the kids sit on the bikes at Deanwood station and ride them like stationary bikes, because they do not understand they need a “key” to unlock the bike.

Just as with any marketing, the message needs to be tailored to the target demographic.

3. Topography. East of the river is not an easy area to serve with transportation. The Anacostia River provides a barrier with few crossing points. The 375-acre Fort Dupont Park in the center of Ward 7 limits access north and south.

East of the river also has many steep hills, making bicycling along some major corridors more difficult. This topography complicates station placement. For example, the Capital Bikeshare station closest to my house is ¼ of a mile. However it’s ¼-mile uphill.

4. Location choice. The purpose of the Capital Bikeshare program is to provide an alternative mode of transportation.  The locations east of the river are located on corridors were there is either a decent bus or rail connection east to west, or on Minnesota Ave which is a well-served bus corridor north to south.

The redundancy of service makes it less likely for one to opt to bike the route versus ride the bus. Many of the most-traveled routes in the L’Enfant City span nearby neighborhoods without direct bus service, like Dupont to U Street.

Alabama Avenue is an underserved corridor that has commercial areas and large pockets of medium density residential developments.  The addition of stations on this corridor could provide critical connections to public transportation hubs and commercial areas.

5. Incomplete data. Two of the stations spent much of the time period the map covers out of commission. The closest station to my house is at Penn Branch, which has been out of commission since October due to Pennsylvania Avenue Great Streets construction.

6. Critical mass. I pointed out that there are only 11 stations (with 2 out of commission) for an area that’s 25% of the city. Alex Block noted that more densely-packed stations are more successful, and that every peripheral area with fewer stations, no matter the ward, has lower usage.

7. Seasonal usage. I wonder if the temperatures between October and December play a role in the low usage.

In general, African-Americans, which make up the large majority of the residents east of the river, are averse to colder temperatures.

In Wards 7 & 8, cycling has a very low mode share for commuting.  Because relatively few residents were cyclists prior to the introduction of CaBi, the chances that the uninitiated bike rider is going to start cycling in late fall or the winter are relatively low.  Given the choice between riding a bike and sitting on a warm bus, many will choose a warm bus.

Will there be an increase in usage in the spring and summer? If there is a seasonal effect, DDOT could investigate the feasibility of temporary relocating stations in low usage months.

It is premature to throw the baby out with the bathwater and abandon the program east of the river.  Perhaps after Capital Bikeshare has operated for a full year DDOT can reevaluate the program.  However, that evaluation cannot rely on numbers and maps alone.

Editor’s note: We regret the unfortunate phrasing in bullet point number 7. The post has been revised to clarify the author’s intended point.

Veronica O. Davis, PE, has experience in planning transportation, urban areas, civil infrastructure, and communities.  She co-owns Nspiregreen, LLC, an environmental consulting company in DC.  She is also the co-founder of Black Women Bike DC, which strives to increase the number of Black women and girls biking for fun, health, wellness, and transportation.