Saturday, March 31, 2012

Arlington Bikeshare Expansion: My Comments #bikedc @bikeshare @arlingtonva @BikeArlington

Arlington County is in the process of considering expansion of Capital Bikeshare and is taking public comments until April 13th. Capital Bikeshare has been an explosively successful bikesharing program in Washington DC. In Arlington, even though Arlington is a primary supporter of the program, the deployment is limited and restricted to narrow corridors.

Arlington County has proposed four expansions scenarios. For the reasons stated below, I believe all expansion scenarios are inadequate and propose an alternative approach.

Arlington starts with Draft Expansion Principles for devising the expansion scenarios. These principles themselves are inadequate and therefore have likely led to the inadequate scenarios.

(1) The first principle should be that any publicly funded Arlington transportation program should benefit the entire county, and not just the select few. There is a reason why the subway is not ubiquitously deployed throughout Arlington; the cost of the infrastructure makes it prohibitive. However, Arlington did invest in the subway that most ubiquitously benefits the entire county as compared to any other suburban county. The deployment was well thought out, and has shaped the development of Arlington over the last ~4 decades. Where the subway is not present, public transportation ubiquitously provides an excellent bus system. Stand on the corner of any major road during rush hour and a bus will by momentarily, placing the individual in the transportation system.

The bike share system as a form of publicly funded transportation should likewise be ubiquitously deployed. Arlington citizens are both strong users of public transportation and have a strong bike culture. There is a quality bike infrastructure in Arlington and bicycles have become highly integrated into our transportation system. Arlington is a designated Bike Friendly Business and in the process of applying for a higher Gold Level Bike Friendly Business certification.  Demand and use for bicycle transportation in Arlington is strong.

As it stands, the draft expansion scenarios propose limited deployment. While I have heard it argued that CABI tracks population, it is also true that it is tracking wealth. The expansion scenarios generally track areas where there is high density of population tied with high wealth. Only one scenario proposes to include Columbia pike – an area desperately in need of transportation solutions – an area where bikes are strongly used – an area where the wealth is not as strong as the Ballston Rosslyn or Crystal City corridor. This is a disagreeable strategy for deploying public transportation.

CABI, as a part of Arlington County’s public transportation system, should be ubiquitously deployed to all of Arlington.

(2) What does ubiquitous mean? The bus system is ubiquitously deployed; that does not mean buses are on every street. Ubiquitous deployment would permit diverse deployment where specified criteria are met.

(3) The draft scenarios assumes a “corridor” paradigm. Where no corridor can be identified, no stations are proposed. This is inadequate. There are lots of destinations in Arlington that do not fit the corridor paradigm, but could make great use of CABI. Instead of corridors, I recommend an “island” paradigm. Create islands of stations where it is anticipated that individuals will hop from destination to destination.

A specific example of this would be Westover. No expansion scenario includes Westover. Westover is a vibrant economic island with schools, libraries, restaurants, parks, and bars. Westover is also an easy bike ride to East Falls Church Metro, Lee Hwy and Harrison shops, The Hospital, Ballston, Bluemont and more. Westover is close to the intersection of the Custis Trail and the W&OD trail. And of course Westover itself is a great destination from all of those places. While Westover may not be within a corridor model, it could easily support a station and could be an island in the network.

(4) The expansion plan assumes that stations should not be more than ½ mile from each other; this is statistically inappropriate and applies urban assumptions to a suburban community.

Part of the assumption here is that most trips are currently a mile in length. I challenge that statistic. Even if it is true that “most” trips are a mile in length, how many are 2 miles? How many are 3 miles? And so on. I have seen CABI trip maps that show trips crossing the city in long trips, going from quadrant to quadrant – not just short trips, but big hops – from Arlington to Northwest – from Arlington to Downtown – from Arlington to Crystal City. When I commute in during the morning on the MV trail, 1/3 of bikes are now easily CABIs on a given day. NONE of those bikes are going 1 mile – but are going much further. At the end of the 14th St Bridge, CABI’s pour off the bridge – and there is no way they could have done only a mile.  There are lots of trips more than just one mile - even if most are only one mile (there is a diversity of length trips).

There are lots of trips that are a mile are more, sufficient to justify a greater spacing of stations.

I would also suggest that even if the statistic is true, it reflects city traffic. It is a mistake to assume that city traffic should define a high density suburban traffic use. It may be that lots of trips in WDC are less than a mile – but then things are closer together in WDC. That says nothing about Arlington, where things are spread out a bit more – but frankly with a density where lots of things are within easy bike range.

This is a big reason why an island paradigm is superior to a corridor paradigm. The corridor model assumes a tight network of stations that is not necessary for the success of CABI in Arlington. We already see lots of trips on CABI in Arlington well over a mile that are not station to station hops – but go from community to community or further.

(4) While costs should be minimized, this is not an excuse to deploy it for the full benefit of Arlington. CABI is a part of the Arlington public transportation system; it cannot be deployed to benefit only select neighborhoods, but must support the entire community that pays for and supports it. All public transportation systems have more profitable and less profitable regions. Particularly in a smart growth, high density community like Arlington, however, ubiquitous deployment serves the entire community and the goals of smart growth.

The draft notes the cost of rebalancing. All one can say is, well duh. That is the nature of the bikeshare system. That does not mean you make the entire community pay for a system that only a select portion of the community benefits from. This is a transportation system supported by Arlington, not a transportation system supported by the residents of the Rosslyn Ballston corridor.

The draft also seems to assume a cost of rebalancing premised on the corridor model.  I suggest that a more appropriate model will be a mesh network of islands - and thus the rebalancing estimates need to be adjusted.

(5) I completely agree that CABI should leverage existing bicycle facilities and infrastructure. Arlington has excellent bike trails and lanes. It has become a great biking community. Deployment of CABI stations can utilize the trail network to hop from destination to destination, even where there may be no station in-between – because the infrastructure is so good. For example, Shirlington is well connected to Crystal City, Barcroft Park, and to Columbia Pike along the W&OD. This does not mean that there has to be a corridor network of stations for there to be CABI in Shirlington. A bike station in Shirlington would be highly useful as it is so integrated into the trail network already, and would be economically beneficial to the successful Shirlington businesses, as biking to Shirlington is such a great experience. Particularly for Shirlington which is not served by the subway, this is a highly intelligent expansion of public transportation.

Arlington’s trail and lane network makes connecting communities in Arlington very easy. It is also why the “1 mile / 1/2 mile” rule assumed in the draft is invalid. The average 1 mile trip rule from the draft assumes city biking, with cars, and red lights, and traffic. Biking the W&OD is like biking an express lane – jumping from Crystal City to Shirlington to Columbia Pike to Carlin Springs to Bluemont – is easy. Islands of stations in this communities would be well served and well utilized.

(6) “New stations should be located such that Bikeshare increases the reach of other modes, particularly transit and walking.” This is completely true. Under current deployment and under expansion scenario one, expansion tracks the subway system – to which all we can say is “gee thanks a lot.” That does not serve Arlington well. It is just an overlay of the current subway and bus system.

Instead, CABI should expand the public transportation system. One can easily imagine that CABI could become highly useful for getting to the subway in the morning. A network of well placed stations with subway stations as their anchor could dramatically improve public transportation.

For example, a station at Lee Hwy and Glebe Road could easily be used to access Ballston and the Ballston metro. A station at Westover could access either East Falls Church or Ballston Metro. A station at Harrison and Lee could access East Falls Church Metro. Likewise these stations could be utilized by students to get to their high schools.

The deployment of CABI should not be simply an overlay of current infrastructure but should be designed to expand the reach and utility of the public transportation system.

(7) Finally, CABI will be an economic benefit for Arlington. Arlington is a great biking community with great trails and lanes. Arlington in Washington DC tourists are making tremendous use of the CABI system. A well deployed CABI system in Arlington makes each location that CABI is deployed a biking destination. One can imagine visitors or even citizens grabbing a CABI in order to go for a nice bike ride to Shirlington, Ballston, Columbia Bike, Crystal City or Bluemont – or even to neighboring jurisdictions such as Alexandria. This will create a strong positive attraction to our community that will attract visitors, business, and economic growth. As it is, we can already observe how Arlington has become a popular biking destination, with the Custis Trail, MV Trail, and W&OD. Leveraging that infrastructure means more business for Arlington businesses.

Reviewing the specific scenarios (see draft for actual descriptions)

SCENARIO ONE: Scenario one is inadequate. It overlays the subway system and where the public transportation system is the strongest. It tracks wealth. It is not a system for all of Arlington.

SCENARIO TWO: Honestly, I don’t really understand what Scenario two does other than adding Shirlington, which I think is an absolute low hanging fruit must.

Again, I reject the idea that there must be corridors of stations. So the ambiguous clouds of corridors connecting Virginia Square and Shirlington – and Shirlington to Crystal City – I would think more about what are the compelling destinations where CABI stations would be successful. Shirlington clearly is such a station – and would succeed – even without corridors.

SCENARIO THREE: Scenario three notes that it leverages high frequency bus service. I think that is a big key indicator for where demand would be strong. The bus service on Columbia pike – the use of public transportation – is tremendously strong. On Lee Hwy the buses strongly support residents going east and west into the subway system. Where demand for public transportation is already strong, CABI would likely be successful. 

Because the map assumes a corridor model, it hides the fact that residents would use CABI to cross Arlington – not just east /west traffic. A articulated con is that this scenario is not well connected to the CABI system. I disagree. I believe this essentially creates a mesh network of CABI stations in Arlington of traffic going back and forth including North and South. Bikes from East Falls Church could easily find their way to Columbia pike, to Ballston, and to Shirlington.

This is the difference between the corridor model and the island model. The corridor model assumes that traffic will only go back and forth in the corridors. The island model assumes a mesh network of bikes jumping from island to island.

As far as “challenging environment for bicyclists” – I am sorry, that is an absolutely lame excuse. More challenging than Lynn st and Lee Hwy? More challenging that downtown Washington? More challenging than crossing Maine Ave and Ohio Drive. I have seen CABI’s on the highway on the 14th street bridge as people unfamiliar don’t know how to cross the bridge. We have nothing as dangerous as that. As we have learned, Bike culture grows with the number of bikes. We have good infrastructure in Arlington. It will become better as the number of bikes on the road grows.

SCENARIO FOUR makes good use of Arlington trails. The W&OD is already strongly used by cyclists and can be leveraged for so much more. A system which leverages the W&OD is likely to succeed.

As far as “not well lit at night” – last I checked, that’s true of everywhere at night. There is always a lighting issue. This is true at the Jefferson Memorial with highway speed traffic next door. And it would be true along Columbia Pike. What’s your point (don’t make excuses)

Scenario four goes right past Columbia Pike with no explanation. It also ignores Lee Hwy.

ALTERNATIVE SCENARIO: I propose an alternative scenario, one built on the island paradigm, not the corridor paradigm. Under the island paradigm, we imagine a series of ubiquitously deployed stations throughout Arlington that creates a mesh networks of stations where residents can hop back and forth. These stations
• Would not simply overlay existing public transportation system
• Would be designed to expand and leverage the public transportation system
• Would note where demand for bus service is strong
• Would leverage the bike trail and path system
• Does not assume the ½ mile rule
• Notes high density of populations and potential high demand

With this in mind the expansion would include stations in places such as
• Lee Hwy & Glebe Road
• Lee Hwy and Harrison
• East Falls Church Metro
• Westover
• Bluemont / Carlin Springs
• Arlington Community Centers: Thomas Jefferson Center
• Columbia Pike (full pike – could this solve the street car issue??)
• Shirlington
• Barcroft Park
• All high schools: Yorktown, HB Woodlawn, Washington & Lee, Wakefield
• I assume at some point Marymount University would want in on the network
• Consider Arlington Libraries

I believe this would create a mesh network of CABI stations allowing Arlington residents to easily travel across the county and connect to public transportation. I also believe that this would be an economic benefit as biking on Arlington trails would become an even stronger attraction to visitors. I believe this will promote Arlington’s smart growth and car free approach.

This makes Arlington’s support for CABI also benefit all of Arlington – and not just limited corridors.

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