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Posted at 4:23 PM ET, 12/14/2010

Despite cold, Bikeshare heating up

By Luke Rosiak

Bikesharing programs in many other cities shut down for the winter, but Arlington and the District's Capital Bikeshare is still gaining steam, despite frigid temperatures.

As many as 72 bikes were out at one time this morning, and 40 are in use at 4:30pm. When we last checked in on relatively balmy October 13th, those numbers were 41 people at the peak of the morning commute and 29 in use at 2pm. That's an increase of nearly 100% -- on a day with lows of 26 degrees.

That's according to a fun and useful map from London's Oliver O'Brien. For a wild ride, click "Animation (last 48 hours)" to watch as people pick up bikes on Capitol Hill, Southeast and elsewhere, and drop them off downtown and along the 16th Street corridor, among other place.

The numbers are a sure sign of enthusiasm for the program--or that riders haven't quite adjusted to rapid changes in the weather.

Even before Bikeshare launched, the number of area residents commuting by bike doubled in recent years.

By Luke Rosiak  | December 14, 2010; 4:23 PM ET
Tags:  Capital Bikeshare, Online tools  
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With the Washington Post printing how-to tips on killing Metro riders, maybe they just don't want to die.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | December 14, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Surely you're kidding.

Even at peak hours, the usage rate of the rental bike fleet was LESS THAN 10% -- and you call that a "sign of enthusiasm"?

Just how bad do the statistics have to get before you'd call it a failure? Would you trumpet "enthusiasm" for Metrorail if 90% of the seats were empty at rush hour? Or "enthusiasm" for the Redskins if 90% of the seats at FedEx went unused?

The subsidized bike rental project has very limited appeal, and quite understandably. Nearly every bicyclist already owns a bike, and they'd much rather ride their own bikes than to pick up a rental.

But that's not all. The program is wildly expensive (over $7500 PER BICYCLE). Taxpayers are paying 100% of the cost, while the private contractor gets to pocket the rental income.

With the very real transit and highway needs of the D.C. metro region, what possible justification is there to divert millions in transportation funds to such a frivolous use?

Posted by: jrmil | December 14, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Oh, wow, all of 72 bikes are in use -- how many millions of cars are in use in this area at the same time?

This is a good example of the disproportionate attention that is paid to cycling, to the detriment of all other road users. Cyclists don't pay registration fees, don't carry insurance, don't have to put license tags on their bikes, and certainly act like they don't have to obey the laws.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | December 14, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Any cyclist who pays taxes subsidizes cars, not the other way around. Gas taxes registration fees and the like do not even come close to covering the costs of maintaining the road. And the wear imposed by a bicycle as compared to a car is a miniscule fraction. I obey all the traffic laws regardless of mode, and I observe roughly the same disregard for the law among cars and bikes.

Posted by: krickey7 | December 14, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse


Not true. In Arlington it was the BID who paid. So it was less than 100% for sure. And the taxpayers who did most of the paying were federal, not local. More BIDs, businesses, federal agencies and developers are expected to pay in the future. While the contractor keeps the operating income, right now there is none. There is revenue, but it pays for operating costs. Do you not like private-public partnerships?

The cost per trip to taxpayers for these bicycles is less than 2 cents, far less than for driving or transit.

Finally, we actually want people to drive less. That's a goal. So it's good to encourage biking to the detriment of driving.

User fees:

Roadway user fees imposed on motorists don't cover the costs of roads and the balance is covered by general tax funds. Because of the type of roads cyclists use and the funding that pays for them; as well as the low costs imposed by cyclists and pedestrians on the road network and society, it is actually they who subsidize motorists. And the roads they get are built to the needs of the subsidized.

There are several analyses that show that "user fees" - such as the gas tax, tolls and vehicle taxes and fees - cover only about 50-60% of road costs. [The Brookings Institute, 2003, 58.9%; Subsidy Scope, 2007, 51%; The FHWA, 1999, between 72% and 22%]. The remainder comes from other taxes and fees, property taxes and borrowing. So non-motorists do pay into the building of roads. In fact, a study by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute showed that motorists are heavily subsidized by non-motorists.

Cyclists, in general, use local roads that are more likely to be funded by general tax funds (as opposed to highways that are paid for by gas taxes). General tax funds are also used to pay for traffic services such as policing, emergency services and subsidized (or free) parking. As a result user fees only pay for about 10% of local roads and traffic services. Meaning non-motorists are pitching in on the other 90%.

In addition, there are other negative externalities such as congestion delays, crash and fatality costs, pollution, land use-related opportunity costs, zoning code-required parking costs and driving-related health costs that are also not paid for exclusively by motorists.

To add insult to injury, the roads that cyclists subsidize are not built for cyclists needs. On the one hand, they're overbuilt - wider and capable of carrying greater weight than cyclists need; and on the other hand they're not built or maintained to a standard that considers cyclist safety - with tire catching storm grates added and cyclist-throwing potholes allowed or temporary steel plates installed, for example.

Finally, there are several other users, such as school buses, taxis and cement mixers, that are exempt from paying the gas tax in certain states. Do they have less of a right to the road as a result?

Posted by: cranor | December 14, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

@cranor: Your information on funding is simply not correct. The cost of the subsidized bike rental program *IS* 100% paid for by taxpayers.

Here's the official word from Arlington County:
"The $6M bikeshare program is funded in the District by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration under their Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) fund, local funding (80/20). The Arlington system includes $835,000 for capital through a combination of funding from a grant through the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, Arlington County transportation funding and sponsorships by the Crystal City BID and the Potomac Yard Transportation Management Association." (

Federal funds are tax dollars. State funds are tax dollars. County funds are tax dollars. Business Improvement District (BID) funds are tax dollars.

And once more, the cost to taxpayers for the subsidized bike rental program is outrageous -- more than $7500 for each bicycle. That's about $100 for the bike itself, and $7400 of program overhead.

It would have been far, far cheaper just to buy a thousand bikes and give 'em away.

Posted by: jrmil | December 15, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse


Setting aside the start-up costs, most independent analysts predict CaBi will be financially self-sustaining in three years. Let me know when our network of surface streets is slated to "break even".

Snort... You welfare queens are so dramatic.

Posted by: ibc0 | December 15, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Capital Bikeshare just announced their Winter Weather Warrior contest two hours ago, and they already have over 200 people registered. I'd say that's a pretty clear "sign of enthusiasm" in the DC area!

Posted by: crc99 | December 15, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

This is very encouraging because it's the rate of increase that is more relevant than the absolute numbers (sorry if that's a little too mathematical for some people, but calculus is a very powerful tool).

Getting gear to ride comfortably even in the 20's is not difficult or terribly expensive. As always , layering is the key to keeping comfortable in cold weather activities. Start with a form fitting and moisture wicking layer top and bottom, obtainable from even your local discount store. Then add some light insulation for the top (since your active, not too much is needed). Then wind protection all over, nylon works fine. A polypropylene balaclava will keep your head from losing too much heat and fit under a helmet. Ski gloves work fine for the hands. For the feet, this is where a bike specialty store might be best, to get neoprene shoe/toe covers. Happy cold weather riding!

Posted by: vmax02rider | December 15, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse


Really? Why don't you link to these "independant" consultants because DDOT's own Cabi Director Chris Holben is "hoping" to reach 50% of its yearly costs within 3 years.


Posted by: Nosh1 | December 15, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Frivolous use? Every cyclist wants to ride their own bike and risk having it stolen when they lock it up downtown? Uh, no.

And why do some people insist that all cyclists break laws while stating that somehow no drivers ever break any laws? Have you ever tried walking in a crosswalk in D.C.? When you have the WALK signal/green light? Every single day, a car or truck will try to turn through and nudge/push/force pedestrians out of the crosswalk. The driver can clearly see the pedestrians. They drive up slowly. They see that the pedestrians have the WALK/Green signals and yet they try to force people out of the crosswalk. I see this behavior almost every day.

I also see cars running red lights every day, even when the intersection is crowded. I'd say that's a heck of a lot more dangerous than a cyclist going through a red light. Some drivers speed up when they see a yellow light, so even if they technically "make" the light, they are not exhibiting safe behavior. Try and say that this doesn't happen ALL THE TIME. Presumably these are all licensed drivers.

As noted, drivers on the road benefit from having reduced traffic. Or would people prefer that every trip involve a car, i.e., more congestion?

Giving away bikes is a nonsensical idea. And what form of transportation ISN'T subsidized? Local roads? MetroRail? MetroBus?

Posted by: 123home123 | December 15, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

All transportation receives an operating subsidy. ALL. Metro, buses, MetroAccess, Capital Bikeshare. All drivers receive an even larger 'operating' subsidy, through general-fund diversion to roads and parking. So it currently produces a net-governmental savings over driving, and if the Capital Bikeshare system approaches breakeven, it will be by far the most efficient operating transit system in the city, meaning it would save WMATA and its funders money every time somebody took a bike rather than metro or bus.

The capital funding (CMAQ) used for most of this program is provided to polluted cities explicitly to offset the effects of pollution from cars. So even if DDOT saved the receipt for the program, got their money back, they couldn't turn around and spend it on laying asphalt for one lane-mile of highway (which is roughly equal).

Basically, if you're a fiscal conservative, you should be cheering for the success of this program, as ridership pays down the sunk costs, and produces a savings (and improved service) to WMATA by taking riders out of their subsidized systems. And if you're DC or counties in MD/VA, you can fund capital cost improvements to double this system ($6M) and get the feds to kick in 80% of that almost guaranteed, or fund transit capital improvements ($7BILLION for the full Silver Line) and MAYBE get no more than 50% from the feds.

Let's say you did away with all transit operating subsidies, the amount could not build enough additional lane capacity to accomodate the increased demand for driving, and the entire regional economy would end up in gridlock. Not to mention DDOT/VDOT/MDOT trying to exercise eminent domain on your split-level ranch house, people going broke trying to buy that car they didn't need before, more airborne pollutants, etc. Basically, welcome to Houston East.

Posted by: TheBoreaucrat | December 15, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

@jrmil: Cars impose huge costs, and not just on their owners/users. Donald Shoup estimates that each space in a surface parking lot costs an average of $4,000, and spaces in structured or underground lots routinely cost in the range of $20,000 to $40,000. Some of those costs are recovered (in the case of private lots), but spaces on the street are rarely priced at anything approaching their cost (and that's not to mention the costs of building and maintaining roads, etc., which bikes use much less intensively than cars). So even if each bike costs $7,500 (and there is good reason to think it will be much less as usage increases and overhead costs are spread over larger numbers of bikes/users), you certainly haven't made the case that bike sharing is some kind of wasteful boondoggle -- in fact, it seems quite likely (although knowing for sure would require more information about how the bikes are used) that bike sharing is cost effective compared to infrastructure for cars.

Posted by: caseybanderson | December 15, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

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