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Everything you've always wanted to know about bikeshare (but were afraid to ask)

Hundreds of CaBis at the 2010 launch event

Capital Bikeshare: commuter's friend...and a novel wedding getaway vehicle

Don't call it a complete guide to bikeshare. Call it Elevation DC's take on answering the bikeshare questions you (should) think hardest about.
Few transportation projects have transformed D.C. as thoroughly as Capital Bikeshare. From humble beginnings in 2010 with fewer than 50 stations, there are now over three hundred stations and 2500 bikes "begriming" our fair city (sorry, New York City bikeshare joke).

For most of us, the bikesharing program is a fun way to get some exercise, a commute-shortener, or an excuse to get rid of our cars. And most of us don't give much more thought to it than that. Sure, we lobby for a new dock near our house or office, we wave at the hardworking bike rebalancers.

Delve a little deeper, though, and you realize that Capital Bikeshare is an incredibly complex system. Users take hundreds of thousands of trips per month (many more in the spring and summer--the system set new ridership records during the Cherry Blossom Festival). Bike docks empty out of neighborhoods like Columbia Heights in the mornings and fill downtown, and the pattern reverses in the evening. Placing new stations is more of an art than a science.

As the system heads toward its four-year anniversary, we thought we'd compile our favorite facts, thoughts and stories about the cheery red ubiquitous bikes. Don't call it a complete guide to bikeshare. Call it Elevation DC's take on answering the bikeshare questions you (should) think hardest about.

Who uses bikeshare? 
Rachel Kaufman

Young white guys, mostly.

Okay, that's an oversimplification, but according to CaBi's 2013 member survey, "bikeshare users do not mirror the adult population of the Washington region." CaBi users are more likely to be male, Caucasian, highly educated, and employed. (But compared to a non-Capital-Bikeshare-using cyclist, CaBi users are actually more likely to be female, as this report shows.)

Part of the reason for these demographics is undoubtedly CaBi's cost ($75 per year) and/or its requirement that users have credit cards. 

Pockets of hope do remain. In Montgomery County, where there are roughly 50 stations, low-income commuters are eligible for a free year of membership, a bike safety class and a helmet. The city of Boston goes a step further in a move D.C. may want to consider emulating--doctors can now "prescribe" a bikeshare membership; that patient gets a year of bikeshare for $5.

 How do they decide where to put new stations (and why isn't there one near my house yet)?
There's a science behind where stations do and don't end up. Danielle Cralle tells us more.

D.C. residents are using bikeshare now more than ever, but most people have probably never paid attention to exactly where and why bikes are placed in specific locations.
Top 5 busiest bikeshare stations

  • Mass Ave at Dupont Circle
  • Union Station
  • 15th and P (Whole Foods)
  • Thomas Circle
  • 17th and Corcoran NW (Safeway)
*Source: CaBi Q4 2013 ridership data
Still, the location of a station is just as critical as the bikes themselves. Location determines who gets to access the bikes, how many people are reached, and if done correctly, can lead to equal access for residents.
Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) has strategically installed docks where they could be the most effective. This was accomplished through a pretty complicated exploration into the landscape of the District.

"When they were originally installed there was a sustainability analysis performed," says Kimberly Lucas, manager of the Capital Bikeshare program.
That analysis accounted for things like proximity to existing bike lanes and the employment rates of the area. From those results, different areas were ranked in terms of usability.
There's a CaBi station at the White House, behind the security perimeter. It sees more use than 50 other stations. Obama does not have a key fob.
Once the general locations were identified, the next step was to drill down and find specific locations suitable for the stations. Since the operation is solar powered, CaBi had to find spaces that would be in direct light, for instance. Additionally, Lucas and her team had to ensure that the stations would physically fit.
A lot of times, it's a balancing act.
For instance, despite multiple reports that stations placed in low-income neighborhoods will be underused, CaBi says it makes a concentrated effort not to rely solely on the data.
 "We put stations in places that might not have ranked highly on all of those factors because we wanted to make sure the system was equitable and everyone had access to it," Lucas says.
CaBi also collaborates with the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANC) to find practical locations that serve pocket communities in the District.
"Sometimes ANC's come to us and say, 'Hey, we'd love to have more bike stations in this area,'" she says.
Currently, CaBi is working on a transit development plan that will inform the long-term future of the system. 

Where do people ride? 
Check out this interactive visualization by Eli Glazier to see for yourself.

What's the most unique thing someone's done on a CaBi?  
Competing in a triathlon may take a close second to biking in your wedding dress. Ashley Gold investigates...

Susanna Fix didn't want just any typical getaway vehicle when she got married in Chinatown last fall.

"I like things that are a little on the unconventional side," Fix, 32, tells Elevation DC. "Our wedding was a mix of the traditional and things that are reflective of who we are."

Borrowing a friend's car would have been lame, she said, and not indicative of her and her husband's personalities. She loves biking, commutes to work often via Capital Bikeshare and is always encouraging her friends to try it--so she thought, why not use bikeshare as a wedding getaway vehicle?
While her getaway vehicle was not traditional, her Vera Wang wedding dress was. So figuring out how to pedal while wearing a full, traditional wedding gown was necessary. Fix did her research and couldn't find much on how one bikes in a wedding dress. She didn't let this change her plans.
"I said, 'nope, I'm going to bike away in my dress if it's possible,'" Fix says.

The day before the wedding, a friend took a ride around her Capitol Hill neighborhood, wearing one of Fix's dresses.
"Here's what you have to do--you have to hike up your dress, lift you leg over, and lift the dress over, and once you do that, you should be fine," Fix's friend told her, and she listened.

Fix contacted Capital Bikeshare, and they were completely cool with it, she said--and even helped ensure there would be bikes docked at their departure and destination docks.

Fix made "Just Married" signs for the bikes--one "just," one "married"--and a bridesmaid and groomsman were on duty to take out the bikes, adjust the seats properly, add extra streamers and decorations and have them ready for the happy couple when they emerged from the church.

On the summer Saturday evening of their wedding, the couple pedaled from Calvary Baptist Church in Chinatown to nearby Metro Center, where a friend then picked them up and drove them to a hotel in Crystal City.

Passerby waved, clapped and cheered for Fix and her husband as they cruised by in their just-married gear.

"That ten minutes was one of our favorite parts of the wedding," Fix says. "It was kind of like being a rockstar. We had a lot of fun."
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