Let’s bring 20,000 shared bikes to DC

Image by David Alpert.

Two of DC’s current seven dockless bike and scooter share companies are headed out of town: ofo and Mobike. Both claim that the limit of 400 bikes in DC’s dockless pilot program is part of their reason for leaving. What DC really needs is not fewer shared bikes, but more — around 20,000.

While there are reasonable concerns about how dockless vehicles fit into road and sidewalk space (such as not blocking walkways with parked bikes), dockless bikes and scooters offer space-efficient, green, healthy transportation options that are accessible to many residents. DC has set a goal that by 2032, 25% of all commutes will be by foot or by bicycle. We’re not going to get there without an expansive vision for how to get more people on bikes and clear steps for how to get there.

That’s why GGWash has partnered with local transit, environmental, and bicycling organizations to call upon the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to think big when it comes to regulating our dockless bikeshare system. DDOT will soon create regulations for dockless programs based on lessons learned from the current pilot. Let’s plan for 20,000 shared bikes in DC with more bike parking, bike/scooter lanes, and smart regulations. If you agree, sign onto our letter.

Sign the letter!

20,000?! Are you joking?

Nope, we’re serious. Right now, DC regulations allow for only 400 dockless bikes and scooters per company. DC has around 2,500 docked Capital Bikeshare bikes.

However, recent research says a city of our size can support a much larger pool of shared bikes. The Institute for Development and Transportation Policy (ITDP)'s Bikeshare Planning Guide compared shared bike systems worldwide and found that the right ratio in a city is 10 to 30 bikes per 1,000 residents:

This ratio should be large enough to meet demand, but not so large as to have fewer than four daily uses per bike. Dockless bikeshare in the largest Chinese cities has generated very high bikes per resident ratios (62 bikes per 1,000 residents in Shanghai and 57 per 1,000 residents in Guangzhou), but more moderate ratios in relatively smaller cities like Tianjin (23 bikes per 1,000 residents, which is just slightly higher than Mexico City’s 19 per 1,000 residents)... For dockless systems, this metric can help cities establish a cap on the total number of bikes in operation.

For DC, that would mean up to about 21,000 shared bikes (docked and dockless). As the quote above explains, this is much less than in large Chinese cities which have seen overcrowding problems. (Besides, DC is very different from those cities.) DC wouldn't be in that territory unless it had more like 43,000 bikes.

By comparison, there are, after all, around 240,000 cars registered to DC residents at any given time. Accounting for Maryland and Virginia drivers, there are even more cars present every day in DC.

Image by ep_jhu.

Getting to 20,000 shared bikes will require bold action and smart regulations

We don’t need DDOT to get DC to this level tomorrow, but as officials consider new regulations for dockless bike and scooter share, we are asking them to plan for the future we want to build, not only around short-term administration considerations.

This is not something cities can’t handle. Seattle, a city of similar size, plans to allow 20,000 bikes under its new regulations.

Residents do have some reasonable concerns about how dockless bike and scooter sharing works in our city. We heard from over 500 readers over the past few months asking for changes to how things work now and also pushing hard for a robust system.

We also discussed these issues with more than 40 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, DDOT officials, and dockless company representatives at our Dockless Summit earlier this spring. A truly expansive vision for dockless bike and scooter share should ensure that our public spaces work for everyone.

In a letter signed by GGWash and our partnering organizations, we’re asking DDOT to work with companies to address the following:

  • Parking - Riders should park responsibly and companies should work to educate users on proper parking. DC should add more bicycle parking, such as on the street in busy areas and on every corner throughout the city. With sufficient bike parking in all areas, a requirement to lock dockless bikes to a rack would not be an undue burden.
  • Safety and maintenance of the bikes - Ensure that dockless bikes and scooters are well-built and receive routine maintenance. In addition, make it easier for people to report safety and maintenance issues.
  • Equity - Everyone should benefit from dockless bike and scooter share. Regulations should encourage use in underserved communities. Companies should commit to keeping a significant number of bikes and scooters in lower-income neighborhoods.
  • Troubleshooting - It should be easy for both users and non users to report problems and companies should quickly respond to them.
  • Data sharing - Data about where and when people are riding shared bikes and scooters is important for transportation planning and decision-making. Companies should provide data on trips (anonymized to protect privacy) to the government and the public.
  • Bike and scooter lanes - Significant growth in cycling and scooters, as the District’s goals call for, will also require major expansion of the network of protected lanes that offer safe and comfortable places to bike and scoot. Such networks also help keep sidewalks open for people walking, riding in wheelchairs, and pushing strollers.

Image by Ted Eytan.

We have the opportunity to do this right

Too often officials only hear complaints (some of which are reasonable, some of which aren’t acceptable), and this informs their policy-making. Help us make it clear that dockless bike and scooter share can be a powerful part of how people in DC move around, but it needs room to grow. Help us also make it clear that reasonable concerns from neighbors should be addressed.

Sign our letter today and share with your neighbors, friends, and fellow cyclists. Not only can this be an opportunity to build a more robust and better dockless system, but it can also be the catalyst for more and better bike infrastructure across the city.

Sign the letter!