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Bethesda Residents Criticize Bikeshare

by BethesdaNow.com — October 16, 2012 at 10:00 am 3,521 10 Comments

His remarks were admittedly blunt, but the resident was hardly alone in his apparent skepticism of the Capital Bikeshare program during a citizens advisory board meeting on Monday.

“I’m a senior citizen. Bicycles on the sidewalk are absurd. It’s incompatible,” said the man, who spoke after a County Department of Transportation official presented plans for implementing the system in downtown Bethesda. “Bicycles are stealth things. They creep up on you without making a sound.”

Others questioned whether Montgomery County would be held liable for accidents, why many Bikeshare users in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va., don’t use helmets, if there would be enough room on sidewalks for pedestrians and if drunk bar patrons might steal the bikes from docking stations after a night on the town.

Despite huge popularity in Washington and Arlington and a recent expansion into Alexandria, Va., the Monday night meeting of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board showed Bikeshare has a long way to go before winning over some of Bethesda’s most civic-minded residents.

There are legitimate safety issues, which County Executive Isiah Leggett and a number of county council members say must be addressed before 29 downcounty Bikeshare stations (11 of which are planned for Bethesda) are installed sometime next spring.

A Capital Bikeshare station needs 12 feet — six feet for the width of the docking station and six feet for enough clearance to pull a bike out of the dock — according to MCDOT’s Sande Brecher.

The average width of a sidewalk in Bethesda is 12 feet. That could force MCDOT and a consultant to change where they put the Bikeshare stations once the contracts are signed with contractor Alta Bicycle Share and the siting process begins, Brecher said.

Most of the questions after Brecher’s presentation stemmed from safety concerns, but there were other factors at play.

A 2011 Capital Bikeshare member survey showed the vast majority of riders (65 percent in Arlington and 70 percent in Washington) were younger than 35, a demographic barely represented in Monday night’s meeting.

Perhaps more important is the ongoing struggle by cyclists for recognition on the roads.

“You have to make drivers aware that yes, if you see a cyclist in a bike lane be careful, but also if you see a cyclist in a car lane that’s OK. They’re allowed to do that,” said Mike Bleakley, manager of Bethesda’s FreshBikes Cycling store (7926 Old Georgetown Rd.). “Because as it gets more popular, which it will with Bikeshare, there’s going to be more and more motorist-cyclist incidents unless driver awareness increases.”

Brecher said county officials will work to pick Bikeshare station locations that provide safe and accessible routes to other locations or activity centers.

Planned locations now include the Bethesda and Medical Center Metro stations, a number of Woodmont Triangle sidewalks, Bethesda Row posts, a NIH/Suburban Hospital docking station and a stop at Woodmont Avenue and Bethesda Avenue for Capital Crescent Trail access.

An August report by CountyStat showed eight reported bicycle collisions in 2011 in downtown Bethesda, the majority of which involved crossing vehicles and crosswalks and sidewalks.

CountyStat conducted a nationwide analysis of bikesharing programs that it said showed Bikeshare was not a large driver of cycling crashes or fatalities, though total collisions increased by 24 percent in Washington, D.C., and 33 percent in Arlington in the first year those jurisdictions had the program.

Cycling activist and Bethesda resident Jack Cochrane told the advisory board there are a number of bike lane improvements or lane marking changes that could provide for safer cycling and less riding on sidewalks.

He suggested changing four-lane Arlington Road into three lanes for vehicles with a center turn lane and bike-dedicated lane near the curb. But he also said he’s well aware that getting local transportation officials and residents to back such plans is always difficult.

And he said bike activists must toe a careful line when it comes to pushing for Bikeshare-inspired improvements.

“I guess there’s a fine line saying, ‘Look, if you want Bikeshare here you have to add lanes.’ But on the other hand, you’re not gonna say, ‘Keep Bikeshare out until we get enough lanes,’” Cochrane said. “I think people need to know not to try to bully cyclists out of the way or pretend like they’re not here.”

Bleakley hopes Montgomery County pursues a dedicated cycling awareness campaign.

“You can throw in all the bike lanes in the world,” Bleakley said, “but if you don’t explain why you’re doing it and what goes along with that, a lot of motorists are just going to see that as, ‘Oh, great, they’re taking away my lane,’ and there’s just gonna be more anger toward cyclists.”

Capital Bikeshare Flickr photo by kaszeta; Woodmont Avenue bike lane Flickr photo by Robert Dyer

  • Brian

    I personally agree that bikers are horribly annoying – on the roads or sidewalks. That said, Capital Bikeshare encourages people to bike rather than drive places so it is ridiculous to fault them. The old geezer should be pushing for bike lanes.

    • Mike

      First of all bikes shouldn’t be on the sidewalks, they belong on the road. If you commute to work on a regular basis you would see plenty of safe and respectful bikers on the road and an incredibly large group of hostile drivers. It’s a difficult balance to have both groups share the road, but bikers do have the same road rights as drivers and some education on that issue is needed. I love the Bikeshare program and would welcome it as a nice improvement in our area.

  • Jimmy

    I agree that we can’t just plop down bikeshare stations and expect the system to work well. We do need some changes made to make the area more friendly to cyclists. What many people seem to forget is that roads were around for thousands of years before cars. We recently adapted the roads to work for cars because cars is what people wanted to use on the roads. Now that people want to use bicycles we need to adapt to that.

    I personally like the idea of removing lanes and adding a turning lane – by moving bicycles and turning vehicles to their own area it should allow car traffic to flow more smoothly, even with fewer lanes. Plenty of slow traffic is caused by the slowdown from negotiating a merge. I don’t know if an actual study would agree with me, but that’s my gut feeling.

  • andy2

    Biking on sidewalks is not only dangerous to pedestrians but is really dangerous for the biker. As cars pulling out of alleys pose a serious risk to a biker at speed.
    Back to the point of biking in Bethesda. Cars do not have a protected rigth to give them priority over any other form of transport. Moreover, creating biking infrastructure will calm traffic, increase the livability of Bethesda and increase the desirabiltiy of visiting local businesses. Bethesda and Arlington are extremely similar. If Arlington can handle it – surely Bethesda can.
    Also with an obesiety epidemic and climate change, we should be a bit more forward thinking and embrace biking as a way to tackle both those challenges while meeting transportation needs.
    If you aren’t part of the solution – get the heck out of the way!

  • Malcom

    How did this become a ‘bicyclists on the sidewalk’ issue? That’s not a problem in Bethesda as it is in other places. This is a diversion from an important topic.

    Don’t let Bethesda fall behind.

    And, if Woodmont were not one-way between Old Georgetown Rd. and what? Elm Street, then there would be NO bikes on sidewalks in Bethesda. Make Woodmont two way!

  • Ben Ross

    The Montgomery police in Bethesda ride their bicycles on sidewalks. This miseducates both drivers and cyclists. Riding on sidewalks is unsafe for the cyclist, as andy2 points out, and is troublesome for pedestrians.

    The police need to set a good example by riding in the street. They should not wait for bikeshare — drivers need to start used to driving in mixed traffic immediately. This is especially important on Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road.

  • Frank

    There is no law anywhere saying that adults must use helmets. How is this relevant to this discussion?

  • nettie

    bethesda. lol.

  • Andy

    Some (not most) bikers are awful and ride on sidewalks. Most Bikeshare riders are worse. It’s scary to see what goes on in Georgetown, e.g., on a nice Saturday. They are bad because they never ride bikes.

    However, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep moving towards a bike-friendly city. For anyone who’s been to Copenhagen or Amsterdam, it makes everything better… less traffic, good for health, quieter, etc.

    So, the real issue is why isn’t more being spent on bike lanes and trails? Get the bikes off the driving lanes and into BIKE LANES! It’s ironic that they’re wrecking the Capital Crescent Trail for the purple line at the same time we’re putting in bikeshare stations. Berliner, Legget et al need to make bike infrastructure a priority…

  • http://www.mobike.org Jack Cochrane

    Did I really say “gonna”? I wanna know.

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