With the population of the city growing year by year, the DC government has made a concerted effort to improve its transportation infrastructure. A part of this plan has been to increase the amount of dedicated bike lanes throughout town to support biking for both recreation and commuting.
For many years, Capital Bikeshare was the only game in town. The ubiquitous red bikes were handy and fun to ride. But the more popular they became, the larger their biggest flaw loomed: What if their wasn’t a docking station near where you lived or where you wanted to go? What if all the nearby stations are full? Or empty?
The answer came from the other side of the world. A new system of shareable bikes, which do not require docking stations, launched in China several years ago and took off like wildfire. Funded by billions of dollars of venture capital, new companies sprang up overnight and flooded several Chinese cities with bicycles, often leading to hilarious images of an uncountable number of colorful bikes piled on top of one another.
The Chinese companies sought to expand their market to North America. Joined by several American competitors, the bikes began to appear on DC streets just a few months ago.
At first, the parked bikes were greeted with a sense of mirth. “Why is there a random green bike parked on Morningside Drive?” one might ask. But when multiple bikes began showing up in curious places, potentially blocking sidewalks and handicapped access ways, the questions began to get more pointed.
The bike have been a hot topic on many local message boards. On the Shepherd Park listserv, one person wrote:
I really can not stand these bikes, I find them to be a total nuisance, dangerous and I’m not understanding how any commercial company can leave their products all over town. They are a hazard for the handicapped. They invite crime and vandalism and I hope the Mayor and Council stop allowing them.
Soon after, another neighbor responded with the opposite opinion:
I actually look at this a little bit differently. I love the fact that there are bikes all over the place, easily accessible to many people.
The questions boiled over at the recent ANC 4 meeting, and the councilmember’s office was asked to respond.
Here is a written response from Councilmember Todd’s Chief of Staff, Sherryl Newman, about dockless bicycles.
Last week I attended the ANC 4A meeting, and the discussion came up about the freestanding bicycles that are throughout the city. The Chair of the ANC4A asked me for assistance in getting some answers to questions about these bikes.
I would like to share what we have been told by DDOT Director Jeff Marootian:
- The pilot program started in Nov and will continue until April 18th. Feedback and input from the communities throughout the city is being gathered by various methods. There are no plans for early termination of the pilot program
- There was no formal RFP process or award of contract. It was a voluntary request to participate. Presently 5 companies have respond, and a 6th will likely be included soon.
- Each company can have no more than 300 bicycles city-wide which means there are about 1500 bikes total
- The program was started to address the need to have more bikes accessible in areas where docking stations are not possible.
- No decisions on the long-term use of these bicycles will be made before all feedback has been evaluated.
The community has raised issues with the placement of the bikes. DDOT has responded:
- Bikes must be placed in legal areas, including along streets, as long as they are not blocking sidewalks and are not on private property.
- If someone sees a bike illegally parked, they should contact MPD or DPW
- If the bicycle remains in its locations for more than 2 hours, contact 311 or a vendor number can be called to requests pickup of the bike.
Notification was an issue as well:
- According to DDOT, community notification included a press release and a city-wide ANC meeting during the first week in December.
Illegally parked bicycles will be monitored by DPW and MPD for corrective action
Instances of possible criminal activity (stolen bikes) will be the responsibility of the bike companies
For additional information on the program, and to provide feedback, please use the DDOT link below.
Company Contact Information
It is clear that the dockless bicycle experiment will continue through to the end of evaluation period. Concerned citizens should be sure to utilize the feedback link posted above.
If you see a bike that is out of place or has been in one spot for too long, please take one of the following actions:
- Contact the company to report improperly placed bikes. The number should be on the bike and are posted below.
- Contact 311 to report
- Notify DDOT via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do not contact MPD or DPW about improperly parked dockless bikes.
Mobike – email@example.com
Spin – 888-262-5189