County Explores Dockless Bike-Share Expansion

By Dan Schere posted October 30th, 2018 on bethesdamagazine.com

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation is receiving public input on a proposed expansion of its dockless bike-share program that began last year.

The MCDOT began the dockless program as a pilot one year ago in Silver Spring and Takoma Park. This week, the department is holding three meetings for residents to give feedback. The first meeting was held Monday night at the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Silver Spring headquarters. More than 20 attended Monday night’s meeting. The other two meetings are Tuesday night at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and Thursday night at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

Dockless bike-sharing differs from traditional bike-sharing systems in that riders can find the nearest bike using a GPS phone app provided by the bikeshare company, instead of having to find a bikeshare station, as is the case with the Washington, D.C., region’s Capital Bikeshare program. The bikes are available to rent for a small fee per ride.

During Monday night’s meeting, Gary Erenrich, special assistant to the Office of the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation said there were more than 18,000 bike trips during the first six months of the dockless bikeshare program. Since then the number has dwindled, in part because three of the four companies that originally provided bikes left the program after determining that they weren’t making a profit from participating.

Erenrich said that after sending out 300 surveys, 84 percent of respondents asked that the bikeshare program be continued.

The expanded program would include most down-county areas, including North Bethesda, Bethesda, Wheaton and Viers Mill. Independent jurisdictions such as Chevy Chase, Kensington and Garrett Park would be able to opt into the program.

So far two bikeshare companies, Lime and Bird, have expressed interest in participating in the expanded bikeshare program. Those companies also operate scooters and pedal-assist electric bikes, which are also being considered as part of the program’s expansion.

Erenrich said that companies would have to abide by a set of rules, including one regulation that no more than three dockless vehicles can operate on each block from each company. Additionally, bikes would only be allowed to be parked in public bike parking areas, so as not to impede pedestrian access or traffic.

Erenrich said bike and scooters may operate on the sidewalk in Montgomery County, unlike in the District where cyclists must use a dedicated bike lane.

Some residents expressed concern that first-time riders of the bikes and scooters may need some practice operating the vehicles before taking a trip, with one resident proposing a graduating licensing system, similar to what is required for driving a car. Erenrich said the department would be starting a public education campaign within the next couple of weeks on the dockless bike-share expansion.

“We want people to try these [vehicles] out before they use them,” he said.

Silver Spring resident Karen Cooper, who lives near Sligo Creek Park, said she doesn’t oppose the dockless bike-share expansion, but is worried that too many additional vehicles, particularly e-scooters, could be dangerous to pedestrians.

“It’s highly irresponsible to go forward with this until we have data from other cities that are using outdoors scooters. I also think it’s insane to put these on the sidewalk. When you get something that’s going 15 mph and there are pedestrians in its path, it’s going to cause an accident. It’s very simple,” she said.

Erenrich said in an interview Tuesday there is enough capacity on the county’s sidewalks and bike lanes for the additional ridership, although more bike racks are needed. He said he hopes the program’s expansion also expands the number of cyclists in the county.

“We want to encourage people to ride not just these bikes but ride their own,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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