A New Era for Biking in College Park

bikeshareIf you happen to be a College Park resident and a fan of biking, then the developments in the past few weeks have been cause for celebration.  First, we had the announcement from Prince George’s county about their ground breaking legislation for improved pedestrian and cyclist connections in new developments.  Then, to kick off Bike Month on May 1st, Governor O’Malley announced that College Park and the University of Maryland were awarded a state grant to establish a bike sharing program.

Efforts to bring bike sharing to College Park have long been in the works, and there have already been several failed attempts in the past few years, including a few associated with the federal stimulus (TIGER & TIGER II), and another one with the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority grant program.  So this victory has been hard fought and now that the state grant has been won, the city can move on and focus its efforts on designing and building a bike share program.

Important details about the proposed bike share program can be found in this Patch article.  The proposed College Park/UMD bike sharing program will be part of the Capital Bikeshare network.  Originally started in DC & Arlington less than two years ago (Sept. 2010), Capital Bikeshare has experienced explosive growth , with over 18,000 members and one million rides in its first year of operation. Later this year, Capital Bikeshare will expand into Alexandria and Rockville.  The city of Arlington has put together a fascinating report about its program, showing that 55% of CaBi trips would have been replaced by non-active transportation modes without bike sharing.

Not everyone is convinced that joining Capital Bikeshare would be the best use of the grant money.  Innovation doesn’t stand still, and smarter “next generation” bikes that don’t require docking stations could allow College Park to start a bike sharing program on a larger scale than operating within the confines of the CaBi network.  One example of this type of smarter bike sharing is the weBike system, started right here by UMD students for use at Mazza GrandMarc apartments.  On the other hand, with its runaway success, Capital Bikeshare has built up enough of a brand that it could be well on its way toward becoming a regional bike sharing standard.  Already, it would be difficult for elected officials in College Park and elsewhere in the DC metro area to justify using another bike sharing system, rather than simply joining Capital Bikeshare.

In any event, the fundamentals for bike sharing here in College Park have been very strong, given up to 40,000 UMD students within its borders who are moving around a large campus, with bike trails connecting the city, and a Metro station located over one mile away from campus that requires shuttle buses to move students back and forth.  Arguably, College Park had the strongest case for expanding Capital Bikeshare into Maryland, and the decision to make Rockville the first MD city instead was somewhat mystifying.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait for long to join as well.

It will take at least a year to get our bike sharing program up and running, so don’t expect to see the iconic red bikes around here before 2013.  According to Patch, the city has received a $375,000 grant that covers most of the costs for eight Capital Bikeshare stations.  We’ve created a map with  approximate locations for seven of the eight proposed bike stations below.

bikeShareMap2

At first glance, it looks like a reasonable proposal to get bike sharing off the ground in College Park.  But it’s only a start, and this city could soon support twice this number of stations in the coming years.  The University would get four stations at points of high activity: Stamp Student Union, McKeldin Library, Regents Parking garage, and Eppley Recreation Center.  The close proximity of the two stations at the Stamp and McKeldin could be cause for concern, and may lead to one of them being moved for better overall spacing of bike stations on campus.  Two of the four other proposed locations would be just outside campus, including one at the corner of Knox & Rt. 1 with the other at the Varsity Apartments by Northgate.  Another proposed bikeshare station would be at the College Park Metro, providing an important additional option for making trips back & forth between the UMD campus and the Metro station.

The eighth and final station would be located at the Hollywood Shopping Center up in North College Park, which isn’t shown on the map.  While this would be an exciting development for Hollywood residents, it’s also a curious  and even problematic choice, given the overall network of proposed stations.  This Hollywood station would be isolated from the others, with its closest neighbor over two miles away by the Varsity apartments.  Perhaps a station in North College Park could be considered a “placeholder” for further expansion of the Capital Bikeshare network.  Another grant awarded on May 1st was to evaluate the feasibility of establishing bike sharing just to the east in Greenbelt.  Hopefully bike sharing will expand into Greenbelt in the next several years, and a bikeshare station up in Hollywood could be installed along with others at the Greenbelt Metro station and the Greenbelt historic district.  Undoubtedly, a bikeshare station should eventually be placed in the Hollywood neighborhood, but it may be premature at the start of the College Park bike sharing program, given budget constraints and the other proposed locations.

It wouldn’t be hard to think of alternative locations for the eighth bike station; a dynamic map showing all the proposed locations, along with other ideas can be found here.  Some possibilities include the Berwyn neighborhood on the Trolley trail, or the Enclave apartments and/or Mazza apartments further up the Paint Branch Trail.  Another possibility would be M-Square, especially considering the new offices being built there, the car-oriented layout that’s developed over the years and a glaring need for additional options for biking & pedestrian access.  

Debate about bike sharing technology and station locations is just getting started and it’s hard to predict where the discussion will eventually lead.  We can be sure that decisions about the College Park/UMD bike sharing system will be closely watched throughout the DC region.  Already, the grant award announcement has sparked a number of reactions, indicating the intense interest in this topic. But whatever course the future takes, this represents the start of a new era for biking in College Park, when bike sharing offers UMD students and city residents another important transportation option to complete “last mile” trips.

One thing to keep in mind when considering the merits of the various CaBi stations on a map, is these are all still proposed locations.  What do you think of this proposal ?  Is this enough to get bike sharing established in College Park ? Where would you locate the bikeshare stations ?  Now is the time to weigh in, while things are still in the initial planning stage.  Let us know in the comments.