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Letter: Bike Share Now Needs City Money

To the Editor:

On May 14, I met with the other members of the Waterfront Commission. The city’s new bike share program headlined the docket. It seems that last October the City Council voted unanimously to authorize Alexandria to join the regional Capital Bike Share Network. Rich Baier’s pilot program was to be jump started using some $400,000 of federal grant funds so we wouldn’t ever have to pay anything. However, now we find out that on April 13, 2012 the Federal Highway Administration announced that federal funds could not be used for operating expenses associated with bike share programs. Therefore, the city intends to use $186,000 out of its Transportation Improvement budget to fund bike share’s operating expenses through Fiscal Year 2013. The actual cost of the bikes is $411,000 which is funded with two other grants. This latest information was not shared with the Waterfront Commission or anyone else for that matter until the Council Docket for May 22 was published. This total lack of transparency pales the imagination.

At that meeting we spent an hour and a half trying to resolve where the one waterfront bike share station should be located. The city staff wanted to “force feed” it between the Torpedo Art Center and the office building at 201 N Union Street. Since the Commission was not in favor of this location, eight other locations were proposed. The Commission did not endorse any of them. Additionally, two motions were tabled at that meeting. One was to disallow any bike share stations east of Fairfax Street. It failed. I personally tabled the other motion which was that “No bike share program will be initiated until the Union Street Corridor Traffic Plan is completed, with bike share included as one of the traffic inhibitors.” It also failed.

To date, this new concept has been touted as a great success in Arlington and the District of Columbia where there are some 190 stations holding some 1600 bikes. Users of these bikes can pick them up or drop them off at one of the stations by either registering on online or at a station.

The bike share program works well in both of those communities as the streetscapes and the traffic flow are conducive to their use. However, in an historic venue like Old Town Alexandria with its narrow streets already crowded with pedestrians, tour buses, metro buses, dash buses, delivery trucks, trolleys, garbage trucks, skate boarders, joggers, and cyclists, putting more bikes on our narrow streets is just an another impediment and not one that we would consider in our best traffic practices.

The city’s plan is to erect eight bike share stations holding some 70 bikes throughout Old Town. Four of the stations are on King Street, three others outside the Old and Historic District and one other to be decided on the waterfront. The locations are:

  1. King Street Metro station

  2. Braddock Road Metro station

  3. Intersection of King and West streets

  4. King Street between N. Patrick and N. Henry Streets

  5. Intersection of King and N. Royal streets

  6. Intersection of N. Union and Cameron streets (with eight alternatives)

  7. Near Trader Joe’s at the Intersection of Pendleton and N. St. Asaph streets

  8. Near the Henry building at Pendleton and N. Henry streets.

Why is it that the city government always tries to stuff 10 pounds into a five-pound bag? We were all witness to the multiple traffic problems expounded upon during all the Waterfront Planning meetings. This culminated in the Council adopting the Waterfront Work Group’s recommendation to develop the Union Street Corridor Traffic Plan as soon as possible.

Believe it or not the Old Town Civic Association has not even been briefed on the proposed implementation of the bike share program. In the interest of total transparency it would appear that the Old Town Civic Association should have been the first to be briefed, not the last. I have repeatedly said that if the City had not been given grant money they would have never embarked upon this program. Well, guess what, I was wrong, they have. They are now going to spend some of our tax dollars to do it. Isn’t it about time that we consider all the consequences of initiating such a program in view of our current traffic problems in the Old and Historic District and stop this folly. Just add this to the other campaign issues.

Townsend A. (Van) Van Fleet

Alexandria