The dining staples you'd expect to find on the street or in diners are becoming more and more upscale in the District of Columbia. What does that signal about the city to its longtime residents?
America’s long love affair with cars seems to be waning. Young professionals and empty-nesters alike are eschewing car ownership in favor of lives centered around walkable communities. When they need to, they’re turning to bikes, hourly car rentals and public transit to get around. And as more people choose to go car-free, businesses are popping up to provide new options.
- Ron Kirby Director of Transportation Planning, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG)
- Martin Austermuhle Editor-in-Chief, DCist.com
- Danielle Kurtzleben Business and Economics Reporter, U.S. News & World Report
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Many Americans spend their 16th birthday at the DMV. The ability to hit the open road, preferably in your own set of wheels, was a rite of passage, a mark of pride and, in many cases, a necessity. Now, though, the road isn't quite as open as it used to be, and more and more young people and quite a few older ones are trying to get by without owning a car at all.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIncreasingly, cities and counties are trying to make that easier with efforts to create complete streets where everyone -- driver, pedestrian and bicyclist alike -- has a place, and build denser developments with easy access to public transit. So just how easy is it to go car free in and around D.C.? Here to help us answer that question is Ron Kirby. He is the director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Ron Kirby, thank you for joining us.
MR. RON KIRBYThank you, Kojo. Good to be here.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Danielle Kurtzleben. She is the -- she's a reporter for U.S. News & World Report, the business and economics reporter. Danielle Kurtzleben, thank you for joining us.
MS. DANIELLE KURTZLEBENThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Martin Austermuhle is here. He is the editor-in-chief of DCist. Martin, good to see you again.
MR. MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEGood to see you, too.
NNAMDIRon, the D.C. region has seen a population boom in the past decade or so. Is the number of cars in the area growing at the same rate?
KIRBYIt's still growing but not quite at the same rate. And we are seeing a shift particularly in the age groups you mentioned -- 16 to 34 and 55 to 64 -- away from driving and toward walking and transit. And we've done regional surveys -- 1994 and then, most recently, 2007 and 2008. And between those two points in time, the 16-to-34 age group, the older driver or older passenger travel dropped by 7 percent. And the transit and walking increased by 7 percent and similar results for the 55-to-64 age group. The other groups didn't change too much. So the shift is really focused in those two groups.
NNAMDIDanielle, why do you think this is happening? Why do you think we're seeing this move away from cars both not only in this region but in general?
KURTZLEBENWell, that's one really interesting trend we're seeing. I mean, first of all, we're seeing it's an economic trend. Many people in several surveys have said it's just too expensive to have a car. You know, you pay not only for the car but for the registration, for the gas, for the upkeep.
KURTZLEBENBut also, especially on the younger end of the spectrum, you're seeing some attitude shifts, people just saying, you know, cars aren't as necessary as they once were and, furthermore, that there's sort of this idea -- the old idea that our grandparents and parents had of cars as making you independent, as being a fundamental American thing, that's not really there anymore, either. Younger people are simply choosing to spend their money on other things.
NNAMDIWhy do you think we're seeing this, Martin?
AUSTERMUHLEI honestly go for the practical explanation. I think living in D.C. -- I've been in D.C. for the last 10 years and noticed a shift amongst people my age. I think -- I mean, I'm a car owner. I've had a car for the time that I've been in D.C., but I've also recognized that, you know, to cost that up every time I take it in to get the oil change, something more comes up, and it's another couple hundred bucks that I'm spending.
AUSTERMUHLENow, ever since -- I also ride my bike a lot of places. There's Metro. But ever since car-sharing options became available and Bikeshare became available, it's a lot easier to connect between certain points that were, until this point, underserved by, let's say, Metro. So I think just the amount of options, it's really -- it's kind of undeniable that you -- with all the options that you have, why not take advantage of them?
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Do you have a car? If not, how do you get around? And if so, would you consider getting rid of the car that you own? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. Martin, you may just be the poster boy for different modes of transportation in this region. How do you get around in general, and how did you get here today, and how do you plan on leaving here today?
AUSTERMUHLESo I live across the park in Northern Columbia Heights, and the easiest way for me to get here isn't Metro because I have to take Metro downtown, transfer lines and then come back up. There's a cross-town bus, but they require some transfers. So I decided to take car2go, which is a new car-sharing service in the District. There's one right outside my house. I drove it here, parked it, didn't have to pay for parking, didn't have to pay for gas or insurance, and it's kind of -- it's off my hands. I'm done. I'm here. Hopefully, I'll take it back. The downside of the service is that...
NNAMDIBut you don't have to.
AUSTERMUHLEI don't have to.
NNAMDIYou could just leave it here.
AUSTERMUHLEI can take Bikeshare back. I can take Metro back. I can take car2go if it's still there. Like I said, I also own my own bike. I have my own car. I have my own two feet. I have a pair of rollerblades, but I can say is -- safely say I've never used those to commute, and I probably never will. And, yeah, I take Metro. I think the -- like I said earlier, the only things I haven't taken are the VRE and the MARC, but I'm sure at some point I'd like to.
NNAMDIYeah. You are, not just maybe. You are the poster boy for different modes of transportation in this region. Danielle, cost is one of the big reasons people cite for getting rid of a car. Just how much can you save, and is it worth it for everyone?
KURTZLEBENThat really depends. I mean, one big part of it is really where you live, and this is something that one transportation economist was talking to me about. If you live, you know -- like, looking at the District, if you live within the District, all of your trips are going to be within the District. I mean, that's going to save you quite a bit, but as we -- as a lot of us know with car-sharing, the longer you have it, the more those costs go up. If you live in the suburbs and you're, you know, commuting in every day, that really sends the cost spiraling upwards.
NNAMDIRon Kirby, how much can you save if you decide not to use a car?
KIRBYWell, if you decide not to use a car at all, you can save a substantial amount. And some of the data we got recently from areas around the region do show what Danielle just mentioned: enormous variability. But in this area around Logan Circle, the -- there are more bicycles owned there than there are vehicles in the household, which is interesting. Over half daily trips are by walking, 7 percent by bike compared to the regional average of 9 percent walking and 0.6 percent bike.
KIRBYSo this is really a very dramatically different situation. Now, people would say, wow, it's pretty expensive to live in that area. And it turns out that it's very heavily concentrated on this demographic of the younger folks. Over half the people living there are in this 16-to-34 age group. And half the households are single-person households. So there is a demographic factor here. But the right time of life and the right conditions, you can do without a car completely and put more into your housing.
NNAMDIIndeed, it can kind of make up for what you pay for the increased cost of housing in this area. If you can reduce the cost of your transportation, especially if you happen to be living in a walk-friendly neighborhood -- but a recent study just showed that the walk-friendly neighborhoods tend to be the more affluent neighborhoods in the city also, so there's a problem there. Let's talk with Mark in Silver Spring, Md. Don your headphones please and see what Mark has to say. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKYes. Thank you for taking my call. This is a really interesting and very relevant topic to me because I, until three months ago, owned a car that I really loved. It's a little Mini Cooper that I thought was just a great car, but I just got tired of paying all of the fees and the gas prices going up, et cetera, et cetera. So I bit the bullet and sold it. And now, I get everywhere on bicycle. And I will say that I am -- have never been healthier or wealthier. In some sense, you're wondering what my -- or what the cost that can be saved...
MARK...by getting rid of a car is. My cost, my car payments were $400 a month. I paid approximately $200 a month in gas, $100 a month in insurance, about, you know, $100 a month in parking tickets or whatever else might come along. And so that's about $800 a month, and that's a lot of money. So I have a 12-mile daily commute. I'm just about ready to hop on my bicycle right now, and I would recommend it to everyone.
MARKYou have to learn some street rules and things, but, you know, it's doable. We could do a lot in this area and other areas to increase cycling -- the awareness of motorists to cyclists 'cause motorists are still kind of ticked off when they see bicycles many times, especially outside of the city. But anyway, I...
NNAMDIBut you do have to deduct from that $800 a month you're saving the cost of bicycle maintenance and the -- do you have a SmarTrip card for Metro?
MARKYou know, I do have -- I have all of these cards. I have a car2go membership. But the truth is that the bicycle is so much faster to get places than Metro, and even then -- I would say even in car2go because I don't have to look for parking. I just park it wherever. So anytime I've done comparisons, I beat bus time, Metro time, certainly car times going into the city. It's much, much faster and...
MARKYeah. That's all I would have to say, but thank you very much for taking on this topic.
NNAMDIMark, thank you very much for your call. Martin Austermuhle, you've been running into a lot more people like Mark over the course of the past year or two.
AUSTERMUHLEOh, absolutely. I just think it's -- I mean, it's a natural transition. You move to the city. You recognize -- or you may have been in the city for a while and you just recognize that every year there's more and more reports about traffic getting worse and worse and worse. And, you know, why not take advantage of the fact that, number one, the weather here is generally pretty good.
AUSTERMUHLENumber two, there's more bicycle infrastructure both inside the city and outside of the city, so getting from Silver Spring to D.C., sure, there's times that you're going to be riding along roads, but there's times that you can jump on a bike path or something like the Capital Crescent Trail where it's just you and pedestrians. And that's D.C.'s argument. They're building more and more bike lanes and related infrastructure. And their argument is -- and the numbers have shown -- that the more you build, the more people will use it.
AUSTERMUHLEI think the city's Department of Transportation did a recent study on bike lane usage and said that cycling increased over the course of two years, I think, something like 200 percent to the point that certain bicycle lanes, like the one on 15th Street, which is two ways, a counter-flow lane, there's actually traffic jams. I mean, you get to a point where you have, like, lines of cyclists waiting to get across an intersection, which is -- it's a funny irony, in my opinion.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Are you considering getting rid of your car or going down to one car for your now two-car family? What's keeping you from doing it? 800-433-8850. Danielle, it turns out that this down economy has been good for car-sharing companies. Do you think they'll continue to grow even as the economy -- assuming that the economy improves?
KURTZLEBENFor a while, yes. Like we spoke about, like Ron spoke about, it can really save a lot of money. And, really, the reason that I think and that you have a lot of people thinking that they're going to continue to grow, aside from the economy, they're just so new -- in the U.S. at least. And, really, they haven't found the ceiling. Zipcar's numbers have been -- its growth has been really astronomical.
KURTZLEBENIts revenues I have growing from $31 million in 2006 to $242 million in 2011. That's huge. That's eightfold. Likewise, its membership has grown from 81,000 to 673,000. That's the most recent numbers available. But, yes, it looks like they just haven't bumped up against, you know, where that ceiling is just yet.
NNAMDIHere is Erik. He is in Columbia Heights in D.C. Erik, your turn.
ERIKHi. Yeah. Hi, Kojo. I'm actually in my car right now, but I'm really looking forward to the day I can get rid of it. And, you know, I think that what I've really benefited from is living close to where I work. I live in Columbia Heights, and I work in Adams Morgan. So it's a short walk, a bike ride for me. It's a -- you know, when I, you know, I'm looking at all the costs that I pay with my car, and the most action it usually gets moving from one side of the street to the other to avoid the street sweeping ticket.
ERIKSo, you know, I'm looking -- I'm probably going to get rid of it at the end of the summer, and I really just see no reason to have it in D.C. The trip I'm on right now I could have easily accomplished with car share or by ordering what I just bought, you know, over the Internet. So it's really not a necessity in D.C. anymore.
NNAMDIYou live in Columbia Heights and work in Adams Morgan. You don't even really need a bicycle, do you, in order to get to work?
ERIKNo. Well, I mean, you know, I did get caught in the rain the other night -- on Friday night on the way to work, so that was a little unpleasant. But, you know, every once in a while, that's not too terrible a trade-off.
NNAMDIOK, Erik, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on going car-free in and around D.C., and you can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you think we're less enamored with the very idea of car ownership as a society than we were, say, oh, a decade ago? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We are talking about going car-free in and around Washington. Our guests are Martin Austermuhle. He is the editor-in-chief of the DCist. Danielle Kurtzleben is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. She is a business and economics correspondent. And Ron Kirby is the director of Transportation Planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. You can shoot us an email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIKeith in Silver Spring says, "I've been without a car since 1986. I'm 56 years old now and couldn't be happier. I simply live and work where public transportation is well-established. If there is a place to go that needs a car to get there, I simply don't go. Being carless is not the detriment people think it is." But, Ron Kirby, I remember a time when people were defined by the kind of car they drive. It was not just a means of transportation. It was a form of self-identification. What ever happened to that?
KIRBYWell, I think there is value shift here, particularly in this younger age group. And I must say, in my generation, you had to have a car, not only whether you need it or not, but it was part of your, you know, maturity and your image. And these days, it seems that not having a car is the way to demonstrate maturity and image than that younger age group. It really is a difference. And I think cars are viewed more for utility purposes rather than any kind of image around you.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, based on recent studies, it seems money gets you access to, well, a lot of things. But one of them is easier transit. Are local governments and area developers making enough of an effort to address this inequality? I mentioned it earlier.
AUSTERMUHLEI mean, I don't think so, and I think those numbers came from a study from the Brookings Institution that was released last week.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd they found that the most walkable neighborhoods in D.C. were things like Georgetown and whatnot, and obviously the argument there as well, yeah, you can afford to be walkable. You can afford to have transit options. And that's a part of the difficulty here, is that you have -- you know, if you can't afford to live in D.C., which a lot of people can't a lot of the times, you're stuck in neighborhoods or you're stuck in parts of the region that don't have those same transit options.
AUSTERMUHLEThe one thing that the report did find, though, is that the people living in suburbs do -- and this makes sense -- they spend more on transportation than people in D.C. do. People in D.C. obviously spend a lot more in housing. So in some respects, it's a matter of balancing priorities. Like, if you don't have kids and you don't, you know, and you have a little more flexibility in your life, you could take the trade-off and say, I'm going to pay a little bit more for housing and have the, I guess, the options for transit. But not everybody can make that decision, not at this point, at least.
NNAMDIOn to Barry in Washington, D.C. Barry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BARRYYeah, I just wanted to put in a perspective of a -- someone in their mid-50s who -- with two kids in their early 20s who chose not to get their driver licenses, I commute every day on the Metro and use the Bikeshare. I got my membership in Zipcar and car2go, but, you know, D.C. is a great place to not have to have a car.
BARRYWe have one for car for my wife to commute to Baltimore, but, you know, it's a great town to get around without a car and not have to worry about parking. And, you know, we go to Arena Stage and Kennedy Center and do all the things that everybody needs to do. So I just wanted to throw that in.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. Danielle, I'd like you to also weigh in on the question of the inequality of access that exists in this area and whether or not local governments and developers can do more. And if so, what can they do?
KURTZLEBENSure. And this is something that Martin pointed to, this idea of the most walkable neighborhoods also being the most expensive. One thing that the Public Transit Association has told me that other economists, other policy experts have told me is that bike sharing really helps to increase access to those areas that are a little less expensive, but also, you know, 10, 15 minutes from the Metro. I know. I live in Bloomingdale, for example.
KURTZLEBENAnd we recently got bike sharing, and people were just ecstatic to get a bike sharing station in our neighborhood. It meant, you know, instead of a 10 to 12-minute walk to the Metro station, a three or four-minute bike ride. So I think not only there, but you look at a lot of neighborhoods in Washington, and it's the same sort of thing. You can just get around easier. It also promotes commerce in those neighborhoods, which eventually then raises rent, so that, you know, you almost have this vicious cycle going. But that may be another discussion.
NNAMDIRon, a lot of people rely on Metro to get to work but complain that maintenance work on weekends mean they don't want to rely on it then. Where does Metro fit into this car-free equation, so to speak?
KIRBYWell, Metro, particularly a Metrorail system is really fundamental to promoting more areas like downtown D.C., and we should, you know, think about other parts of the region where we might promote this kind of, you know, situation where people can walk and bike again. If you take an area like Tysons Corner, for example, which is being redeveloped around some anticipated new Metrorail stations, that's a place that has a lot of employment. It could have a lot more housing. It could be very walkable. It could have access to transit.
KIRBYAnd you could create conditions that also could attract younger professionals and so forth. So you could create a very different situation there than we have right now. And that's really part of our long-range planning objective for the region. And Metro is fundamental to that because it's the way of connecting up these centers and allowing people to do without vehicles. So we need to get Metro operating back, you know, in top notch reliable condition the way it was 20, 25 years ago, so we don't have these, you know, unreliable situations and also delays on the weekend because of construction.
NNAMDIMartin, where does Metro fit into the equation for you?
AUSTERMUHLESo, for me -- and I think this is the difference between how people in D.C. Metro see -- D.C. see Metro and people, let's say, in New York see their subway system. Metro, I think, is seen more as -- and I think it was developed as a system to bring people in from the suburbs into the core of the city where they work and then they head back out. I mean, I know people who take Metro within the city.
AUSTERMUHLEBut it's not the sort of thing -- it's not my primary choice of transportation if I'm going out on a Friday night and I want to get from point A to point B. Especially now with weekend track work, Metro is not the way to go for me. And I think all these new alternatives have made D.C., which in and of itself is a very small, you know, transit-friendly city, it's given everybody options, which I think were needed. I mean, the good example is to get from Georgetown to Foggy Bottom -- I mean, to Georgetown to DuPont, let's say.
AUSTERMUHLEThere's no Metro in Georgetown, so, I mean, you can take a bus. But with Bikeshare now, it's like a five-minute bike ride. And this is something that's -- it's not a very revolutionary concept, but it's really to redefine how people get around. And it's giving them options that they didn't think they had before.
NNAMDIOn to Rick in Arlington, Va. Rick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICKYeah. I moved into D.C. from Maryland in '06, and I've been living on -- off of South Dakota and Rhode Island. And I had a car. And my car kept getting broken into, so I just decided I was giving up the car. And I walked from South Dakota and Rhode Island down to M and 23rd. And then I moved to Arlington. And I'm near the Virginia Square Metro. I've taken the Virginia -- the Metro down to 23rd and then to Foggy Bottom. But I have learned that I can walk.
RICKRather than sitting for an hour or two watching television, I just take that walk. And I've walked through Georgetown into DuPont on P Street and coming back. And after a while, you build up your strength, and you can take those walks. And if I get tired, I can catch a bus if the Metro's fouled up. But one -- another thing I wanted to make is I walk on the sidewalks. And one time it was raining, I had my umbrella open. It was pouring down rain. And suddenly, this man on a bicycle was behind me, screaming at me to move over, and I...
NNAMDIOn the sidewalk?
RICKOn the sidewalk. And, you know, suddenly, people call me mild-mannered, and I just -- I blew up...
NNAMDIYou lost it.
RICK...screaming at him. Well, then a few months later, it's a sunny day, and I was actually out for a pleasure walk and this guy who rode by me on a bicycle and hit my left arm. And I was so stunned, and I grabbed my arm and I'm going, what just happened? And he was -- he kept on pedaling, screaming behind him, are you OK? And I'm just, uh huh, I guess so.
RICKAnd I was just, what just happened? You know, so the bicyclist -- and I used to ride a bicycle. I used to ride a bicycle from Riverdale, Md...
NNAMDIWe all did.
RICK...down Rhode Island Avenue when the people with the big cars would...
NNAMDIWould you think that bicycles need a little more decorum? We got an email from Jonathan. Rick, it says, "I grew up in New York City and didn't even have a driver's license until I was almost 22 because I didn't need one. Similarly, D.C. has an amazing public transit system. Living in D.C. or the immediate surrounding area, if I can't use my feet, then bus or Metro worked just fine. For those out of the way places, well, between friends, Zipcar and Hertz On Demand," which we haven't mentioned yet, "I've -- I'm always covered.
NNAMDI"It doesn't make financial sense to own a car. It's more of burden than something that offers freedom." But then Jonathan offers this P.S., "We need bikers to get some kind of license. Some of them are really pretty awful." But that's another topic. I guess you hear that a lot, don't you, Martin?
AUSTERMUHLEI get that a lot, but I'm -- I consider myself a relatively law-abiding cyclist. If there's any cops listening, I'm a very law-abiding citizen, in fact.
AUSTERMUHLEBut, no, I mean, the caller had a good point. There's nothing more frustrating than walking along and seeing a cyclist take up a space of sidewalk, which isn't technically illegal in a lot of parts of the District. And I don't think it's a terrible idea in certain parts of the District, as long as you're cautious, as long as you recognize the pedestrians have the right-of-way.
AUSTERMUHLENow, if you're riding, you know, down Pennsylvania Avenue or, like, the core of downtown D.C. on the sidewalk going 35 miles an hour at the height of rush hour, that's a problem. And I think you should be yelled at. And, yeah, I think cyclists, they don't need licenses. They just need manners.
NNAMDIWell, drivers do have licenses, and I'm just wondering, Danielle, a lot of people do complain about bicyclists. But I don't know if anybody has conducted a study. Is the proportion of cyclists who are bad cyclists any larger than the proportion of drivers who are bad drivers?
KURTZLEBENThat's a real...
NNAMDIAnd drivers are licensed.
KURTZLEBENThat's a really good question. I do know that one of the biggest bike sharing systems in the world, in Paris, it's the Velib system. It has tens of thousands of bikes. It's huge. But when it first started, they -- fatalities and injuries shot up. I mean, because you have people with this option open to them, and they say, OK, yes. I'm going to get on a bike and ride out in traffic and, you're right, without a license.
KURTZLEBENAnd so that is a major question that even some bike proponents really question it, especially when you think there's a sort of trade-off. People really promote the public health side of bikesharing, of, you know, it burns calories. It gets you out exercising, et cetera. OK, but, you know, you're ruining your health if you get hit by a car or run off the road.
NNAMDIYeah. That can have an adverse effect on you.
NNAMDIRon Kirby, for those who are commuting by car and for whom there are not good alternatives, there are efforts to relieve congestion underway. The recently completed ICC in Maryland is one that has been both praised and panned. Are we likely to see more projects like it?
KIRBYNot a whole lot. The funding isn't really there for those kinds of major projects, and that one is heavily supported through toll revenue and borrowing funds from the future and borrowing -- getting money from other toll facilities. So I think a lot of those road expansions are going to be tolled to the extent that we can, you know, that we can have them.
KIRBYAnd that's why we have to make better use of what we have, both the highway system and the transit system, and also to deal with this issue we've been talking about in terms of different people competing for the same space, pedestrians, bicyclists and automobile users. And as we get more usage of walking and biking, which I think we are going to see, it's all the more important that we make sure we have proper enforcement, proper facilities and so forth.
KIRBYAnd just one statistic that really troubles us is that at this point in time, walking and biking account for about 10 percent of the trips in the region, 30 percent of the fatalities on an annual basis, so disproportionately high number of people are being killed, you know, walking and biking relative to driving. So this is a major issue for us.
NNAMDIRon Kirby. He's the director of Transportation Planning of the Metropolitan Washington Council of government. Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News and World Report. And Martin Austermuhle is the editor-in-chief of DCist. They join us in studio. You, too, can join the conversation. Call us at 800-433-8850. If you're taking a short trip or running an errand that's close by, what is your preferred mode of transportation? 800-433-8850. Here is Stella in Reston, Va. Stella, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STELLAOh, hi, Kojo. I'm a big fan of biking, but I have a baby at the same time. So I'm just wondering -- any of the guests who would have any insight whether the bike sharing program would extend the service to the so-called cargo bikes, which are very popular in Europe where they can really, like, drive around with babies, with your guitar, anything?
NNAMDICargo bikes, Martin Austermuhle. Know any plans for...
AUSTERMUHLEI haven't heard of any plans. I mean, they're still trying to figure out how to encourage people to wear helmets when they use Capital Bikeshare, so I don't know that they're going to get to the kid-friendly options yet. It's a good idea. The issue would be -- it's -- a system as big as Bikeshare is, it's some -- it's about 1,200 bikes at 165 stations. Where would you put these kind of, like, kid-friendly options so people can get their kids on the bikes and go?
AUSTERMUHLEBut, yeah, it does highlight the fact that if you have kids -- and I don't have kids, so I have the flexibility that I do. But if you have kids, you know, car2go is not that great 'cause they're smart cars, so they're tiny. Capital Bikeshare, you can't -- you shouldn't put a kid on your handle bars. I mean, you can if you want to. It's not recommended, though.
NNAMDIWhat has been your observation in Europe, Danielle?
KURTZLEBENTo be honest, I'm not quite sure what Europe has done in terms of putting kids on bikes, but I...
KURTZLEBENRight. Cargo bikes. I will say that if you do have cargo bikes, you add, I would think, to the redistribution problem, which is a huge cost for a bikesharing system because, you know, getting all of those bikes -- they get piled up in Dupont Circle, back out to where they started. If you have to redistribute all of those cargo bikes to, you know, good places where there are lots of children, I would imagine that would add a lot to the effort of redistribution.
NNAMDIStella, doesn't look like it's going to be happening in the short run. But with people like you advocating for it, we can never know what'll happen in the long run.
STELLAYeah. Yeah. Hopefully, I will see it soon 'cause it's very expensive. I'm thinking of getting myself, but it's like $2,000 apiece.
NNAMDIOoh. OK. Well...
NNAMDIGood luck to you, Stella, and thank you for your call. Janice in Mount Rainier, Md. Janice, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JANICEYeah. I -- first of all, I love, I love, I love, I love what you're talking about. I've been in a long-distance commuter marriage with someone in Raleigh, N.C. And when Megabus started up, I was on their virgin voyage. And I now go to Union Station, which has the most incredible hub for getting out of the city. I take the MARC train up to Baltimore. I take Megabus down to Raleigh. I take the BoltBus up to New York.
JANICEAnd so there are all these great options that you can now take as far as if you don't want to drive long distances 'cause it's so much cheaper, and Amtrak has gotten so expensive, so all of these wonderful bus companies have come in and have, you know, created this fantastic market. I was on a train down to Raleigh, and this guy sitting next to me was taking the Megabus -- I'm sorry, I was on the bus down to Raleigh, and this guy was taking the bus down to Richmond for Valentine's Day just to visit his girlfriend.
JANICEAnd I would -- it created this audience and this population, I think, that has always been out there but now has ways to get around using the bus...
NNAMDIOf course, Janice, you know what the danger is in carrying on this long-distance relationship using these buses is that you could end up in a long-distance relationship with a bus driver.
JANICEWell, I don't have to worry about that, but it has been fantastic. And the other option is you can always bring a folding bike. And once you get off the David Byrne's book, "Bicycle Diaries," and it just talks exactly about that where he takes his bike wherever he does a gig and he goes out on this little folding bike or his large folding bike and is able to explore. So I'm a huge proponent of bike and bikesharing 'cause I have a bike, and I get around the city on bike as well.
NNAMDIOh, thank you very much, and I should point out, we do have a link to safety guidelines for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers on our website, kojoshow.org, for those of you who have that concern. You can find some information there. Janice, thank you very much for your call. Here now is Rob in Washington D.C. Hi, Rob.
ROBHey, Kojo. Yeah, I wanted to second that notion that just came up of folding bikes. I have those, and you can bring them on a train with you during rush hour where you can't a regular bike.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about folding bikes, Martin?
AUSTERMUHLEI think folding bikes are fantastically convenient. I -- I mean, personally -- and I'll sound elitist -- but I'm going to go ahead and say it. I think they're a little -- look a little dorky, but they are fantastically convenient.
AUSTERMUHLEThe other option you can have is -- it's called the bike with couplers, and basically it's this, like, piece of metal that you can take the frame apart. It's a normal-sized bike. But you take the frame apart and you can store it in a suitcase, so that's good for long-distance travel. But, yeah, folding bikes are a wonderful solution for an everyday commuter.
NNAMDISee, what's happening here, Ron, is that we are transferring our aesthetic preferences for cars to bicycles now. Rob, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on going car-free in and around Washington, D.C. If you haven't called yet, the number is 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation about going car-free in and around D.C. We're talking with Danielle Kurtzleben. She is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Martin Austermuhle is the editor-in-chief of DCist. And Ron Kirby is the director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Karen, who says, "This is a very male-centric conversation. What about barriers some women face dealing with clothes, shoes and hair issues made more complicated if they don't drive to work?" I would ask Martin to answer that question, but I suspect he doesn't have a great (unintelligible).
AUSTERMUHLENo. I've actually got a really good answer to that one, surprisingly.
NNAMDISee, I knew it. I just -- yes.
AUSTERMUHLEWell, if you've looked at Capital Bikeshare bikes, they don't look like normal bikes. Like, there's not a top tube that slants kind of, you know, up.
AUSTERMUHLEIt goes downwards. And basically, the reason that that was developed, it's easier to step over the bike, and actually it makes it easier for women 'cause I understand that the issue would be -- admittedly not a woman. I don't wear skirts, so I don't understand by experience, but that the problem is stepping over a bike in a skirt is more challenging than it would be in a suit, let's say in pants, so that...
KURTZLEBENOh, absolutely, and I do bike to work every day, usually rain or shine, and it's -- yeah, you're right. It's a challenge if you're wearing a dress or a skirt. I've seen women biking around in heels even, which is...
KURTZLEBENYeah. Hair issues, helmets, that's a good point. Well, if you're riding Bikeshare, sadly, you may not be wearing a helmet. But I know a lot of workplaces, of course, have locker rooms, and that's how I know a lot of women deal with it. You bike to work, and you do it all there.
NNAMDIRon Kirby, D.C.'s new sustainability plan calls for three-quarters of all trips in the city to be taken by foot, bicycle or public transit by the year 2032, 20 years hence. Do you think that's feasible?
KIRBYBut there are a lot of things happening that I think will definitely move the District in that direction. Whether it'll quite get to that point remains to be seen. But you're combining here kind of development patents, housing and jobs being close together. There's more commercial activity within walking distance, and then we have these great new options of Bikeshare and car- sharing along with Metro.
KIRBYSo, you know, relative to where we were 10 years ago, it's a different ball game altogether. And so I think, if these -- particularly bike sharing and car-sharing, if Danielle is right and they're going to grow and they haven't reached their peak by any means, then there's a lot of opportunity there.
NNAMDIMartin, think we can do this in 20 years?
AUSTERMUHLEAgain, I think it's ambitious, but I think if you think of it just outside of the realm of transit, like what's being said, it's not just about transits. It's about how a city develops. And the city is considering a zoning plan that would allow more corner stores, kind of more commerce in neighborhoods itself, and the whole idea is five-minute living that I don't have to walk.
AUSTERMUHLEI don't have to take a bus or I don't have to drive to get, like, some basic supplies, to get butter and milk. I can go to a corner store that may not have been there a couple years ago. And the more that neighborhoods gain that sort of neighborhood level retail, I think that the less that people are going to have to start using cars and bus and Metro, even bikes to get around. I mean, you walk at the corner store, and you do -- and you buy what you need to buy, and you come home.
NNAMDII know if I'm around then, by then, they'll probably have snatched my driver's license anyway.
NNAMDISo, yes, I'll be looking forward to this initiative and this build out. Here is Elizabeth in Georgetown in D.C. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHPoint of view. Those of us who are older than all of your callers no longer ride bikes. And I find that having my car in an area where you never find a parking place, it was easier for me to sell my car. I walk all over Georgetown, even though I often use a cane. And then when I need to, I take a cab. And I think this is much cheaper for me, even though a cab can be a bit of a luxury.
NNAMDIGoing up all the time.
ELIZABETHBut -- yes. And I wanted to add a comment about that. I think the cab drivers should have to study a map because I always have to direct them where I want to go in the city because I know shortcuts. But I do think we've got to have more of a carless society, and many of my friends, like I, have dispensed with the car. And another thing, I heard one of the young ladies speak about Amtrak.
ELIZABETHWhen I was young, in New Jersey, we had trains going all over, and I actually commuted to high school on a train. And there used to be a train to West Virginia that Theodore Roosevelt used. I read about that. He and all the people who lived at that time in Washington -- it was rather swamp-like in the summer. So they would go to West Virginia for the -- I heard about this when I was out in a place called Capon Spring.
ELIZABETHAnd I'd like to know why we don't have all those trains any longer because you can still see the tracks here and there. But I think we've got to revive trains. Even short distances like that would be wonderful. That's all. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. In a related email we got from Mary, "Have any of the experts looked at the impact of our current education reforms on the use of cars? With each wave of school closings and the expansion of charters, more and more families are being forced to drive to school. It seems crazy to me that we're spending millions to get people out of cars and then spend millions on education policy that is forcing parents back into cars to get their kids to school. I live in Ward 5 where only 25 percent of children are attending a school in walking distance." Martin Austermuhle.
AUSTERMUHLEI mean, it's a challenge, but it's also -- I think the D.C. Council is slowly starting to appreciate the magnitude of that challenge by giving -- they'd like to give residents of particular neighborhoods preferential access to charter schools in those neighborhoods. Right now, it's basically first come, first serve. It's a lottery pick.
AUSTERMUHLEBut if you have a really good charter school in Ward 5, they're saying that maybe Ward 5 residents should have access for their kids first before anybody else 'cause, yeah, it's true. It doesn't make sense that, you know, you will have kids going from Ward 7 all the way across Ward 3 to get to a good public school. I mean, that's the reality of how the schools have developed in the District, but it's a challenge for any parent, I imagine.
NNAMDIAnd, Danielle, our last caller talks about why are there not more trains going places anymore? Here in the District, we're talking about street cars, and Ron said earlier that there's not likely to be a whole lot more money for highways and the like. So do you see rail as the -- part of the wave of the future?
KURTZLEBENI would be hesitant to say that, in part just because, you know, we've been talking a lot about within -- I suppose you could call it the D.C. bubble. Within the bubble of a city, I think, in general, you can sort of say that people are happy to go car-free to, you know, go about the city. But it seems, from what research I've done, from the people I've spoken to, that you get outside of a city and people really like their cars. They want that independence.
KURTZLEBENAnd plus, the rail network in this country is just -- we really don't have much of it, especially when you compare us to Europe, to most other countries. You can get to the middle of nowhere on a train or a bus. Here, you know, try to get out to Nebraska right now, that's -- it's going to run you a lot of money, and it's going to take a couple of days.
NNAMDIOn to Eric in Alexandria, Va. Eric, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICGood afternoon, Kojo. Yes. I wanted to make two points. Obviously, in the last few years, Washington, D.C., Arlington, Alexandria specifically, have made great progress in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. But I think that it is really paramount that, in infrastructure project, these concerns are really integral and equal part in the planning from the beginning. And I believe that is not the case right now.
ERICSo, you see, these things cannot put on top, and they don't fit in. And, you know, you end up destroying the projects. And my other comment is that I think many people tend to see pedestrians or bicycles on the roads or crossing the streets, they see them as causing congestion. But, really, who's causing congestion is the cars.
ERICAnd these complaints about lack of parking spaces when, you know, some -- one- or two-car parking spaces doorway, too many (word?) for 10 or 20 bicycle parking spaces. That's really, I think, a little bit misguided because that is really win-win for the community. These people all have money that they are taking to those stores as opposed -- you know. And it's 10 or 20 -- I mean, 10 times as many…
NNAMDIOK. Let me have Ron Kirby address the part of your question about planning.
KIRBYYeah, that's a very good question that was brought up. That gentleman lives in Alexandria, which was developed before the automobile and where you have sidewalks in some of the inner jurisdictions. But an awful lot of that region was developed around the automobile, with cul-de-sac developments, you know, no sidewalks, limited connectivity of streets and so forth.
KIRBYAnd, as a matter of fact, we've just adopted a -- regionally a complete streets policy to encourage all of the local jurisdictions and state agencies to, when they're upgrading streets or building new ones, to provide for all users, walking, bicycling and so forth, which has not been the case over the past 25, 30 years. In fact, in the '50s, it was actually -- it was a prohibition against using road money for sidewalks.
KIRBYYou could only use it for the roadway. Then we got into, well, it's permissible. And now we're getting into you better do it. So that's a big change from where we were. But we have an awful lot of the infrastructure, as the caller pointed out, where sidewalks are just not there, and it's expensive to retrofit them. So it's going to be a slow process in some parts of the area.
NNAMDIEric, thank you very much for your call. Danielle, with all of the conversations we've been having about bicycles popping up and red bikes popping up across the region, people might think that Capital Bikeshare is making a financial killing. What's the reality?
KURTZLEBENThe reality is that, quite simply, it's not. When it comes to operating expenses and revenues, they're roughly breaking even. I mean, any given month, they might say, you know, they're coming out ahead or a little bit behind. But then you add in the capital costs, the -- how much it costs to put in one of those stations, how much cost to buy all of those really hefty bikes, and it shoots up.
KURTZLEBENAnd it's not just D.C., to be fair. Really, like in any other city, with any other city's bike sharing program -- or, really, a lot of public transit programs in general -- it's just hard to turn a profit. The question is, how much does that matter? And that's a question of philosophy, really.
NNAMDIYeah. When I first came here to Washington, D.C., we had a bus system that was owned by one individual, and I couldn't believe that public transit could be owned by one individual and be for the purpose of making a profit. Martin, you were born in Switzerland, and in that part of the world, people don't expect public transit to turn a profit.
AUSTERMUHLENo. It's a very American concept, in my opinion, that they look at Amtrak and they say, well, why isn't Amtrak breaking even? Why isn't Metro breaking even? They should be making money. And I just don't think it works that way. And the interesting thing is also talking about values and how that ties into the discussion. We don't ever walk out onto the street and look down at the roadway and say is that roadway making profit?
AUSTERMUHLELike, how much money did that road make the country this year because we just assume that people come out, they pave the roads, and it's, like, our God-given right. It happens for free, right? And if you apply the same economic standards to, I think, roadways as you did with the bike sharing systems, to sort of any mass transit, I think you'd have a much fuller discussion about costs and benefits.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd I think it's true. Bikeshare might only be breaking even, but if you start factoring, you do full cost accounting and you say, all right, that means you've gotten a couple hundred people out of their cars. What does that mean economically moving forward? And that's -- it's a tough discussion to have.
NNAMDIHere's Kyle in Arlington, Va. Kyle, your turn.
KYLEHi, guys. Great show so far. I've loved all the information you've been sharing with everybody. I wanted to point out that I -- some of you in the car-free world might know me as Car-free Kyle. In Arlington County, we have a program that's been online for some time now involving a car-free diet challenge where originally we ask individuals to come in and live without a car for a month. I was one of those individuals last year and ended going without a car and just seeing what it was like.
KYLEAnd the whole thing was categorized -- or was put up through webisodes, as well as blogs and tweets and whatnot. And now, me -- myself and, like, three other guys who have done the challenge over the years have created "The Car-Free Diet Show." You can see it all from the carfreediet.com, where we implement various humoristic takes as well as important knowledge on living without a car. Well, I know that while this is just based on Arlington County, it applies heavily to the surrounding areas, as well as Washington, D.C. and Maryland.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call, Car-free Kyle.
KYLEOK. Thank you, guys.
NNAMDIFiguring out, Ron, what it takes to get people out of their cars has long been tough, in part, because, well, people like the idea, but the reality may not be one they're comfortable with. How do you get around that and make room for everyone on the road? We've had a number of complaints about people on bicycles. There are people who have fears of being hit by a car. How do you do this? How do you get people out of their cars?
KIRBYWell, getting them out of their cars is a big challenge because you need a combination of the right kind of development and the availability of, you know, alternative modes. And as we've been discussing, that exists in certain areas in the region. In other areas, you know, it just doesn't and...
NNAMDIHow do we get complete streets?
KIRBYWell, one step at a time. Every street we look at, every time we change it, every time we repair it, there's an opportunity to go back and make it more usable for everybody. So I think the important thing here is to have this long-term vision that this is where we want to go. So every time we do something, whether it's today or next week or next month, we're following that long-term goal. And if we do that, you know, eventually, there will be a lot more opportunity.
NNAMDIOn to Lauren in Northern, Va. Lauren, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAURENOK. Hi, Kojo. I love your show, and I listen all the time. I actually walked for two years, didn't have a car by choice. And I'm actually in Herndon, but I work downtown. And that was great for me physically. I was walking about 40 miles a week, so it's just a really good thing. I have a car now and, you know, but I use it sparingly. But I did want to say one thing about the bicyclists.
LAURENI actually got hit twice by people on bikes, once on a path in Reston and once in Georgetown. And somebody -- you know, I mean, he came barreling into me, and he knocked me down. And I had blacks and blues. And, you know, it was a very traumatic thing. So I just -- to suggest that people have bells and horns and, you know, ways to indicate they're behind you. 'Cause, now, I can't...
NNAMDIRunning out of time very quickly. Allow me to have Martin Austermuhle respond in 20 seconds or less. The animosity between bicyclists and drivers and pedestrians, are we moving towards an accord here?
AUSTERMUHLEI think so. I mean, basically, the more bicyclists you have on the road -- you're right. You're going to have more conflict between cyclists and drivers, but I think, eventually, we all come to an understanding. This is how we evolved as humanity. We get into a lot of fights, and then we decide the fighting isn't worth all the time and the energy, so we decide to compromise. And I think the compromise, it's not here yet, but we're getting there.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, he is the editor-in-chief of DCist. Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Danielle, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIRon Kirby is the director of Transportation Planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Ron, thank you for joining us.
KIRBYThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd, Martin, always a pleasure. Get home safely.
AUSTERMUHLEI will. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Summer slide, or the learning loss that occurs for students over summer break, is a problem affecting low-income youth in particular. How can educators, librarians, parents, and school systems fight it, and ensure young people stay intellectually engaged over the summer months?
Phoenix School in Montgomery County, Md. opened in 1979 to support students recovering from addiction. The school shut down in 2013, but advocates say it should reopen in response to the local opioid crisis.
Roosevelt Island, which lies between D.C. and Arlington in the Potomac River, recently reopened after the removal of about 200 diseased trees that were under attack by an invasive bug species -- the Emerald Ash Borer.