Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we're at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Capital BikeShare, the bicycle-sharing program in the Washington region, launched four years ago and is widely seen as a success. But similar efforts in other urban areas are falling flat. Gabe Klein, the District’s former transportation director, joins Kojo to explore the dynamics at work in the adoption of bicycle sharing in D.C. – and what they say about the evolving nature of public transportation infrastructure.
- Gabe Klein Fellow, Urban Land Institute; Former Director, District of Columbia Department of Transportation; Former Commissioner, Chicago Department of Transportation
A Look At Capital Bike Share
Trips By Month
The number of trips in Washington, D.C., shown in this graph, tends to dip during the colder months and peak during the summer.
All data from Capital Bike Share
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It can get tiresome comparing Washington D.C. to the world's other great cities, places like New York, Chicago, Paris. But when it comes to transportation, there's a conversation taking place right now about these places that's provoking questions a little bit fresher than: Why can't you get a good bagel in D.C.? Or why don't art critics give the Washington region more respect? It's about bicycle sharing.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFour years ago, jurisdictions in the D.C. region launched an ambitious program to make bicycles available for short-term rent at stations scattered across the area. Capital Bikeshare is now popular both with tourists looking to peddle around the monuments and with yearly members who use the shared bikes for their daily commutes. Meanwhile, a new bicycle-sharing program in New York is struggling to gain traction. And the mayor there is already talking about the ill effects of publicly bailing out the system to shore-up its finances.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut some say the concerns about the profitability of bike sharing miss the point. But this is about rethinking the idea of public transportation infrastructure altogether, not simply building ridership and collecting fees. We're joined this hour by the person who spearheaded projects to bring bicycle sharing to the Washington D.C. area as well as Chicago. Gabe Klein joins us in studio. He's now a fellow at the Urban Land Institute. He's former director of the District of Columbia's Department of Transportation and the former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation. Gabe Klein, good to see you again.
MR. GABE KLEINGreat to see you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation with Gabe Klein. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. What do you think of the Washington region's bicycle-sharing system? What do you think it contributes to the area? Do you use it? Why? If not, why not? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIGabe, in many ways, this is a story that starts not here in D.C., but in Paris, a place that artists and writers and chefs and musicians from all over the world have turned to for inspiration. What did you see going on in Paris when it launched its bicycle-sharing program, oh, some seven years ago, that made you think, this should be taking place in D.C.?
KLEINWell, Paris had a very ambitious plan. And there had been some, you know, very small systems around Europe. But when Paris said they wanted to put out, you know, 10,000 to 20,000 bicycles, it was something that everybody took notice of that was either into transportation or was working in government, because it was so ambitious, so large scale. And actually before I even started with D.C. government, Dan Tangherlini and Adrian Fenty had a small pilot for SmartBike DC. And some people might remember, they had smaller wheels in the front, bigger wheel in the back, little red bikes.
KLEINThere were only ten stations, so it was very much a pilot with Clear Channel. And so people had seen it, they'd seen a taste of it. And when I came in, I really wanted to grow it. And so did Adrian and Dan. But Clear Channel didn't want to grow it. And so we looked at what Paris was doing. They had used this advertising model to fund it. And we realized that we wanted to take a different approach, since we couldn't rely on the advertising partner that we had. And at the same time we were looking at the model, a new form of bike-share systems was coming out that was not attached to the street.
KLEINSo you didn't have to go through a construction project, like they did in Paris, or we had to go through with SmartBike. And you could literally just place these things in less than an hour. They were solar powered. They were modular. You could move them. You could expand them. And so it was a very exciting time to start looking at this type of program.
NNAMDITo be clear, what was the philosophy that the Paris bike share program was built on, as far as how people travel and how they want to do it?
KLEINWell, you know, I think what happened was the mayor of Paris at the time had gone to Lyon. And Lyon actually had one of the first larger systems. It was obviously a lot smaller city than Paris. And so the mayor saw it working there. And I believe it was in partnership with JCDecaux, the large advertising company.
KLEINAnd said, you know what? We can do this in Paris. He had a vision. And a vision is the first thing that you have to have. And he had that. And he put together the partnership with JCDecaux and launched it. And the idea was to have an extension of the public transit system, the trains and the busses. And to give people a flexible, fun, healthy way for that last and first mile.
NNAMDIWhat kind of statement do you think Paris made by pursuing this kind of program in the first place? Building new infrastructure in a city as old and as beautiful as Paris is not an easy thing to sell.
KLEINIt's not. And here's the thing. You know, I actually wrote an article in The Atlantic Cities today about change.
NNAMDII saw it.
KLEINAnd change is hard. And I think we're always learning how to make change. And that vision is really important, selling people on that vision. And sometimes you're going to have to overcome the shrill minority of detractors, you know? And there's always going to be that. And you have to look at what's best for the city for the long term. So the mayor of Paris did that. The mayor of D.C. did that. And then other mayors around the country have followed suit. And now there's, you know, probably 30 large bike-share programs in the United States.
NNAMDIOur guest is Gabe Klein. He's a fellow at the Urban Land Institute, former director of the District of Columbia's Department of Transportation and former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation. If you have questions or comments, give us a call. 800-433-8850. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there.
NNAMDIWhere do you think bicycles and bicycle sharing should fit into the Washington region's public transportation infrastructure. You can also send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Gabe, it's my understanding that when you first tried to get the D.C. program off the ground, you ran into a delay of about 18 months. What went wrong? And why is it that you say that the delay was ultimately beneficial to the launch?
KLEINWell, actually, in D.C., we launched -- okay, initially we had a delay because Clear Channel didn't want to expand the existing SmartBike system. And the reason that that was a blessing in disguise was that the new generation of systems was better...
KLEIN...considerably better and less intrusive. So it didn't affect businesses as much. It was much easier to deploy quickly and to scale. And as we've seen with Capital Bikeshare, because when I left there were 100 stations, now I think there's 305 stations in all three states. So it's a regional system. And that's one of the things I'm proudest of. Arlington, by the way, was a big partner in this. They really started the procurement for this. And so the fact that it was a regional system that then could be expanded via contract to Montgomery County and Alexandria, has been very important.
KLEINAnd we let the public pick the name, which I thought was great. You know, again, talking about change management, if you let the public play a really active role in decision making, whether it's site selection or whether it's naming the system, I think it really has long-term benefits. And the people here feel like it's their system and they own it.
NNAMDIYou mentioned it's solar powered. When you say that new technologies evolved that accelerated the development of the D.C. system, is that one of the things you're talking about?
KLEINSolar power is probably the biggest, because prior to that we had to negotiate with Pepco. And Pepco wanted to put a meter -- and they did put a meter on every SmartBike station. So each of those stations ended up being a $70,000 project versus with the Capital Bikeshare system, literally we had to truck in a crane and we dropped it into place, turned it on, and that was it. And it was off and running. So solar power was huge.
KLEINAlso the fact that you didn't have to do any construction, you can just lower it down on the sidewalk and its own weight held it there. And then that you could expand it. So there are now stations that have, you know, 50 docks for bikes, like at the Nationals ballpark. Or, you know, when there are large events down at the mall, we can literally, physically move stations down there.
NNAMDIWhat was the biggest piece or were the biggest pieces of investment required to get started here?
KLEINWell, there's the capital investment. And you brought up the New York model versus the D.C. and Chicago model. The fundamental difference there -- I mean, obviously contractually there are a great many differences with the operator -- but we decided that, unlike the advertising model and the New York model, we were going to use federal money -- 80 percent federal money. We're in a region that qualifies for what's called CMAQ money, which is Congestion, Mitigation, Air-Quality money. And we realized that this was the absolutely perfect use of that money.
KLEINSo the feds covered 80 percent. The initial outlay for the District taxpayers was $1.2 million. When was the last time you saw an entire transit system -- and that's how we view it, as a transit system -- get off the ground for $1.2 million?
NNAMDIAh, I think that was in 1932.
KLEINRight. Right. And now it's -- in the District, it's self sufficient from operations. With the advertising and sponsorship that DDOT's going to have, it's going to make money.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Collette in New York City. "Why is New York City's Citi Bike branded by Citibank, while D.C. Capital Bikeshare is unbranded? I think that the branding of New York's bikes detracts from the program's identity as a public good and contributes to visual clutter in an already advertising-saturated city."
KLEINWell, it's a tradeoff. I mean, I actually would argue with the person who wrote the email that there's nothing wrong with getting a sponsor. And I think the structure of the New York City deal for Bike-share is actually a good one. I think that you're testing something new like that in the largest city in the United States, and it's bound to have some problems and issues. And what they need to do is recalibrate. But in terms of the branding, I think Citi Bike actually very well. I understand that some people aren't going to like it, but Citibank put up I think about $42 million, and that's what funded the capital investment in the system.
NNAMDIWe got another email from Jenny, speaking of people who you say wouldn't like it. Jenny says, "The Citi Bikes look like advertisements. They look like mobile ads. And ads feel kind of impermanent and spammy. The D.C. system has its own brand, a permanent one, at least. Is that a permanent brand?
KLEINWell, you know, that's going to be up to the future mayor and DDOT director. But my feeling is it is going to be permanent. And if they get a sponsor, it'll be a secondary sponsor, which you see in places like Minneapolis, where you keep the brand and then you have, you know, sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield on the back fender. The Chicago system that we launched with 300 stations just hit 2 million rides yesterday, a beautiful system. We actually worked with IDEO to brand that -- the, you know, sort of famous branding firm that works with Apple.
KLEINAnd it was so crucial. People just loved the brand. And so I do see what the writer is saying. I do think that, let's say you had a system sponsored by Sprint. You know, it can be done tastefully and look good and fit in and make money for the taxpayer.
NNAMDIChicago's system -- it's the Windy City. You've got to have bikes with windshields in that city, at least in some parts of the city. We're talking with Gabe Klein. He's a fellow at the Urban Land Institute, former director of the D.C. Department of Transportation, former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation. We're talking about bike sharing. If you'd like to offer your opinion about bike sharing in this region or anyplace else, give us a call, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Mike in Baltimore who says, "The problem with the bike-share and bike commuter dreamers is not what they focus on, installation and lane safety, but rather the problem of most employers not having showers and changing rooms to use when you arrive at work drenched in sweat." That's not your problem, is it?
KLEINWell, actually we did work on this quite a bit. I worked on it with Harriett Tregoning and other folks within our agencies, because we had something called the TDM Program, a Travel Demand Management Program and it was called goDCgo. And not only was it crucial to Bikeshare being successfully marketed -- and you can go to goDCgo.com and check that out -- but also in encouraging the business folks to sort of get onboard with supporting their employees, riding bikes and putting in showers and bike access and allowing bikes in buildings and things of that nature.
KLEINSo that is important but, you know, I've been in Europe quite a bit lately traveling. And, you know, people there ride Dutch-style bikes or bike-share bikes in their suits with raingear. And they're okay with a little sweat. You know, culturally we're a little different. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing, Kojo. But...
NNAMDIYeah, when I was in Amsterdam over the December holidays, saw people riding to work there every day in droves. Of course, at that time of year it's much colder but they do it year round. The time before I was there it was July and it was the exact same thing.
NNAMDIAs Bogie would say, what's wrong with a little sweat every now and then?
NNAMDIHere's Eric in Washington, D.C. Eric, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. Excited when a couple bike shares started and I've been using it for a year, ever since it's been running. I find it'd be perfect for trips that are maybe a little too long for walking but a little too short for public transportation. It's a nice in between. However, I find the problem with a lot of the reporting on the issue with the financing of it is that people sort of expected to make a profit. But people don't typically expect other transportation systems to make a profit.
ERICSo for instance in the U.S., you know, about half of highway spending is covered through gas taxes and registration fees, you know, kind of like user fees. But the rest of it is subsidized through, like, income taxes and property taxes. And your neighborhood streets are also funded primarily through property taxes and income taxes, yet nobody ever says, oh well how come this road repaving, you know, is being subsidized and now being covered through, you know, gas taxes and car registration fees?
ERICBut for some reason we expect our bike-sharing system be held at this ridiculously high standard of profitability but we don't expect other transportation systems to be held at that same standard.
KLEINRight, right. Well, Eric's got a great point. And, you know, I think this is a bit of a cultural issue here in the U.S. Since 1950s we've felt that, you know, driving was a freedom and a right. And we built our infrastructure around that. And the view of a lot of Americans is that driving is free, right. Once you buy your car you're just paying for gas.
KLEINWell, the fact is that the car is the most heavily subsidized form of transportation. And unfortunately it's become so politicized that, you know, public transit and bikes and even walking can be dismissed by people as sort of, you know, ridiculous forms of transportation compared to the car. Now not as much in urban areas but you'll see congressmen from other areas saying things like this. And it's very unfortunate.
KLEINNow in terms of bike share and its funding, I actually think the New York model can work. I think bike share can be profitable. I think Chicago and D.C., particularly at scale, will be profitable for operations combined with advertising revenues and sponsorship. But I agree with the caller, I agree with Eric that it should not be a sort of litmus test that your bike share system works if it's profitable. It is a public benefit.
KLEINAnd if we're going to subsidize the paving of roads and the building of freeways, I think particularly in less dense cities or less dense areas of a city, for instance if you want to expand into, you know, far northeast, we may have to subsidize those stations. And that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that.
NNAMDIBecause this is not simply a fun way to spend a day around the mall, not unlike paddleboats, you seem to say that this is now -- has become another piece of our public infrastructure.
KLEINWell, Kojo, it's funny you say that about paddleboats because in America biking is -- it's either first or second top recreational activity. But you and I were just talking about biking in Europe. And people there view it as a very functional way of getting around. They don't even pride themselves on their particular bike and the color, like they all look the same.
KLEINSo we, in this country, are just starting to turn the page on that and really realize that it's a functional form of transportation, of getting from point A to point B. And the great thing about bike share is unlike your own bike even, it's point to point. You can just pick it up and drop it off. Now the fact that it's fun, my theory on this, Kojo, is that -- because I see people in their cars looking at people on their bikes and sort of, you know, shaking their head.
KLEIN...yeah, grinning. I think they're like, why is that person -- why do they get to have so much fun in their commute, you know? And I think those people should give it a try and have some fun themselves. There's nothing wrong with having fun while you're getting to work and some exercise.
NNAMDIWe got this email from Erin in Barcelona, Spain. "Clear channel operates biking -- pronounced beefing -- in Barcelona. This is an enormously successful bike share system consisting of 6,000 bikes distributed over hundreds of stations throughout the city. For 42 euros a year it's possible to pick up a bike, ride it for 30 minutes, leave it at another station for a time. Over 30 minutes there's a prorated charge. To take another bike without paying the surcharge you have to wait ten minutes.
NNAMDII can't tell you how popular this system is here. There are bike lanes on many of the major streets and drivers, despite their rush, are generally responsive to bike riders. I use it all the time and I'm a huge advocate of two wheels as a shared form of public transportation. Beefing has recently been taken on by Vodafone (sp?) . It now has ads on the sides of all the bikes. Not my taste but I'd rather have that than no bikes."
KLEINWell, exactly. And here's the thing. I was talking to somebody when I was coming in in your office here. Bike share is $75 a year for a local resident, which I think is about 28 cents a day. It's actually cheaper -- like if you had, let's say, a 30-minute walk every day or a 12-minute bike ride, which is approximately what it averages out to, it's going to be cheaper to use the bike share than to walk because you're going to wear out your shoes. And a nice pair of shoes is 100 bucks.
KLEINSo you -- there is no cheaper way to get around. So there's an element of social justice there as well that I think is very important. And one of the things that I've noticed is this -- is a bike share has sort of democratized the bike as transportation. And you see people from all walks of life on bikes. And I think this is just going to continue to grow and grow and grow.
NNAMDIIt's bike share that is the source of transportation for one of our producers, Mr. Frugality, Michael Martinez. That's how he gets to work every single day. Less than 30 cents a day is what it costs. But we're taking a short break. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you look at the region's bicycle sharing system as a fun experiment for those who like using it or a shared resource that serves the public good? Does it matter to you if the system makes or loses money? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking bike share with Gabe Klein who helped to design D.C.'s bike share system. He's now a fellow at the Urban Land Institute, former director of D.C.'s Department of Transportation and former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation. There are several people who'd like to join this conversation, Gabe. I'll go to Rachel in Washington, D.C. Rachel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi Rachel, are you there?
RACHELYes, can you hear me?
RACHELHello, can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
RACHELExcellent. I'm calling -- I live in D.C. and I would love to use the bike share program but I'm 5' tall and actually find that I can't easily reach the pedals and come to a complete stop and have my feet on the ground. And I'm curious sort of where the designs for city bike shares come from, how D.C. is designed, like, compared to other cities and whether there might be any plans to modify the design.
NNAMDIWe're leaving out the little people.
KLEINThat's a great question. Well, I'll tell you that the bike is designed to serve people 4'11" to 6'6" comfortably, but having said that, everybody's body is different. You know, I'm 5'8" but my legs are little short. So people are built differently. But keep in mind that on a bike you're supposed to be on your tippy toes -- when you're sitting on the seat you should be on your tippy toes. So you may have to lean over to put your foot flat on the ground or you may have to jump off the seat and stand.
KLEINBut the bike was designed to be a step-thru bike and actually won a lot of design awards. But that's not to say it's the perfect bike. I would like to see bike share systems expand and have different types of bikes, and something I've actually been working on in my spare time with a few companies to look at cargo bikes and electric cargo bikes, and even other types of vehicles connected to bike share stations. So I think there's a very exciting future there. But I'm sorry that you feel like it doesn't quite fit you.
RACHELThat's okay, thank you.
NNAMDIRachel, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Judy in Bethesda, Md. Judy, your turn.
JUDYHi. I'm a public health professional and I'm concerned about bicycle riders who do not wear helmets. And, you know, public health awareness campaigns for years to get children and adults to wear helmets. So I just wanted to express concern about that and ask if there's any effort being done to supply helmet with the bikes or encourage riders to plan to bring their own helmets. And if you've done any -- if you look at any rates of head trauma as a result of these bike share bikes. Thank you.
KLEINYes. So first of all, in D.C. and in Chicago, the two systems I've been involved with, there's encouragement to wear a helmet. There's a note on the bike itself on the stem that we encourage people to wear helmets. And I personally feel that -- and many cities have a law, that under 16 for instance you have -- or 16 and under you have to wear a helmet. I think for adults it's a choice.
KLEINAgain, if you look at Europe, they don't wear helmets unless they're riding competitively. And in Amsterdam last year I think they had something like -- and I'm probably getting this wrong, Kojo, but they had something like 40 million -- maybe 400 million trips because everybody rides, like, you know, 50 percent of people ride and they had, I think, eight fatalities. So they're actually -- from the data that I've seen there is not a direct correlation between people wearing helmets and deaths.
KLEINNow part of that is that when you do require a helmet, it really unfortunately disincentivizes people to use bike share and to ride. And that's one of the reasons that we do not put a law in place. We also -- we have protected bike facilities that we've spearheaded here and Chicago. And New York has them, San Francisco. You shouldn't be coming in contact with cars in those facilities. So if you're riding in a safe protected bike lane at a very slow speed on a heavy bike-share bike, I don't know that it's absolutely necessary -- and I'm sure that'll upset some people but I don't think it's absolutely necessary to wear a helmet.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Getting back to the issue of cost, what kind of users did you expect would be carrying the weight for the cost of the system, the everyday commuter riders or the tourists paying to ride for the day or for a few hours?
KLEINI'm glad you mention that because when the caller from Barcelona called in, I meant to bring that up and I forgot. So the sort of dirty little wonderful secret of capital bike sharing and (word?) in Chicago, is that the tourists use it like crazy, a lot more than we thought. We thought we'd have maybe 8 to 10 percent tourist usage. And it's more like 40 percent. Now here's the great thing. Those users are paying somewhere, you know, 7 to $10 a day with usage fees whereas the user that lives here is paying 28 cents a day for unlimited 30-minute trips.
KLEINSo in a nutshell, Kojo, the tourist or casual user, the visitor to D.C. who, by the way, loves bike share, gets to see the city on a human scale, spend more money in local retail shops. That person is subsidizing our local population to use it.
NNAMDIWhat were your biggest concerns about the mechanics of making this kind of program work in D.C.? To some degree it's a sociological experiment. You're gambling that people won't steal or vandalize the bicycles that are part of the network, or they wouldn't, like some people in France were doing, throwing bike-share bikes into the river as an antibourgeois statement.
KLEINRight. Exactly. Well, you know, I had the benefit of, first of all, growing up in the bike industry for one thing. Even as a child my dad owned bike stores so I sort of had a sense of bikes and how sturdy these bikes were in comparison -- and how sturdy the system was. The system in France, when it first launched, was not as sturdy as it needed to be. And they learned though. But also I had four years at Zip Car.
KLEINAnd so I had, you know, dealt quite a bit with vandalism, with the sharing, economy and, you know, with membership-based services. So I think I was sort of uniquely aware of what some of the concerns would be. And to be honest, we lost almost no bikes. I think the only bikes we lost were due to maybe credit card theft because somebody would steal a credit card. And in the first week we may have lost two because we didn't have all the system lockdown. But compared to Paris where they lost basically every bike over the course of a couple of years, we did pretty well. We did pretty well.
NNAMDIWell, the notion of the antibourgeois statement, while it may seem ridiculous to some people that people who are riding bicycles are seen as the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless there were concerns about the politics of this here in Washington. Your boss Adrian Fenty was already under fire by 2010 from people who felt streetcars and bike lanes were projects that benefit the new or the wealthy residents of the city, while the needs of others were being ignored.
KLEINRight. And, you know, look, I think that's unfortunate. I think the sad thing about that, if that perception really was true, was that these are actually the great equalizers. These are trying to make the city more affordable for people. Do they somehow encourage some gentrification as well? I mean, I'm sure, you know. Any enhancements to our streetscapes for instance, to our transportation system, planting trees even, can encourage people to come in and buy houses and that sort of thing.
KLEINBut I can tell you firsthand, whether it was Anthony Williams and Dan Tangherlini who really started the streetcar or Adrian or myself or Mayor Gray is absolutely, you know, not what it's about. It's about making the city as mobile as possible.
NNAMDIHere's Scott in Annandale, Va. Scott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SCOTTGreat. Thank you, Kojo, for taking my call. This is a question for your guest related to the idea of ride share as infrastructure. I'm wondering to what extent are the subscribers or the users -- setting aside the tourism stuff you just talked about, to what extent are these users displacing ridership on metro? To what extent are they displacing cars on the road? What are some ratios between those?
KLEINYeah, excellent question. And one of the things that, you know, Jim Sebastian and his ream at DDOT have done a great job of is sort of quantifying the effect of capital bike share. And Jim Sebastian, by the way, has run the bike program at DDOT probably for 15 years or so, or at least 10. And they have studies. If you go to the capital bike share website you can actually pull up all the system data. And you can also pull up the annual reports.
KLEINAnd one thing you'll see is that I believe in their last report, 54 percent of people who were using bike share said they were using it as an extension to get to or from the backbone of our transportation system, which is metro and Circulator bus. And so it's actually -- it encourages people to give up their cars. The more layers of transportation options we can provide people that are low cost, you know, simple and easy to use, I like to say low friction and fun like the Circulator bus, which I think is even a fun bus to ride, the more we can get people out of their cars. And that's ultimately what we want to do.
KLEINWe're not saying the car's bad. There's nothing wrong with the car, although driving around in your car by yourself all the time is bad. We're saying that for every trip all the time, it's not the best choice. And it's worked. If you look at the numbers, Kojo, you see that the population's skyrocketing in D.C. The motor vehicle registrations are going down. That's exactly what we want. And people are getting healthier.
NNAMDIWell, I'd like to juxtapose the concerns of two of our callers. First Buddy and then Gigi. By the way Scott, thank you very much for your call. So I'll go to Buddy first in Washington, D.C. Buddy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BUDDYThanks very much, Kojo. Hi, good show today. And I like bikes and, you know, I bike in the city and I'm glad to see the improvements being made and bike share is very much a part of that. Where my concern comes down is I live just a couple blocks away from the capitol. And I see bicyclists completely disobeying every traffic law we've got.
BUDDYAnd there is no enforcement for bicyclists. I mean, we're putting in all kinds of electronic enforcements for cars, you know, and for everything else. And bicyclists can breeze through the same thing a car would be electronically fined for. And what it creates is a very hazardous situation. I mean, going the wrong way on a one-way street, running signs, running stop signs, on and off the sidewalks. And it's also leading to those other two-wheelers that are motorized such as scooters and motorcycles I've seen following the same routes.
BUDDYAnd now cars sort of look, well, the bicyclist just passed me. I just had 10 bicyclists run this light. I'm going to treat it like a stop sign, too. Now, that's going to hurt bikes in this town and going to lead to some, you know, some backlash, I'm sure.
NNAMDIBuddy, I'm going to put you on hold so that you can hear Gigi, in Rockville, Md.'s comment. Gigi, you are now on the air. Go ahead, please.
GIGIHi, Kojo. Great show today. I really would love to support this. I grew up in Europe where everybody bikes everywhere. My issue is the drivers in this area. I would not put myself out on any road in Maryland, especially around Rockville, because the drivers -- we have had so many fatalities of pedestrians that I don't even know how many bicyclists have been hit and killed and hurt. And I'm just wondering if your guest can kind of, I don't know, talk about this.
NNAMDIWell, Gigi, I'm glad that both you and Buddy had the opportunity to say that both riders and drivers in this area are completely irresponsible.
KLEINYes. And, look, there's some truth to that. There's always going to be tension between the modes. And also in this country we often consider ourselves, like I'm a driver or I'm a walker or I'm a biker or I'm a bus person.
NNAMDIWe choose up sides.
KLEINRight. And it's -- I mean, the fact is most of us use all of these things. And for the first caller I would encourage him to get out on a bike, do it for a while, see what it's like, and then see how he feels. I mean, he's right, though. There are people that don't obey the laws. I encourage people to stop, particularly at all stoplights. You're risking your safety. You should stop at stop signs. We need to respect the laws as much as possible.
KLEINBut having said that, you have to realize that when you run a stoplight in a 4,000-pound car it's different then on a 30-pound bike. And so there are different rules for cars in some cases. And I think that we have to be cognizant of that. D.C., though, is a leader nationally in safety across all modes. You know, accident fatalities, Kojo, have fallen by 83 percent in the last 10 years in the District. And here's the funny thing. It's not one thing, right. It's not speed cameras only. Although, that's been a huge help.
KLEINI think the police department has done an excellent job with automated enforcement. And I would say that's had as much of an impact as many of our other initiatives at DDOT. But I think that safety is absolutely crucial to a city. If you don't make the streets safe, people will not move back to the city. They will not raise children here.
KLEINAnd I would commend everybody over the last decade that's worked so hard in Washington. And that's why when I went to Chicago we put in the largest automated enforcement system in the country. And Rahm Emanuel was right there with me, making that happen.
NNAMDII want to talk about Chicago when we get back. We're talking with Gabe Klein. He's a fellow at Urban Land Institute, former director of the D.C. Department of Transportation and former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation. We're taking your questions and comments at 800-433-8850. What would you change about the Washington region's Capital Bike Share Program if you could? Are there tweaks that would make you more likely to be a regular user? 800-433-8850 or send us an email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Gabe Klein. He's a fellow at the Urban Land Institute, former director of the District of Columbia's Department of Transportation and former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation. You went from D.C. to Chicago. Very different urban area. Asked to help build a similar bike sharing program, but on a much bigger scale. How was the challenge of doing that in Chicago different from the one in D.C., over and above the scale of?
KLEINYeah, you know, Chicago is just a different world. As you said, it's -- we're like about 66 square miles here. It's 221 square miles. There are very dense urban areas which are fast-growing. There are much more sort of suburban areas within the city limits that are losing population. In many ways it's a tale of three cities, you know. You have a lot of different issues there. But we had a lot of fun. And, you know, Rahm Emanuel is very hard-charging, super energetic guy.
KLEINAnd one of the things -- I had chance to work on the transition. You know, one of the things that he wanted was 100 miles of next generation bike lanes, which we're going to get done in the four years that we promised. There'll be about 70 by the end of this year, and the rest will in next spring. And he wanted a large-scale bike share program. And so that's what he said and like all the other projects, the river walk, the Bloomingdale Trail, basically it was up to us and the agency to figure out how to fund it, how to make it happen.
KLEINBut luckily, Kojo, we had this model from here. And so we used this model. And what we tweaked was, we said, "Well, let's make it so that we know it has to be profitable from operations." So we did the same capital investment, 80 percent federal. We did win a Tiger grant from DOT for an additional 1,000 bikes. But we said the operator's going to have to make it profitable to make money. So they played a bigger role in the marketing. That's why IDO came in. And it's been a huge success.
NNAMDIHow about New York, where it has not been that huge a success? What did you make of the more visceral, negative reactions that some New Yorkers had to City Bike? There were complaints about everything from the space stations took up on the sidewalks, to the color of the bikes themselves.
KLEINWell, I think there are a couple factors. I mean, some people say that New Yorkers are special, right. I mean, I think that's part of it, but Chicago people are really tough. The press is tough. And we launched with the same system, the same software, the same operator, everything. I do think the way we launched was different. We gradually ramped it up, just like we did D.C. They turned on 400 stations all at once and they were sort of left to sit out there for a while.
KLEINAnd some of the people that were going to be detractors anyway, because they didn't like the system, used that as an excuse to say, "Why is this big ugly, you know, station in front of my building?" And then there are the anti-advertising people. And then, you know, I think there was -- what I've seen, particularly recently in the new administration, is there's not the same partnership that we had here between Arlington and D.C., between the private sector with Alta Bike Share. There just isn't that partnership. And without that partnership a lot of times the rest of it's not going to work.
NNAMDIIs that a course correction you think needs to be taken in New York for this experimental work there?
KLEINI think so. I think there's a real focus there on living up to the contract. Right. And often when government has a contract with the private sector, that's always the fallback, like, you need to adhere 100 percent to the contract. Well, contract -- particularly with a new type of system like this -- it's just -- it's a sort of set of milestones, but you have to revisit.
KLEINIn Paris, as we were talking about earlier, when they realized they were losing that many bikes, the city stepped up -- even though it wasn't in the contract -- and they said you know what, we're going to contribute $500 for every bike that was stolen. And I think the city needs to come to the table and say, "What do we want for the system? Do we want it in all five boroughs? What does the operator need to be able to eke out a profit?" And, you know, if they focus on the public benefit first and the contract second, they will be successful. And it's going to be a great system. It's not going away.
NNAMDII was about to make the other argument, the going-away argument -- you said it’s not going away -- and that is some people would say, you know, bike sharing simply doesn't work as well in certain urban areas. New York's much more crowded than some of these other places are. The subway is more expansive. It has a broader reach. Walking is a little easier in other parts of the city. Maybe bicycle sharing won't work there.
KLEINWell, okay. Let me correct one myth, though. In many ways New York City Bike Share is the most successful system in the country. Now it depends on how you look at it. But in terms of pure ridership, on the warmer days they're getting 80,000 rides a day. I mean, that's unbelievable. You know, we're seeing 2.1 million rides a year, which is amazing for D.C., but you're talking about significantly more rides per bike.
KLEINYou're talking about six rides per bike per day versus three. So based on usage, people love it. My argument is it's not big enough. It needs to double in size. And when it doubles in size, I think it's going to make money, as well.
NNAMDIHere is Greg, in Washington, D.C. Greg, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GREGWell, guys, you know, I have to say, I was in Munich, Germany, back in 2000. First time I had been there. And we got on bikes that had GPS on them, they were at almost every other lamppost in Munich, Germany. Flipped up a little piece of thing, you could do it if you were in there -- you could use your phone to register for it. I mean, you flip it up. They knew where all the bikes were. You could leave that bike at any place.
GREGYou know this was back in 2000. Bike share -- I have my own bike. I've used Bike Share. I live in Northeast, down near the Starburst. We've got them all over the place. But I think it's a great idea, and, you know, it's for everybody.
KLEINWow, right. You summed it up, sir. I mean, that's exactly right. And, look, it's no secret that Europe's been a bit ahead of us for a number of years, in terms of shared mobility services. But we've gotten the benefit of learning from them. And I think our system is one of the best in the world. And I'm glad you like it. And it's not meant to displace your own bike, you know. In Chicago, for instance, the bike shops love it. They're seeing more bike sales. And we have more bike shops in D.C. now than before we launched Bike Share. So…
NNAMDIWhat do you think should be the vision for the evolution of the program here? There's still plans for expansion. Plans that have run into problems lately while issues were sorted out with a vendor going into bankruptcy.
KLEINYeah, well, so this is another one of things. And it's almost like a comedy of errors. The supplier who has this amazing bike share system, was not run very well, out of Montreal. It was run about as poorly as you could run it. And they decided to build a whole new software system when they had one that worked. And so that ended up putting them into bankruptcy, which it should have. And people have known for a couple of years that that was going to happen.
KLEINThere's a new buyer who's bought that company. And also the operator, Alta, and the technology company that created our software in D.C. and Boston's and London's, called 8D Technologies, have formed a joint venture. So they have new equipment. So actually I think what's going to happen is that city's like Washington and Chicago are going to have multiple options for expansion. It's just going to be a little bit of a lag, but it's going to grow.
NNAMDII was going to ask you about bicycling infrastructure, but I decided to make that a broader transportation question. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh wants to consolidate pieces of the D.C. government that handle transportation issues. She says they're spread out all over the place. They need to be consolidated in one or at most two agencies. What do you think?
KLEINWell, actually, Kojo, what she wants to do is she wants to take DDOT and sort of break it up into three agencies. But she wants to take the Taxi Commission and roll it into DDOT, I believe.
KLEINSo it's sort of a complex proposal. Now, I have to say, first of all, I'm a huge supporter of Mary Cheh. I think she does great work. And, you know, I think I understand -- because I don't agree with this completely. But I understand why she wants to do it. She's saying let's start a conversation. The world around us is changing. There are more transit options than their used to be, in Capital Bike Share, Circulator -- it needs to grow dramatically. And the streetcar is coming online.
KLEINSo she's right that there needs to be oversight and governance for that. My argument is to look at her proposal and think, why do we want to diffuse that power? And why do we want to diffuse the policy into three different entities? She wants to have a parking authority.
KLEINAnd I could talk to you about parking and why I think parking is going to away. That's whole other topic. She wants to have DDOT, which will not have a lot left, except for paving and bridge projects. And then have a transit agency. I like the San Francisco model, where you basically have everything together SFMTA. Because here people are saying, "Well, DDOT's too big. It's got 1,000 people. It's unwieldy."
KLEINSan Francisco is a much smaller city, 49 square miles. They've got 5,000 employees at SFMTA. But when you put everything under one umbrella, what you're able to do is make change a lot faster. And you're able to set policy that makes sense for public space, for parking, which are all related. We have the best parking system in the country in D.C. Us and San Francisco. I couldn't have done that with my team if we didn't have the control over the all different entities.
NNAMDISpeaking of things changing, some things stay the same and people don't want to get left behind. Here is Arrington, in Washington, D.C. Arrington, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ARRINGTONHow you doing, Kojo?
ARRINGTONMy question is about credit card usage on the bikes. Not all the folks can get credit cards. And the credit cards have to have a certain minimum in them to be able to offset the bike immediately. Is there anything being done to help certain communities' folks who can't get credit cards?
KLEINYes. And, you know, when we -- now, keep in mind, I left -- let me see. We launched it in September of 2010 and I was out December 31st, when the mayor left. But there were plans put in motion to have a partnership with Bank On D.C. to get people signed up for at least a debit card so they could use the system. Now, I don't have, you know, data on me. I'd have to look at the website or talk to some folks at DDOT to see how well that's worked.
KLEINI do know that in some neighborhoods where we initially put stations and there was not much usage, the usage has gone up dramatically. I do know also that over the last few years it's gotten easier to get a debit card or credit card from one's bank. But I will say, also, that this has been an issue across the country, trying to figure out how to get the unbanked on a sort of automated system like this, an automated sharing system, whether it's Zipcar, whether it's Car2Go, ride sharing or bike sharing. I don't think anybody's exactly figured it out.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Arrington. Outside of the infrastructure of the sharing facilities themselves and the acquisition of bikes, what kind of infrastructure do you think is necessary for bicycling to expand as a mode of transit throughout the region? I guess it's hard to press for more dedicated lanes, more trails.
KLEINWell, it is tough. I mean, you know, one of the things that the D.C. region's had going for it for decades is a wonderful trail system from Alexandria, all the way from Leesburg, from Bethesda, through Rock Creek Park. So that's been the backbone of the commuter bike system. What we try to do, you know, our team at DDOT, is to start to build that kind of network within the city on the streets. Not only to facilitate more people biking safely -- and everybody should feel safe. You should not be on your street biking or walking and feel like you're going to get hit by a car.
KLEINSo that was our goal. Particularly young people, old people. But, you know, there's a lot more work to be done. I mean, I think that we need more bike facilities. But I think where D.C. does not have bike facilities it's made up for it in some ways with traffic (word?) . And -- like the difference between here and Chicago, in terms of the speed of the cars, is just night and day. And that's a huge difference. A bike -- if there's not a bike lane, folks, go ahead and take the lane. You know, take the lane and be safe.
NNAMDIGabe Klein, he's now a fellow at the Urban Land Institute, former director of the D.C. Department of Transportation, former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation. Gabe, good to see you again.
KLEINGreat to see you, Kojo. Thanks for having me on.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
The author talks about writing, his ties to the region and literacy advocacy.
Kojo explores how much input the public should have in public art projects and how that squares with the visions of the artists who do the work.
The Arlington County Board halted two long-planned, but long-controversial streetcar projects, saying voters had spoken this month against moving forward. We examine the implications of the decision.