Capital Bikeshare E-Bikes Return Tomorrow (meh)

Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 2, Edition 87 (7/7/2020)

Capital Bikeshare E-Bikes Return Tomorrow

15 months after pulling electric-assist Capital Bikeshare bikes from DC-area streets overnight, Lyft — CaBi’s operator — will re-deploy e-bikes to the Washington region's shared bike system. Luz Lazo at WaPost reported it first this afternoon and Street Justice can add more detail to her work: Lyft plans to expand the e-bike fleet to 900 total in August. That’s about 20% of the 4,500 CaBis deployed across the DC-area each day between 600 different stations. During the spring 2019 trial of e-Bikeshare, there were only about 50 e-CaBis deployed around the region each day.

We spoke with an Arlington official familiar with the rollout; they said the County will get 30 e-CaBis over the next few days and eventually around 135 of the 900 e-CaBis each day. Managing the Capital Bikeshare fleet becomes more complicated for Lyft now, as the new shared e-bikes support starting and ending a ride without the need dock at a traditional Capital Bikeshare station. These new e-CaBis are hybrids: like the JUMP and Helbiz bikes, they can be locked to any old bike rack. The electric Capital Bikeshare models can also be returned to those 600 docking stations. Bikeshare technicians modified all of the docks this winter to accommodate the new hybrid models.

The electric CaBis use a removable, interchangeable battery attached to the down tube where water bottle mounts would be on a normal bike. In addition to manually moving bikes to “rebalance” the system, Lyft’s DC operations team will “recharge” e-CaBis by swapping out their batteries. The swappable batteries are now best practice design in shared micro-mobility: scooter companies are moving to it if it’s not already in their latest models and the shared e-bikes already use the removable energy stores. Lower-carbon fleet maintenance is much more feasible with swapping batteries: cargo bikes with trailers can take charged batteries around and swap them out. Even the Revel shared electric mopeds use removable batteries that the operator swaps out.

The District has been at the mercy of Lyft the past two years as the ride-hailing and mobility company worked out two separate issues: dangerous brake malfunctions and isolated, but troubling battery fires. Lyft pulled e-bikes out of all markets first for the brake problem, then redeployed in SF Bay — when battery fires sidelined the devices again before even getting them back to the streets in DC and NYC.

The new electric Capital Bikeshare bikes are pedal-assist: an electric motor in the front wheel’s hub will generate additional torque to buttress the pedaling force of the rider. JUMP’s e-bikes, which owner Lime expects to be back in DC on Monday, Jul 13th, also use front wheel hub motors. The Helbiz shared electric bikes use rear wheel hub motors to deliver additional power to the drivetrain. The steering sensations are different between front and rear hub motors — and center-mounted crank arm motors — but all of these set-ups produce an exhilarating feeling for even fit riders. You feel like a superhero and you barely generate sweat even during summertime riding.

Lazo’s reporting colors e-CaBi addition with the drop in Bikeshare ridership during COVID-19. According to Tysons Corner transportation analysis firm Wells & Associates, Capital Bikeshare ridership in March’s second two weeks were down 65% YoY, compared to the first two weeks of March 2020 up 5.3% YoY. The W&A analysis shows the biggest drops YoY by docking station to be white-collar commuters and tourism-related: Union Station and Tidal Basin (i.e. Cherry Blossom Festival).

In Lazo’s reporting, CaBi ridership was down 79% YoY in April 2020. Bikeshare officials told her that the last few weeks of ridership is trending up back toward pre-pandemic levels. The DC Department of Transporation is pushing a hopeful narrative that — given the surge of private bike sales during COVID-19 — bike trips will rise during economy re-opening in lieu of transit for essential travel. However, Street Justice has seen no significant change in the factors that make DC-area residents feel comfortable biking.

During COVID, DDOT has issued several pre-construction notices to build large protected bike lane projects planned for in the agency’s 20x2022 plan. Bike, pedestrian, and traffic planners there have kept a decent clip of attendance at virtual ANC meetings and community stakeholder calls — in lieu of agency-led project meetings. A key DDOT planner we spoke with today was optimistic about completing 5 miles of new protected bike lanes by the end of 2020. However, the only major project under construction now is the crosstown Irving NW/NE cycletrack. Protected bike lane projects on G St NW in Foggy Bottom, on 20th/21st Street NW from the Mall to Dupont, and on West Virginia Avenue NE have not started construction.

The problem with DC’s current back-to-school-and-work transportation strategy is that the city’s leaders have not significantly increased the urgency or magnitude of their plans to give more road space to bike facilities that non-expert bikers will use. It’s notable DDOT has kept pushing forward on these pre-existing projects. But, cities across the world have used this historically low traffic volume (85% YoY drop in DC’s case) and fear among even lifelong transit riders to get back in busses and subways, to massively expand their plans to create bike/walk networks.

So far as Street Justice has seen, there has been no serious re-thinking of car dominance even in urban areas of the District and Northern Virginia (more on MoCo below). Beyond hoping for the best, there is little-to-no reason to anticipate significantly more bike trips as people go back to work and abandon WMATA until there’s a vaccine.

Elected leaders have to change the zero-sum allocation of the street to bikes and walking away from car travel and car storage. You can throw electric motors at it, tax credits, catchy kids bike programs with free helmets, and it changes little. People fear for their safety. Change the street, change the world. It’s possible more Washington region children learned how to bike during COVID than many of the previous years combined. Will their parents feel safe riding with them to school when it returns next month?

Creating a transportation system with a step-wise increase in bike travel isn’t complicated; but, it is hard. The current elected leadership in Washington, DC, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Alexandria, and Prince George’s County do not contain a majority of members who will push for an order of magnitude greater space that goes to bikes and pedestrians. Street Justice hasn’t been doing a good enough job covering Montgomery County’s efforts on non-car infrastructure: the County Council and staff have generally been knocking it out of the park the last few months; regional leaders for sure.

This is where Street Justice urges anyone who wants a real commuting change from this COVID-related habit shift to run for Advisory Neighborhood Commission in DC. WMATA ridership will probably take 3-5 years to come back and that means traffic disaster — unless the region makes people *feel* safer with better street designs. The current set of ANCs is divided at best on transformative road design change. Real change = 2020 wave at the ANC level, 2022 wave at DC Council and Mayor, then a solidifying change in 2024 at Council.

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Slow Streets Ideas Due on this Friday

Last week, staffers at DC’s Department of Transporation (DDOT) sent a list of more than 70 candidates for “slow streets” to the District’s Bike, Pedestrian, and Multimodal Accessibility Advisory Councils. These road segments qualify for a program of low-traffic, low-speed streets to be temporarily closed to thru traffic of vehicles. Mayor Bowser announced the idea in a June 8th press release, but it was only last week that DDOT had prepared a list.

DDOT’s Vision Zero team is running this slow street effort and is soliciting public feedback directly via email here — due by Friday, 7/10. They’ve created a map of Phase I street segments and have an FAQ here.

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