WASHINGTON – Montgomery County is preparing to construct the first suburban bike rental system in the country, according to its chief of commuter services Sandy Brecher. Expected to be built next year, the county will follow the lead set by Washington, D.C., which already boasts the country’s largest bike rental system.
The Federal Transit Administration awarded the county about $1.3 million this summer to develop an efficient bike rental system that could easily transport people between Metro stations, workplaces and homes. Additional money from the county and city of Rockville will boost that amount to about $2 million. This will fund 200 bikes in 20 different stations in Rockville and Shady Grove neighborhoods.
“There’s huge room for growth, especially in downtown areas like Silver Spring and Bethesda,” said Montgomery County’s functional planner David Anspacher. “We would like to get cars off the road. Roads are congested, and there’s heavy environmental impacts [from driving].”
Tourists and commuters have probably noticed the racks of red and yellow bikes outside of Metro stations. Captial Bikeshare is now the largest bike rental system in the country with 1,100 bikes at 110 different stations across the city.
“We’re almost up to one million trips in one year. A certain percentage of those are car trips; while we can’t say that 100 percent of those are car trips, we think at least 20 to 25 percent of those are getting people out of their cars,” said Bikeshare project manager Chris Holben.
That’s at least 200,000 car trips a year.
Implementing the program in suburbs like Montgomery County will be different than implementing the program in a city. Many District customers are tourists, while most Rockville and Shady Grove will be commuters biking work. Also, rides will generally be longer in the suburbs than in the city.
Regardless, there are many times bike rental systems are useful that nobody foresees; particularly during natural disasters, like the earthquake in August.
“Basically we had instant gridlock with cars and buses. And people were able to jump on Bikeshare stations and ride between the cars out to their neighborhoods,” Holben said. Hundreds of people relied on the rental bikes. Capital Bikeshare reported double the average number of riders for two hours.
Also, neighborhood populations fluctuate throughout the county. That will require careful planning when deciding where to put the rental stations, Anspacher said.
To assist with this task, Montgomery planners are using a “Bicycle Heat Map” to determine prime bicycle real estate. The color-coded map shows areas that have the highest demand for stronger bike infrastructure. Neighborhoods in Rockville, Shady Grove, Bethesda and Silver Spring are bright red — indicating the highest demand.
The funds are still being appropriated by Montgomery County. The first rental stations are expected to be built next year.