Tuesday, July 14, 2009
At a recent Zoning Commission hearing for the (much sought) Marriott convention center hotel, as the quid for the hotel's exceptions to zoning regulations, DC's Department of Transportation (DDOT) asked the developer to install a Smartbike station with a pretty $70,000 price tag. When you're already dropping $500 million on a project, one might reason $70,000 is but a speed bump on the road to development. But Conference Center Associates I, LLC, the developers, proffered alternative proposals, i.e. trees and green space, considering the lack of bicycle lanes and the unlikelihood that future occupants would opt for pedals over cars. Only one commissioner pressed the group about Smartbikes, but it raised the question of how Smartbikes fit into the larger development plan, and whether Smartbikes were now an integrated part of the District's transportation plan.
But according to DDOT Transportation Planner, Jim Sebastian, there is no written DDOT policy on Smartbikes, which came onto the scene in DC in 2008 and now has 10 locations throughout the city and over 120 bikes. Rather, Smartbikes are now just another negotiating chip the city can use to meet "transportation goals inherent in the PUD process." Similarly, DDOT requested Zipcars, which the developer agreed to. These improvements come in exchange for exceptions to sundry zoning regulations.
When DCMud raised the developer's concerns about the lack of bicycle lanes and demand in the project area, Sebastian's response was that the building projects often take years to complete and that by that time there might be more access and demand in the area. In the past 7 years, DDOT has added 37 miles of bike lanes and that's only going to increase. Maybe so, but how does DDOT determine which project would be good locations for new Smartbike stations? According to Sebastian, DDOT reviews several criteria including: population density, employment density,retail density, proximity to public transportation, bike-to-work statistics, and proximity to existing Smartbike stations.
What about that $70,000 pricetag? Sebastian was uncertain of the actual cost of individual stations (including installation and maintenance), largely because DDOT funded the first 10 stations through an advertising deal with ClearChannel, which built the new bus shelters, maintains them and uses them for ads. The ad revenue (or at least an undisclosed percentage of it) initially paid for 10 stations in the downtown area. ClearChannel runs the Smartbikes under the direction of DDOT. While DDOT continues to negotiate with ClearChannel over 90 potential additional bike locations throughout the city, they are also trying to place some of the cost on developers. Uncertain of the exact number, Sebastian estimated that DDOT has mulled adding the stations at a dozen or so projects, but only a few have made it as far as the Zoning Commission. Lots of carrots and sticks going around these days.