Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Smart-Bike: DDOT's Transportation Plan



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.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

One tidbit on the lack of bike lanes - there is in fact a bike lane on 9th that runs pretty much from the Marriott location to the Mall - seems pretty ideal for tourists...

DanD said...

Very interesting...I like the idea of becoming more of a bike city, but if that's DDOT's plan they'd better come up with more access for bikes. Bike lanes are a start, but they are still dangerous and not respected by drivers, and DC needs to build a true bike route into the city. I think one of the main routes into DC needs to connect the MBT to downtown.

Anonymous said...

Twice this week (also re. Michigan and Irving case) you've referred to PUDs going before the Board of Zoning Adjustment. In DC, PUDs are heard by the Zoning Commission. Important distinction.

Anonymous said...

I applaud city support for bike lanes, etc., but I am not at all sure that the convention-going demographic is going to be the hop on a bicycle-in-your-suit to explore the Mall group.

In my opinion, there was always a lot of wishful thinking involved with the Convention Center. Convention centers attract semi trailers, buses, and people who want to schmooze with people inside the convention hall.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for pointing out the mistake regarding reference to the BZA. It is a very important distinction, as the BZA's jurisdiction to confer variances from zoning regulations does NOT include a "quid pro quo" element, and the BZA does not review PUDs. The Zoning Commission, which has the exclusive authority to review and approve PUDs, on the other hand, can and does grant relief from certain zoning requirements in exchange for public amenities, as required by the PUD regulations.

Paul on Jul 16, 2009, 11:52:00 AM said...

If you should look at the map of where these bike stations are, you find that they are all in the NW downtown business district. Bizarre. The Federal government sector of SW has not a single one -- and you're more likely to see bureaucrats take advantage of (no less have a real need for) these bikes than the "high-fashion" milieu of downtown DC. I have raised this issue with Jim Sebastian several times, but he responds with boilerplate "wait" language. It's been well over a year, and still, no diversity of locations.

Maybe the only way to get this done is to play the race card...

Anonymous said...

Paul- I was talking with my coworker about this yesterday. I would like to see the USDOT get either SmartBike or another bike-sharing program. Frequently, FAA employees have to go to DOT for meetings and it would be quicker in the middle of the day to bicycle there than to wait for the Green line. The area surrounding the US DOT headquarters and the baseball stadium certainly will have the density to support a SmartBike facility

Anonymous said...

If we're going to become a "bike city" we're going to have to revoke the license of thousands of drivers. This city is dangerous even if you're driving an SUV.

What a feel-good waste of money these DumbBikes are. Does the taxpayer pay for helmets as well? I don't think so. They Council is liable if an accident occurs.

How about if we spend the money on getting the bums out of the parks instead. That would do much more to improve quality of life here.

jason on Sep 17, 2009, 2:05:00 PM said...

the city is not at all liable for accidents, the smartbike user agreement sets out in very plain language that it is the rider's responsibility to inspect the bikes before use and to ride responsibly.

 

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