What’s More Valuable: A Bikeshare Station or Three Parking Spots

Photo by Jason Pier.

Back in November, DDOT moved the Capital Bikeshare station, that was on the sidewalk of Wisconsin Ave. by the canal, about 20 feet south and into the street. This was reported at the time by the Patch. DDOT explained that with the eventual construction of the new condo building where the Verizon parking lot is, there would not be enough space on the sidewalk for the station.

Moving the station into the street would necessitate eliminating three metered parking spots. To mitigate the impact of that change, the ANC requested that DDOT convert a loading zone across the street into a metered space and to introduce multi-space also across the street to enable more cars to park there.

When the parking spots were removed, the grumbling began. Most of it originated from Grace Episcopal, in front of which the parking spaces were removed. A church bulletin read:

While Grace supports the Bikeshare program (we have members that frequently bike to services), many members of our congregation rely on convenient access to street parking to attend services here. They include older members with health issues, families with young children and others for whom cycling to church is not an option. The loss of these three spaces is already being felt.

ANC chair Ron Lewis mentioned at the ANC meeting Monday night that he expected a compromise to be found whereby the station would be moved somewhere else. And GM is happy to support a compromise that each side can live with. But this situation presents a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate just how disproportionate the impact car parking has versus bike parking.

First let’s consider how useful street car parking is. Professor Donald Shoup found that at Westwood Village, a shopping district in Los Angeles not unlike Georgetown, the average curbside parking spot was used by approximately 17 cars a day.

Seventeen cars a day suggests a new car parking every 50 minutes or so between the hours of 8 AM and 10 PM, which sounds about right for Georgetown’s metered spaces.

But say you’re being generous and want to say that 20 different cars use each of these three parking spots a day. That would mean that 60 cars combined would use these three spaces in the course of a day.

So how does that compare with the Bikeshare station?

Luckily we don’t have to guess about that. According to Capital Bikeshare’s data, in September 5,151 people either dropped off or picked up a bike at this station. That’s 171 people a day, or 57 people per parking spot removed.

Sure, cars can carry more than one person. But in order for these spaces to serve more people in cars than on bikes, the cars would have to have an average of almost three passengers per car. That’s highly unlikely.

The point of this exercise isn’t to say biking is the only way people should travel or that on street parking should be banned, but it demonstrates that biking brings a significant number of people to Georgetown, and they use much less street space to store their vehicles. So when the city considers where to move the station, GM hopes it keeps in mind how much better use of public space it is than three parking spots.

So by all means move the station if an equally convenient space can be found. But don’t move it off to some far away corner just because we’re too afraid to take out a couple inefficient parking spaces.


Filed under Transportation

15 responses to “What’s More Valuable: A Bikeshare Station or Three Parking Spots

  1. charlie

    bad math here.

    clearly the parking space is more valuable; the bikeshare station might get used more.

    In a place like Georgetown, you might sell a number of daily memberships; however hard to allocate that to one station.

    The real issue is 1) the plans for the verizon condo are pretty far away, and 2) it is easier to use a station on the sidewalk.

    Optimal location — absolutely not.

  2. Nemo

    As a former bike commuter, I find the Bikeshare concept ito be excellent in theory. As a current driver/commuter in the District, however, I am sorry to say the reality is sometimes scary. Far too often I have seen Bikeshare renters who may not know, and certainly do not follow, the rules of the road; they can be very unsteady and wobbly on their bikes, presumably because they are inexperienced; since they are somtimes tourists or visitors, they tend to be unfamiliar with the streets of Washington, which further complicates the sitaution; moroeover I challenge the observer to find any Bikseshare riders who wear helmets — in my commuting days, my helmet saved my life when I was nearly run down in the heart of Georgetown, at the intersection of Wiconsin Avene and N Street. All of which leads to the question of liability — who would be legally responsible for accidents involving Bikeshare riders? All I can say is, I hope the Bikeshare franchise holder is well-insured, and has deep pockets, because this question wil inevitably arise.

  3. RNM

    In my best Bill Murray circa 1977-78 SNL:
    Car Wars, nothing but Car Wars not caring Car Wars are all I see…
    at least on this blog.

    The math on the parking is slanted to say the least. 171 people per day dropped off or picked up a bike from this location…okay is that individual people or if I ride a bike in drop it off do my shopping and then pick up a bike to go home is that two unique counts? I bet it is, since it is two trips. So, one could basically cut that number in half. Which gets you down to a 28.5 people per spot served vs 17 or 20 cars. Clearly, a car can carry more than a bike…so it is quite possible that the cars in those spots carry more people in and out than those bikes do.

    Now, back to math. The bike spots serve a small subset of the population, this tend to be younger and fitter types that don’t have great distances to travel. Nobody is coming in from Reston on a bikeshare. Not a lot of 60 year old people are jumping on the bike either. So, one market is being chosen, given favored nation status, over a significantly larger and broader market. Mathematically, you have not only limited the number of people who do use that spot a day…but you also have drastically limited the number of people in the Washington DC area that can use that spot.

    The math doesn’t work. If you want to argue a belief about how people should act, live, behave…well that is what the obsession with bikes is. Bikes are not the solution, part of a comprehensive transportation plan sure, but not the solution.

  4. Topher


    A couple points:

    -Virtually every driver I see breaks the law. Whether talking on the phone, texting, rolling through stop signs or red light, or just plain old speeding, virtually all drivers break the law in a way that puts everyone else, particularly pedestrians and bikers, at risk.
    -In doing so, they force everyone else to take their own safety into their own hands. For instance, try walking across one of the unsignaled crosswalks on Wisconsin. Cars are required to stop for you, but you’re risking your life if you simply trust drivers to follow the law.
    -So, yes maybe the way bikers bike makes drivers finally have to look out for their fellow citizens slightly more than they want to. The end result is that drivers drive more cautiously, which is a good result!
    -Wearing a helmet is not required by law. It’s a good idea, but it’s not the law.
    -If a bikeshare rider gets in an accident the question of liability would be no different than if he or she were on his own bike. And whether the biker wore a helmet has no bearing on a question of liability, particularly considering that not wearing a helmet is perfectly legal. Bikeshare would not be on the hook, just as Hertz isn’t on the hook if you get in an accident in one of their cars.
    -Finally, Bikeshare isn’t a franchise. It’s a government program, which would make suing it even harder.

  5. Jacques

    One other item that makes the church’s response challenging is that it seems to assume that the three parking spaces are specifically available to parishioners. As far as I know, those are not reserved “Church Parking Only” spaces. At most, in the event they were not being used by other people parking, they would be available to three cars during any church service or activity, and there is no guarantee that the churchgoers that get those spaces would be “older members with health issues, families with young children and others for whom cycling to church is not an option,” as opposed to other churchgoers who decide to drive.

    According to the church website, Grace Episcopal Church offers up to 20 free visitors parking passes for a lot adjacent to the church on Sunday mornings (as well as 2 hours of free validated parking in the cinema garage a block away on K Street). If there is a particular concern for elderly/infirm parishioners or families with young children, there are steps the church could take to make most (or all) of the lot parking restricted to those populations. Otherwise, all but those 20 cars are finding street or garage parking anyway. So we’re dealing with a marginal change in terms of 3 of the hundreds of parking spaces in downtown Georgetown for people who don’t use either the adjacent lot or the K Street garage.

    I am firmly with Topher on this issue… if there is a nearby spot that would be a convenient place to move the bikeshare station, it’s worth exploring. But it seems to be a stretch to argue that a bikeshare station that takes up three spaces has a dramatic impact on the parking situation for a church that has access to an private lot and a nearby garage.

    On a related note, I would be curious to know how many members of Grace Episcopal Church bike to services (either on personal bikes or on Capital Bikeshare bikes).

  6. Drew

    I’d like to add an additional point to your reply to Nemo:

    -Your comment is irrelevant to the subject of this post, which is about allocation of parking spots, not the behavior of cyclists..

  7. Andy2

    Agree with GM on this. I think the best compromise is for DDOT to install more bikeshare stations of smaller size. I imagine Grace Church would be less unhappy if it only lost 1 spot – with the other docks scattered throughout Georgetown. Large stations are great when space allows it (see Dupont station on Mass) but in Georgetown where the sidewalks are narrow DDOT should install smaller stations and more of them.

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  11. Steven


    If you want to ensure that senior citizens and the disabled have nearby parking, then reserve those three spaces for them. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s noble, even. Besides, how else do you know that the spots will be taken by senior citizens or the disabled, instead of by slightly-overweight 30-somethings from Reston who just can’t be bothered to park in one of Georgetown’s 3,797 other neaby parking spaces.

    Maybe we should go farther than that, actually… are cars really the best way to give the elderly and disabled the independence that they really do deserve? Sure, my bike is fine while I’m 29-ish [31], and if I stay healthy while I’m young (by- I don’t know- riding my bike), it might serve me well for another 30 years. But when I turn 60, and graduate to a car, I’ll only have another 10 years of good driving left in me! Perhaps then I’ll need another option. [Of course by then, after 40 years of someone (and I won’t say who!) fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure that every last inch of road-space is devoted to single occupancy cars, and some young whippersnapper suggests that we repurpose 3 out of the remaining 3,797 parking spots for bikes or busses or hoverboard stations, I’m sure I’ll respond: “stupid kids these days, don’t they know that cars are the only viable way for everyone … you know, me… to get around.”]

    But thanks for reminding me of that 30-something in Reston. We’ve devoted 98% of our transportation infrastructure to that guy; lord knows we can’t suddenly give favored nation status to the fit, 20…30…40-somethings who actually live in DC. I often forget that, although most Washingtonians are served fairly well by bikes and Metro, most Washingtonians are really such a small subset of Washingtonians; the larger, broader market of Washingtonians live in Fairfax County. And if we repurpose those three parking spots, all of those real Washingtonians won’t be able to park literally anywhere in DC.

  12. John Graham here, Rector (Pastor) of Grace Episcopal Church. Thank you, both to the author and responders, for many thoughtful comments. Three points I’d like to emphasize:

    1) Grace fully supports the Bikeshare program, and does not want this station moved to a hard-to-find location. We don’t track the number of parishioners who cycle to church and church programs, but there are many of them, many in their 20s and 30s but some in their 60s and 70s.

    2) We understand that the three spaces on Wisconsin in front of our church are not reserved for church members. Also, as noted, we have Sunday parking arrangements with a lot directly behind the church and a garage on K St.. Our church is growing, though, and our spaces at the lot are often all taken before our 10:30 Sunday service, mostly by young families with young children and older members with mobility challenges. The garage on K St. requires a strenuous walk up the hill, difficult for some of our members. Many young families and older members arriving after 10:20 or so can’t park in the lot and, increasingly, can’t find a place on the street.

    3) Grace Church is enriched by being a part of the Georgetown community and, in turn, does a great deal to enrich the community’s life. Both the Georgetown Ministry Center, housed here, and Grace Church itself reach out to our homeless neighbors systematically through a variety of programs and services. The Georgetown Montessori School, also housed here, serves many neighborhood families. The church offers many cultural events to the surrounding community, including a Music on the Lawn series featuring jazz and pop music, and an annual Bach Festival. We host the Taste of Georgetown on and around our grounds. These same grounds, lovingly maintained by Grace volunteers, offer a place of refuge and refreshment to all comers. Our Rectory hosts a Licensed Pastoral Counselor, of whose services many Georgetowners have availed themselves. In sum: our parishioners don’t descend on Georgetown from the suburbs on Sundays, and otherwise live their lives somewhere else. All of us, those who live in or near Georgetown and those who don’t, are a part of Georgetown and work actively for the community’s good. But we need faithful members to continue this long and, in my view, noble history. And many of these members, for good and weighty reasons, need a place to park on Sunday morning.

    Thanks to all. We appreciate this chance to converse with many who share this remarkable neighborhood with us.

  13. Has anybody asked Eagle Bank (across the street) if the church can use their spaces? The bank is closed on Sundays and it seems like a reasonable request to make up these three car spaces.

    That said, these three spaces barely make a dent in the transportation needs for what Rev. Graham says is a growing congregation. What’s really needed, instead of a debate over whether bikes are real form of transportation (they are), is a more comprehensive street parking policy. Metered parking should be expanded to Sundays and the “red top” meter program to reserve spaces for the handicapped should be implemented.

    Each program goes a long way to freeing up street spaces by encouraging drivers to park in garages. The reduction in “free” Sunday parking may also help alleviate Georgetown’s awful weekend traffic (really, it’s worse than weekday rush hour) by encouraging visitors to take alternate forms of transportation like the many Circulator buses (which, as an added bonus, would operate more efficiently in less traffic),

    Unless we implement actual parking reform we’ll keep on trying to unsuccessfully alleviate the symptoms of this problem instead of fixing the underlying cause.

  14. Thanks, Adam – the Eagle Bank option just occurred to me early this week, and we’re looking into it. You’re certainly right about weekend traffic here being worse than weekday rush hour.

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