Bikestation Opens in D.C. to Warm Welcome from Bicycling Advocates
Bikestation comes to Washington, D.C. Photo by Rhys Thom.

Bikestation comes to Washington, D.C. Photo by Rhys Thom.

The large bicycle helmet-shaped structure — a project that’s been in the works for six years — outside of Union Station finally opened to the public during a ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning attended by a veritable “who’s who “of Washington’s bicycling community. Members of DDOT, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Councilman Tommy Wells, and representatives of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) attended and showed their support.

“It’s a new vision for how we’re thinking through how a great, asset-rich urban environment should be,” Wells said.

Bikestation, a nonprofit organization based in Long Beach, Calif., unveiled its newest facility with the goal of reducing traffic congestion, reducing vehicular emissions, improving access to mass transit, and increasing transport options in the nation’s capital. Similar parking stations have already been built in Long Beach, Palo Alto, Berkeley, Seattle and Santa Barbara.

Evan, a local bike commuter, checks out the interior of the new facility. Photo by Rhys Thom.

Evan Bender, a local bike commuter, checks out the interior of the new facility. Photo by Rhys Thom.

The ultra-modern, glass and steel building, sitting under the shadow of Union Station’s iconic columns, cost $3 million to construct (plus $1 million of associated site improvements) and will house approximately 130 bicycles. It was funded mostly by the Federal Highway Administration, with the goal of alleviating traffic and helping the environment. And it very well may work. Andrea White-Kjoss, the President and CEO of Bikestation, estimates that 30% of expected users will be former drivers, and 60% will bike more frequently than they did before the station’s existence.

The station provides lockers, a changing area, bike rentals, repair and maintenance, and of course, indoor parking. Members, who pay an annual fee, will have 24/7 access to the facility, while rentals and maintenance occur from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

During the fall and winter months, there will be three people staffing the facility: two mechanics to run the full-service repair shop, and one rental assistant to promote Bike and Roll tours of the city. Users will be able to fix a flat, repair a broken chain, or buy some gear, like reflective leg bands.

Two mechanics will be on staff 7am-7pm. Photo by Rhys Thom.

Two mechanics will be on staff 7am-7pm. Photo by Rhys Thom.

“We’re there to get them back on the road as quickly as possible,” said Jon Saunders, one of the two Bike and Roll mechanics who will be staffing Bikestation in the coming months.

He said he’s never seen anything like Bikestation before.

“It’s a new concept for me,” he said. “It’s going to be very popular. I think it’ll fill up really quickly. It could have been twice the size.”

At the beginning of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, it was announced that 45 people had already signed up for a membership. Midway through, the tally rose to 60. The maximum capacity is 400 members, and it looks to be filling up quickly. White-Kjoss said it was the “fastest uptake of Bikestation in 15 years.”

“I think it will peak people’s interest and advance the concept,” Saunders added, “but in the future, it’s going to have to be a much bigger scale. It would be nice to have one outside of every Metro station.” Many other stations throughout the central business district would certainly benefit from a nearby bicycle storage facility (and many already have a nearby bike rental location.)

Mayor Fenty leads the ribbon cutting to unveil Bikestation's newest facility. Photo by Rhys Thom.

Mayor Fenty leads the ribbon-cutting to unveil Bikestation Washington, D.C.. Photo by Rhys Thom.

And therein lies one of the biggest limitations of the new facility — it’s too small. Amsterdam, in contrast, has a parking ramp that holds up to 7,000 bikes.

But of course, it’s unfair — and unwise — to compare D.C. to Amsterdam. The two cities have not evolved in the same way, socially (what bicycling means to each culture), geographically (density) and politically (policy). Still, Bikestation Washington D.C. is still a hugely symbolic statement, as Noah Kazis wrote in a previous post.

As Mayor Fenty said, “It’s not just a glass structure. It’s setting a national trend and national standard for intermodal transportation, for getting people out of their cars, for getting fit, and for getting people together.”

He emphasized the increased connectivity between Metrobus, the subway, MARC, VRE and Amtrak. He also kept talking about how it’s the first Bikestation on the East Coast (the 7th — and largest — in the country), and how “cool” it looks (made of mostly glass, in the shape of a bicycle helmet.) Finally, for a $96 annual membership, Fenty said it’s an “inexpensive way to stay so fit and so connected.”

The station makes the Union Station area (and, by extension, the nearby NoMa area,) one of the most connected car-free points in the country. The bicycling station provides an outstanding answer to the question of last-mile connectivity. And this is a model that can continue to be replicated.

“People will look at this and will follow the example,” White-Kjoss said, “to get out of their cars, on bikes and on transit.”

The idea is to get people out of cars, onto their bikes. Photo by Rhys Thom.

The idea is to get people out of cars, onto their bikes. Photo by Rhys Thom.

The station sets Washington up to become a type of Portland of the East. It not only demonstrates the District’s commitment to cycling, it also helps perpetuate it. According to Gabe Klein, director of DDOT, Washington has the largest percentage of cyclists on the East Coast. Bikestation’s newest facility has the potential to magnify that trend.

“It’s a monument to to bicycling,” said Martin Moulton, vice-president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Board of Directors. “It says that bicycling is an important and integral part of transportation infrastructure for the future, and that there will be more important decisions from the city and Capitol Hill about the choices we make for transportation plans across the country.”

Moulton pointed to the unsuccessful Dupont Down Under project to utilize empty space under Dupont Circle, saying that it holds potential for housing a new bicycle parking station, complete with changing rooms, showers and lockers. Not a bad idea.

The main point is that this is only the beginning of what must be a larger movement to promote cycling and sustainable transport in the nation’s capital.

“DDOT and the city are not going to rest on the laurels of this one facility,” White-Kjoss said. “We’ll be seeing a lot more of this.”

Erica Schlaikjer contributed to this post.

To learn more about Wasington D.C.’s commitment to bicycling, see these links:

Don’t forget to check out the following EMBARQ-produced video about bikesharing in the city:

SmartBike DC from EMBARQ Network on Vimeo.

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