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Thread: CaBi stations on the National Mall, demand > supply (need more stations/docks)

  1. #1
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    Oct 2018
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    Default CaBi stations on the National Mall, demand > supply (need more stations/docks)

    On the topic of Capital Bikeshare stations on the DC National Mall, something I've wanted to write about for a long time but finally get motivation to do today.

    Right now there are six stations on the Mall proper (and three near the Tidal Basin south of Independence Ave).

    There are several more stations on adjoining streets which clearly serve National Mall-goers (their usage-surges [full/empty stations] align, in my experience, with typical tourist traffic, a fact easily confirmable if you pass by and see the types of people using the stations at those times). These are often found lining the north side of Constitution Ave., and sometimes crammed into unfavorable locations. (I am thinking especially of 19th & Constitution, which creates a particularly tight squeeze and frequent blockages of foot/bike/scooter traffic at this station.)

    Here is a map of where the stations are now:

    Name:  Capital Bikeshare stations inside National Mall - April 2021.jpg
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    (I think this forum vastly reduces attachment size, so here is a re-upload: .)

    Here is my observation on Capital Bikeshare on the National Mall:

    It's really popular. But demand far outstrips supply, which is bad for the system in several ways, and bad for bicycling. The magic-bullet solution is much more capacity to serve especially this market. There are barriers to such an expansion which I sort-of understand, but if the National Parks Service is willing to go as far as it has, they can surely allow at least bulking up existing station capacity and maybe a new station or two.

    It might well be that this observation is obvious to anyone who knows the system. But I think people who read this forum (and these words) are, I expect, pretty committed bicyclists. There is much larger pool of people out there who are willing to bike, who want to bike (especially in the right conditions, not on streets), but for whom it's not a part of their lifestyle. Capital Bikeshare, in principle, serves these people, which is one of the great things bikeshare has done for Bicycling in general. Nowhere is this more obviously true than among the thousands who go to the National Mall on any good-weather day, weekend or holiday -- a portion of which use Capital Bikeshare -- but far more of whom would, if capacity were there (it's not). It's in thinking about this pool of people -- marginal bicyclists, novices, tourists, non-system users, non-CaBi members -- that I write.

    On any good-weather day during a reasonable time of day, if you happen to glance at the map (try it now if you have the CaBi app or at, you'll see that demand crushes supply at the stations physically on the Mall, really almost every single reasonably warm/clear day, and rapidly so on weekends by midday and especially afternoon. By demand crushing supply I mean stations going full/empty.

    I believe past data releases shows that station on on the river side of the Lincoln Memorial is the highest-traffic station in the entire system on weekends and holiday. But the amount of time that this station goes full/empty suggests lots of unmet demand. (At some point back in about 2017, maybe 2018, on some peak days, I think CaBi had an employee there running a little mini bike corral to alleviate this problem. I only recall seeing this in operation once, a solo employee at the time I passed by dealing with the opposite problem or why she was put there, namely a lack of bikes and people asking her to "save this bike for my friend who's coming in a few minutes," which she did, shooing away people! It was a little comical. The obvious solution even then was just adding more docks.)

    So there's a lot of unmet bikeshare demand across the Mall. And to re-state my point: The best, most graceful, and most viable solution I can see is adding many more docks and possible more stations here and there.

    There are those who'll say: "You're lucky the National Parks Service ever allowed bikeshare to have any stations on the Mall!" Okay (though it's not me who is lucky but these marginal bicyclists), but if they do allow these six stations, why not bulk up the system a little more to meet demand better? Because it's not being met now. As I say, the number of docks at the Lincoln Memorial could probably stand to be doubled, for one, and space is there.

    As for new stations, they'll cry out that it cannot be done because the NPS jealously guards its land from being scarred by bicycle stations and/or by swarms of bicyclists. Which makes me question, is it possible NPS does not want more bikeshare traffic on the Mall and therefore actively turns out any such initiatives for new stations or boosted dock-capacity? If so, that's a big net loss for Bicycling. But it doesn't affect the hardcore non-CaBi bicyclists who may be only vaguely aware of the problem, so there is limited advocacy.

    Whatever the justifications one comes up with about why it hasn't, or can't, be done ("it" being meeting head-on the easily-observable reality that bikeshare demand far exceeds supply on the Mall), the market generally finds ways around barriers: The 'gap' here is partially filled by the hundreds of e-scooters that get dumped along the Mall as well as the private dockless e-bikes, and a lot of the demand is just a kind deadweight loss to Bicylcing (i.e., less bicycling gets done, as people pass on racing around trying to find docks with bikes and proceed on foot). For another thing, unmet demand means less income for CaBi itself, as well as blows to the prestige of the system caused by cases of frustration from some of the kinds of people you'd want to court. The first-timer frustrated at being unable to dock due to a full station and demanding a refund on the phone, or whatever.

    As for me, as a veteran CaBi user, lacking any further info I would never aim to dock on a Mall station at any near-peak time at risk of it being full -- most users are novices or total-beginner-first-timers at the system and simply wouldn't know what to do. And the way tourists think they'll use CaBi is to cruise to various stations, dock, and look around a while, then cruise to another station, dock again, etc., and on any peak time (fair-weather weekend), this plan quickly falls apart amid full stations.


    Okay, I could keep going in this vein that the lack of stations/dock-capacity on the Mall is probably a net loss for Bicycling in ways some may not have considered. And while there are other areas of DC that have even higher demand pressures, and which obviously need much more capacity (none moreso, IMO, than the Georgetown area), the CaBi network on the National Mall is a special case. Really all these stations could be doubled in capacity to accommodate demand, especially(?) the one on the west side of Lincoln.


    Oh, and if anyone is curious and unfamiliar with this problem, you don't need to take my word for it. If you glance at the CaBi map at any given time on a good-weather spring/summer/fall weekend afternoon, as the system currently exists, I can almost guarantee you will see stations full or empty, and that is so despite the rebalancers being given priority (I am told) to deal with these stations.

    As of this writing, the 1pm hour on a Sunday, the large station near the Smithsonian Metro has 1 bike and 33 empty docks (and that "1 bike" may even be a system-error, not really usable; it happens). I imagine a familiar scene: Families walking by, the large majority being people infrequently downtown or from out-of-the-area. Some of these passers-by are inclined to get some bikes. None are there! Oh well, keep walking. No bikes today.

    I also see the map showing the station southeast of the Washington Monument (Jefferson Dr and 14th St) is right now fully-empty. That's 0 bikes, 23 docks. No big surprise there, as I've been saying. If the weather holds, I expect the stations flanking the Lincoln Memorial to go full (0 open docks) or empty (0 bikes) for at least certain periods of time as the afternoon goes on. And for as long as such conditions hold, that means demand going unmet, potentially frustrations rising for some would-be users, inability to use the system as advertised to cruise from sight to sight on the Mall (which should be an obvious marketing point to tourists).


    I feel compelled to write this thread because for a long time I've observed this problem (clear "demand > supply" problems on the Mall), which affects a particular kind of market which pro-cycling people should want to support, a market/demographic which otherwise never speaks up for itself.

  2. #2
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    Oct 2018
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    Some further overflow thoughts:

    There are those who might be swayed by the "more dock-capacity needed" argument, but who may insist that six stations on the National Mall is sufficient. (Six stations from Lincoln steps to the pool in front of the Capitol), and I can well imagine some even pro-cycling people and pro-CaBi people might even say more would be a nuisance. I can see the merit of this argument, but to them I say/ask three things:

    (1) How are tourists finding CaBi stations? If they don't enter the Mall at the Lincoln Memorial, they only have four on the entire way down to the Capitol, and some of these can be easy to miss.

    (2) For whatever the merits of the argument to limiting station density on the Mall, the lack of station density probably creates the same problem as the lack of bicyclist density in general. I refer to the bicycling safety in numbers theory by which more bikes apparently leads to fewer overall accidents/injuries/deaths (and therefore far fewer per-capita accidents), partly because bicycling crosses a threshold into becoming normalized. In short: More density = more acceptance. The principle applies to CaBi station density, too, I think, in this case, and in the special case of the National Mall. More people seeing CaBi bikes and stations creates more acceptance and therefore is a win for bicycling. This is a separate benefit on top of the meeting the obvious supply-demand problem easily observable today.

    (3) There is a new e-scooter parking zone pilot program which has some 19 designated parking zones. That's far more parking zones, in the same space, than CaBi has (with its six stations). If 6 is enough to cover this big space, why did they go for 19?

    In a recent thread, LhasaCM mentioned that the National Parks Service (which "runs" the National Mall) is right now running a pilot program involving 19 scooter parking zones on the Mall, after for a long time struggling with what to do about e-scooters since their big rise starting about 2018. Nineteen scooter parking zones on the same stretch of ground on which CaBi has six stations (the two flanking Lincoln and just four more on the two miles to the Capitol). This approval of nineteen e-scooter drop-off zones seems to me a clear tacit acknowledgment that six "stations" is far too few to serve the market's needs.


    Some might also say signs ("This way to Capital Bikeshare") might help to direct people and be a work-around to some of these problems, potentially bypassing a need for more stations as such (if more dock-capacity is added, because demand crushes supply right now.)

    Are there CaBi signs on the Mall now? Not AFAIK, except the ones on physical maps. The practical problem is also getting any kind of sign approved. This subject came up in another recent thread:

    Quote Originally Posted by Judd View Post
    Putting up signs on NPS property typically requires going through a compliance process to assess the impact on the things that NPS is charged with preserving including viewsheds. There’s understandably a reluctance to do a ton of work to install a single sign.
    Judd is right. I don't know that signs will ever be approved. The same problem is also the reason ofc why new stations would not be approved (but then there is much less reluctance to designate spaces to dump e-scooters).

    Over the past few years, I've observed National Mall visitors on bike-/ebike-/escooter-share a lot. How do tourists connect with them? I think it happens like this (my impression):

    The most common way is tourists come across stations/bikes/scooters by chance. For this 'market,' unplanned trips may be a more common entry-point than people seeking them out either by word-of-mouth, signs (if there are any), physical map (stations are there, albeit in tiny font, on the physical maps on Mall grounds), or the app map (and first-time-user tourists of course wouldn't have the app at all yet; side issue: IMO the new app is less user-friendly than the pre-LYFT-era map).

    There are of course some brand loyalists who seek out bikes/scooters via their Uber app, or BIRD app, or some other method. But I think the leading way the Mall gets bikeshare traffic (bike-, specifically, not scooter-share) is people just encountering stations and giving it a try.

    If I'm right on this, signs could help, in principle, but the best solution is still more stations.

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