image via TheWashCycle
Guest post by Silver Spring resident, Lauren Lee.
You’ve seen them around – maybe lined up in an organized row in downtown Silver Spring, maybe in a heap of a pile blocking a sidewalk or a bus stop. They come in all different colors! Green, Yellow, Orange, Red! Two things are for sure, they are making their way around the community and there are lots of opinions.
How do these bikes work? Generally, you download the app for the appropriate bike rental company – LimeBike for example, put in your information, create and account, etc. Then when you are interested in riding – you scan a bike, and it gets unlocked releasing the wheel. After your ride, you scan it again to lock it up and complete your ride. You don’t have to leave it in the same place as where you picked it up. For the rider looking for a quick trip from work to an appointment, or a ride to the bus stop from home these bikes seem like the perfect solution.
But of course there couldn’t be convenience without a dissenting inconvenience.
There have been bikes reported as being in the middle of sidewalks, fallen over, blocking a path for pedestrians, people with strollers or those in wheelchairs. Other bikes seem to have been left in more off the track places making them less apt to be ridden and often stay there for quite some time. WTOP just this weekend reported people parking bikes on the frozen C&O Canal. WHAT IS GOING ON?!
Dockless bikes aren’t for everyone it seems. There is a percentage of people that generally can’t use the bikes, those that travel and are responsible for young kids can’t easily run errands on dockless bikes. There’s also a risk that you get stranded and someone picks up the bike you left for your way back home. An argument also is that those that are avid bikers likely own bikes already.
Vicki King Taitano, a Silver Spring resident, is frustrated that a bike has been in her yard for over two weeks. The burden then falls on her to call the company and have them remove it. She mentions that she thought about putting in her narrow street but is afraid of causing an accident. “It sort of illustrates the point that this company expects me to participate in its business whether I want to or not. I don’t have the app and no one in my family rode the bike to my house, yet there it is unless I do something about it,” Taitano states.
After riding dockless bikes several times from her home to run errands in downtown Silver Spring, Liz Brent started a Facebook group called “Silver Spring’s Battle of the Bikes.” In this group, members frequently comment on both the positive and negative impact of these bikes. The pictures of kids riding the bikes and the convince of getting around downtown Silver Spring has been highlighted and lauded. It seems to be getting people to ride a bit more than normal. The environmental benefits also do not go unnoticed. Downtown Silver Spring is notorious for being frustrating to navigate in a car, especially during rush hour. By adding an easy bike option, many can get around without polluting or contributing to traffic.
Furthermore, it’s been noted that just because there are complaints and frustrations with the way that some of the companies handle the bikes being strewn about or where they are located, that doesn’t automatically translate into disliking the dockless bike programs as a whole. A general sentiment is that it’s a cool program but has lots of kinks to work out. Hopefully, the business model will only improve and expand to address needs and concerns.
“I think it’s odd that the rollout for the dockless bikes was in October, just as things would be getting cold here. On the other hand, on average our winters are usually so much milder than this, and the companies may have been counting on that,” notes Sandra Schmidt, a new rider and downtown Silver Spring resident. One would think that anyone familiar with the DC area knows how unpredictable the weather can be and how could it can become, deterring the casual bike rider.
As of now, there are many unanswered questions that we look forward to figuring out in the coming months as the weather warms, and bikers are more inclined to ride again. Will there be more bike accidents as drivers and riders get used to one another? Will a lack of helmet-wearers impact this? Will there be a more mainstream plan to move disruptively located bikes?
What do you think about the influx of dockless bikes in our community? Do you have a success story or an interesting anecdote? Let us know! If you’re interested in learning more about the different types (yes, there are plenty!) take a peek at their websites for more information. Montgomery County is open to questions or comments regarding the Dockless Bikeshare Program; residents can contact MC311 or email Commuter Services at firstname.lastname@example.org.