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Posting might be light for a day or two, as I do a bit more writing than usual for next week’s paper. But for the shorter of my two assignments, this morning I hitched a ride with the Capital Bikeshare van as it careened around the city recycling bikes back to empty docking stations. It’s kind of like a video game: Look at the dots on a console as they go from red to blue and back again, and plot the best course to distribute bikes where they’re needed.
Some stations fill up as quickly as they’re emptied in the morning, requiring attention several times a day. Others don’t. The least-used stations, predictably, are mostly east of the river. The Anacostia metro station rack, for example, only had eight checkouts all of last month.
Perhaps counterintuitively, the solution isn’t fewer racks, but more of them: There’s no better way to inspire confidence in a system than always having a place to either dock your bike or pick one up when you need it. If you get to Anacostia, the docks are full, and the closest rack is at 1800 MLK, you’re not a happy camper. This isn’t just an east of the river problem, either. The American University rack is a good ten minute walk from Tenleytown, making the system less reliable. For comparison, look at the London system, which has 6,000 bikes to D.C.’s 1,200. The stations are arranged in a tight little blurb, with no stragglers on the edges.
Lots more next week!