Bikeable District – Capital Bikeshares: Part 1

April 21, 2018

D.C. takes great pride in its bikeshare system and rightly so. In August 2008, D.C. became the first jurisdiction in the United States to launch a bike sharing system. Then called SmartBike D.C., the program offered 120 bikes at 10 stations in downtown D.C. and the City center. Today, Capital Bikeshare, lets you choose from over 3,000 bicycles across 350 stations in Washington, D.C., Arlington and Alexandria, VA, and Montgomery County, MD. Capital Bikeshare has grown so popular that in May of this year they introduced two locations with guaranteed docks where members can be assured that they will no longer be “dock-blocked.” The surge in popularity is also reflected by the D.C. Department of Transportation recent proposal to add 99 bikeshare stations by fiscal year 2018.


For me, Capital Bikeshare solves two of the most common “commuter dilemmas” which face many of my fellow District residents:

  1. Nowhere to secure your bike for fear it may get stolen.

  2. Not wanting to commit to biking both directions with shifting weather or just pure laziness.

When I discovered Capital Bikeshare was coming to D.C. in May 2010, I wasn’t that excited. A road warrior at the time, I was barely at my Georgetown apartment, constantly commuting in and out of DCA, I rarely saw my roommate.The thought of myself strapping my carry-on onto a bike’s front basket and heading across 395 was enough for me to say “pass.” Instead I opted for four wheels instead of two and became an early adopter of Taxi Magic (now Curb). This was before the days of modern ridesharing as we know it.While my weekly commute stayed constant, the major thing that shifted was the amount of ridesharing services in the game.


While I no longer use Curb for my airport or city commutes, Uber and Lyft are my go tos. Though they might be a more expensive ride compared to what they once were, they are always available! I’m also starting to become a user of their new competitor, Split, a DC Native company. While weekly travel has been in my blood for years, in 2013, the constant traveling stopped. This allowed me to finally take notice and appreciate Capital Bikeshare. A year after I started using Capital Bikeshare, the Washington Post reported on its incredible success (must have been because I started using it!) even when compared to Citi Bank sponsored Bikeshare in Manhattan. This made it hard not to feel a sense of pride. Now just finish the streetcar! But I digress…


I finally took the full plunge into full membership when I moved to Southwest earlier this year. Looking back, I had to pause and reflect, maybe it wasn’t all the travel that kept me from biking. Instead,was it was my neighborhood and access to Capital Bikeshare that influenced my increased use? I took this question to the District Ninja team and we searched for the available and relevant data sets. For this exercise, we simply took the Capital Bikeshare Locations, again graciously provided by OCTO through the Open Data DC Initiative, and correlated them with the Neighborhood Boundary data, also provided by OCTO. This brought us to the following “Top Neighborhood Bikeshare Stations” Chart.



What we saw based on the data was a bit different than what I expected from my own experiences. Sure, many areas near Southwest such as the SW Employment Area, Monumental Core, and Golden Triangle were rich with stations. But the waterfront neighborhood where I live did not even rank on the list! I do not find myself walking all the way up to L’Enfant to get a bike so what gives? What data-grounded reason could I stand by to help make sense of my use pattern? So we shifted from bar chart to map! We thought an actual geospatial representation could provide some illuminated answers to the mystery.


At first glance, a few interesting observations popped out. For starters, Golden Triangle, Downtown, and Dupont Circle Bike Share locations are closely clustered together. Monumental Core seems to be the largest overall bikeshare area when considering the combination of number of locations along with the span of the city covered. By comparison, Capitol Hill gets recognized as the most sparse Bike Share neighborhood given the low numbers of locations and large area of coverage given the size of the Capitol Hill Neighborhood.


Even with all of this interesting information, I am faced with a fact often realized by data scientists, we just do not have enough information to answer my very complex question. Perhaps my change in job locations over these years has dictated more about my decisions versus my neighborhood? Perhaps my age or any other number of personal factors weighed in? Such possibilities are the reason why we always specific to point out interesting trends and correlations, but never speak to causation without a lot more study than goes into a data blog



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