Vienna Council cautious on proposal for bike, scooter sharing

Vienna officials, along with counterparts in Fairfax County and the city of Fairfax and at George Mason University, are examining the possibility of providing shared bicycles and possibly scooters along the Route 123 corridor between Tysons and Burke. 

Shared bicycles and scooters are a popular fad with localities around the nation, but Vienna Town Council members on Nov. 19 took a cautious approach on how such services could be made available in the town.

Alexandra Frackelton of Toole Design presented the Council with a feasibility study for a regional bikeshare network that would run along Route 123. The study, commissioned by the city of Fairfax, also received funding from Fairfax County and George Mason University.

The Vienna-Fairfax City-Mason-Burke Bikeshare network would run along Route 123 from Route 7 in Tysons  to points south of Burke Lake and would access George Mason University and the Vienna Metro and Burke Virginia Railway Express stations.

Advocates say such sharing services reduce traffic congestion, boost economic activity in commercial zones, and help users cover that last mile or so between a mass-transit stop and their final destination.

“The topography in this corridor is largely flat and good for bicycling,” Frackelton said.

Project backers conducted an online survey that generated 180 responses and produced 29 suggested locations for Bikeshare stations. Eighty-four percent of survey takers said they strongly supported the proposed Bikeshare network and 7 percent strongly opposed it.

Bikeshare facilities either let riders rent bicycles from “Smart Dock” stations and return them to other such stations or offer “dockless” bikes or scooters that need not be left at stations.

Capital Bikeshare is a proven player in Northern Virginia, with readily recognizable bicycles and stations already offered in Tysons.  The program’s disadvantages include lengthy space needed for stations, it expensive equipment that multiple components, and the additional implementation time required.

Dockless bicycles, such as those offered by JUMP, LimeBike, Spin and Mobike, are swift to implement, offer users more parking options, are simple to access and use,  have inexpensive technology and do not cost localities anything to operate, according to the study.

Downsides of dockless bikes include less proven technology, less organization and agency control, and reduced reliability for people seeking to find such bikes.

Dockless scooters share all those characteristics of their bicycle counterparts. They also have the advantage of being usable by a wider array of people, but may cause problems when users ride them on sidewalks, the study found.

Bike- and scooter-sharing arrangements have had their share of problems. Baltimore earlier this year abandoned one bikeshare program after more than 100 its bicycles went missing. Norfolk officials recently impounded more than 400 Bird electric scooters, saying the company had offered them to users without the city’s permission.

The Route 123 bikeshare study preliminarily recommended participating partners give priority to trails, mass transit and destinations in Fairfax and Vienna and at Mason, take advantage of existing and planned bikeshare connections, and use a phased approach to pursue multiple bikeshare technologies.

The study also suggested Vienna officials should bolster the town’s bicycle infrastructure, review policies regarding bicycles and shared-mobility options, and provide staff support and operational subsidies, which then would be offset by sponsorships and user fees. A combination of docked and dockless options likely would serve various users best, according to the study.

Participating  entities in the proposed network likely will approve a final implementation plan in December, support an application for Interstate 66 Commuter Choice funding and finalize the network’s bikeshare locations next spring, according to the study.

Council member Pasha Majdi inquired about limiting the speed of electric scooters. Frackelton responded that Arlington County is considering “geofencing” technology that would allow scooters to travel up to 10 mph.

The Council did not seem opposed to participating in the new network, but members asked Frackelton to obtain more information about parking, right-of-way issues and the possible availability of helmets to ensure riders’ safety.

Council member Douglas Noble questioned the validity of the survey, given its small sample size, and said some aspects of shared transportation have not been sufficiently regulated.

“A lot of these dockless companies show up and ask for forgiveness later,” he said.

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