For employees who take public transportation to the on River Road, their commute means hopping two buses once they leave the Bethesda Metro station.
But on a bike, the commute would be a quick, breezy trip down the Capital Crescent Trail.
The River Road Whole Foods is joining what is becoming a ringing chorus of community support for Capital BikeShare in the Bethesda area, following on the heels of successful models in Arlington and the District.
“A lot of our team members take public transportation, and from the Bethesda Metro it makes much more sense to come down the bike path — it’s only a mile and a half down to the building — than having to take a 45-minute route on the bus,” said Joanna Bragg, a marketing team leader for the store. “We also have a lot of customers who are health-conscious and eco-conscious, and the trail runs directly behind our building — it just seems like such a no-brainer.”
Community groups and leaders including the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board, the County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) and state Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Dist. 16) have all voiced their support for a BikeShare program, which they say could take cars off Bethesda’s congested streets and build off a network of trails that connects hubs including Westbard, downtown Bethesda, Medical Center, Friendship Heights, White Flint, and Chevy Chase.
The program allows riders to rent bikes for a yearly fee of $75, and pick up and drop off the bikes at any BikeShare station. Monthly, daily and five-day memberships are also available, though riders are charged extra to rent bikes for more than 30 minutes at a time.
Monday afternoon, Montgomery County Department of Transportation director Art Holmes is expected to attend a Montgomery County Council Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee to discuss the issue.
“There’s a lot of momentum building, and I think people feel the rightness of this, and that Bethesda is a logical place to build on Arlington and the District’s success,” said Berliner, who chairs the committee.
In an Oct. 12 letter to Berliner and County Executive Isiah Leggett, the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board endorsed the idea following a presentation on BikeShare at a CAB committee meeting last week.
“The CAB encourages the County to establish a concrete plan for implementation, with a Bethesda area BikeShare network as an early priority,” the letter read.
Funding, however, remains at issue. A station with 19 docks and 10 bikes costs about $55,000 in capital funds to construct and $25,000 yearly to operate, said Gary Erenrich of Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation at last week’s CAB committee meeting. Legal issues and identifying space are other hurdles.
“The cost for operations are surprisingly expensive,” Erenrich said. “It’s the communications aspect, the shifting of the bikes, the maintenance, a lot of the back office things … I think the operating costs are more of a challenge than the capital costs.”
According to a Council memo, several previous MCDOT attempts to secure federal funding for BikeShare in the county have proven unsuccessful. This year, however, funding was .
MCDOT is currently working with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, the Bethesda Urban Partnership, the Silver Spring Chamber, and the City of Takoma Park to identify possible bikeshare locations in Friendship Heights, downtown Bethesda, Medical Center, Takoma Park, downtown Silver Spring, Montgomery Hills and Forest Glen, according to the memo. Leggett has described the program as a "high priority" for county transportation officials.
Local leaders are exploring sources of state and federal transportation funding, private sector partnerships and the possibility of using Parking Lot District funds to back the program. Frosh has said he may pursue funding through state bond bills, and Berliner outlined possible sources of funding in an Oct. 5 memo to Holmes — issues set to be discussed at Monday’s Council committee hearing.
Stay tuned to Patch for more updates on the push for BikeShare in Bethesda.