Lime has become the second company to start offering dockless electric scooters in Arlington, expanding into the county soon after officials signed off on a pilot program to allow more of the vehicles around the area.
The company successfully applied for that program and is so far only offering scooters, not bikes, in Arlington, according to county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet. Bird was the first company to drop its dockless scooters in the county this summer, though Lime has been courting support from the county’s business community for months now.
Even still, the company, which also operates in D.C., has been reticent to mirror Bird’s approach and deploy scooters in Arlington without the county’s blessing. But after the County Board signed off last month on a nine-month “demonstration project” for companies to test out dockless vehicles, allowing each company to operate up to 750 vehicles in Arlington over the length of the pilot, Lime jumped in.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how many scooters its deployed in Arlington. The terms of the pilot program allow dockless companies to deploy up to 350 vehicles right away, then increase the size of the fleet by 50 vehicles per month, so long as they can meet ridership targets.
Bird is the only other company to sign up to participate in the pilot program as of yet, Balliet said. County officials previously warned the Board that as many as 10 companies could ultimately apply, given the other firms already operating bikes and scooters in D.C., which is why they initially pressed for a lower cap on the number of vehicles allowed in the county.
County staff specifically mentioned Skip as one company looking to expand into Arlington right away, and CEO Sanjay Dastoor previously told ARLnow that the company is indeed interested in bringing its scooters to the county. Dastoor did not respond to a request for comment on his plans for the pilot program, and a quick scan of Skip’s mobile app shows only a handful of scooters currently in Arlington.
Not everyone seems thrilled to have more scooters on Arlington’s streets. A photo taken by a passerby and sent to ARLnow this morning, below, shows a Lime scooter snapped in half in front of P.F. Chang’s in Ballston.
Photo (bottom) courtesy Richie F.
As Metro’s leaders wrestle anew with the question of how to bring riders back to the troubled transit service, Northern Virginia officials are offering their own suggestions: focus on reliability, and create new fare card plans to entice riders.
In a new report to Gov. Ralph Northam and the General Assembly set to be considered tonight (Thursday), the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission plans to urge Metro to use those strategies to boost ridership, and put WMATA on sounder financial footing in the process.
The document is the first such set of recommendations delivered to state lawmakers from the regional transportation planners at the NVTC, as part of the new oversight powers the group won through legislation to provide Metro with dedicated state funding.
Notably, however, it does not include any recommendation that Metro increase service to bring back riders. The push for service boosts, long backed by transit advocates, has become a particularly hot topic in recent days, after the Washington Post uncovered an internal Metro report insisting that service changes are the surest way for reversing WMATA’s declining ridership.
Members of Metro’s Board of Directors, including Arlington County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey, expressed no such certainty on a path forward when questioned by the Post, and said they had no knowledge of the internal report on service increases. But the NVTC report represents a chance for regional leaders — including NVTC commissioners like Dorsey, County Board Chair Katie Cristol and Board member Libby Garvey — to offer some of their own thoughts on the matter to Metro and its overseers.
The group’s “2018 Report on the Performance and Condition of Metro” notes that just 79 percent of trains arrived at stations “at or close” to their scheduled times in fiscal year 2017, underscoring the NVTC’s recommendation that improving reliability should be WMATA’s prime long-term focus in bringing riders back to the service. To do so, NVTC expects the system will need to devote plenty of cash to capital projects.
The report deems the $500 million in annual dedicated funding that Metro will now receive from D.C., Maryland and Virginia “an invaluable tool” in achieving its maintenance goals. Even still, the group notes that Metro reported an “unconstrained capital need” of $25 billion in projects in 2016, and will need to focus on the area for years to come to catch up on many years worth of work.
In the short term, however, the NVTC recommends developing “new fare-pass products” to “ease the transit riding experience.”
Examples could include the expansion of passes designed for college students, or new partnerships with hotels and conventions “to provide fare products directly to visitors as a part of hotel and/or convention registration.” Metro’s internal report also cites the importance of developing new fare pass options, recommending strategies like offering shorter term passes and making all passes useable on both Metro trains and buses, but those options are listed firmly below the priority of increasing service.
Yet the NVTC expects that exploring those fare pass strategies would also improve fare collection and boost Metro’s coffers, another key point of emphasis of the NVTC report. The document suggests that Metro “develop the next generation of fare collection technology” in the long term, and test methods for “off-vehicle fare collection” on Metrobus routes to juice revenues.
The report also includes recommendations on how Metro can control costs, with a special focus on labor costs. With a new Government Accountability Office analysis of WMATA’s pension liabilities igniting new debates on Metro’s relationship with its unions, the NVTC is urging Metro’s board to consider private contracting in select situations and other collective bargaining tactics to keep labor costs down.
Metro only recently cooled tensions with its largest union, which briefly threatened a strike this summer.
Photo courtesy of Metro
Arlington officials will soon allow dockless vehicle companies to operate up to 750 electric scooters and bikes in the county over the next nine months, reversing earlier plans to set a much lower cap on the vehicles as part of a new pilot project.
Starting next week, companies will be able to participate in the “demonstration project” the County Board unanimously approved Tuesday. While an earlier version of the program called for a cap of 350 vehicles per company, the Board ultimately opted for a much larger limit over concerns that a smaller cap would stymie the success of the dockless vehicle firms.
Bird first dropped its scooters in the county in June, becoming the first company to cross from D.C. into Arlington, but that move caught county officials a bit flat-footed. Arlington decided against retaliatory action on that front, choosing instead to launch the nine-month pilot to better evaluate how it manages the bikes and scooters going forward.
“I’m really proud that we’re not going to react to this major change to our transportation network in a kneejerk way,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “We’re going to do it through data.”
The program will set some new standards on dockless companies, forcing them to pay $8,000 for a permit to participate, post a “surety bond” in case they go out of business and share ridership data with the county. It will also require them to remove an improperly parked bike or scooter within one hour from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day.
But the top issue the Board hopes to suss out as part of the pilot is just how many dockless vehicles Arlington can realistically handle.
Cameron Kilberg, senior manager of government affairs for Bird, told the Board that her company already had 500 scooters in the county, with each one averaging roughly three trips per day. County staff initially only expected to allow companies to reach the 350 vehicle cap if they could demonstrate a six-trip average per day, strictures Kilberg warned would hurt Bird’s ability to operate in Arlington. The county’s Transportation Commission also urged against the lower cap in a letter to the Board.
Some dockless companies have already pulled out of D.C., citing the city’s 400 vehicle cap, and the Board feared a similar development in Arlington if they mirrored that approach.
“What would be the goals of a pilot coming in at a scale lower than what you’re actually seeing on the ground?” said Vice Chair Christian Dorsey.
Even still, transportation staffers told the Board that they’re wary of just how many vehicles could show up in the county all at once.
For instance, commuter services bureau chief Jim Larsen pointed out that Skip, another dockless company operating in D.C., told him that they envision deploying 500 vehicles to the county right away in the near future. He added that he foresees as many as 10 companies applying as part of the new pilot program, meaning the county would soon be awash in thousands of the vehicles.
“Those jurisdictions that don’t have a cap have run into problems, and in some cases have had to entirely pull back, pull all the devices off the market and start over,” said county transportation chief Dennis Leach. “We don’t feel that’s a good way to move forward.”
Yet Board member Erik Gutshall pointed out that if the 350-vehicle cap forced companies to leave the county, “we could find ourselves midway through the pilot, and our hands are tied.” That’s why the Board ultimately decided to allow dockless companies to immediately deploy 350 bikes and scooters, then apply for an increase of 50 vehicles each month over the duration of the pilot, so long as they can prove they’re being ridden three times each day.
Dorsey added that an increase in the number of scooters and bikes might also force companies to deploy the vehicles beyond just the heavily trafficked Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, which he deemed an “equity issue.”
“I’d hope with this more permissive approach, we can get these companies really thinking about how they deploy on Columbia Pike, Lee Highway, Shirlington, all these areas not served by the multiplicity of modes on the R-B corridor,” Dorsey said.
Gutshall even proposed someday moving to a “free for all” approach, where the county would require companies to “draw down” if they can’t provide data demonstrating they’re hitting a target number of trips per day. Dorsey even suggested setting a cap on the total number of vehicles in the county, then putting forth some sort of competitive bidding process for companies looking to meet that demand.
The new policy also bans people from riding the scooters on sidewalks and county trails — staff believes the county would need to pass a new ordinance to allow them on the trails, yet lacks the authority to do so under state law — and caps their speed limit at 10 miles per hour.
Kilberg suggested changing both provisions, particularly the speed limit, as the company’s scooters are currently capped at 15 miles per hour.
“Most people aren’t going 15… and if you’re only using them on the street, you’re competing with other cars,” Kilberg said.
But any of those proposed changes would only come once the county gets a chance to evaluate the results of the pilot, Cristol said. County staff plans to collect data from the companies on the scooters and bikes, and gather comments from the community to gauge how the dockless vehicles are working in practice.
“We want complaints, commendations, to know if you’re enjoying the program, or possibly not,” said Paul DeMaio, the pilot program’s manager.
(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) Arlington is rolling out its promised pilot program to guide the use of dockless vehicles, clearing the way for more companies to offer electric scooters and bikes in the county.
County officials have been mulling how best to regulate dockless vehicles since Bird started offering its scooters in Arlington this June without any warning to the local government. Now, the County Board is set to approve a program requiring companies to register with the county to avoid similar surprises, while also capping the number of vehicles they can deploy in Arlington.
The nine-month program limits companies to operating a total of 350 vehicles each within county limits. Under its terms, any business looking to deploy dockless scooters or bikes will have to pay the county $8,000 for an operating permit, and would then be able to operate a fleet of 200 vehicles. The companies could then apply to increase the size of the fleet by 50 vehicles each month, up to the 350 cap, so long as it can demonstrate that each vehicle is recording at least six trips per day.
Those strictures are similar to D.C.’s own strategy for managing dockless vehicles, which the District put in place last year and caps companies at 400 vehicles each. Transportation advocates in the region have been especially critical of those limits, with some companies ditching D.C. due to the caps, and county staff noted in a report prepared for the Board that the county’s own Transportation Commission “recommended that the demonstration refrain from capping numbers of devices.”
.@ArlingtonVA's shared mobility pilot program which is on the Board's "consent agenda" on Saturday (for non-controversial items) would more than halve the # of scooters @BirdRide can have in the County from what it has now. https://t.co/lSJl2oXOit
— Chris Slatt (@alongthepike) September 20, 2018
“This proposal retains what staff considers a reasonable cap, reflecting other community input,” staff wrote. Bird started off its deployment in Arlington with 50 scooters, staff wrote, but the company has declined to release exact numbers on how many vehicles it’s since brought to the county.
Staffers added in the report that county officials consulted with some “vendors” last month to gauge their thoughts on the design of the program. Lime, in particular, has spent months working with local business leaders to ensure a more favorable regulatory environment in the county, while Skip, the third dockless scooter company operating in D.C., has also signaled an interest in expanding to Arlington.
Staff also wrote that they fully expect that this pilot program could encourage the remaining dockless bike companies operating in D.C. — Spin and Jump — to start operating in the county as well.
Additionally, the program clarifies that there is no helmet requirement for scooter riders, the county plans to bar anyone younger than 16 from using the scooters, and that the scooters can’t be used on county sidewalks, without some policy tweaks. The policy also adds that both scooters and electric bikes won’t be permitted on county trails.
“While there is enabling authority for localities to ban electric scooter riding on sidewalks, it does not grant localities authority to affirmatively allow such riding,” staff wrote. “Thus, to enact an ordinance authorizing electric scooter riding on sidewalks would require a legislative change.”
The county is also planning on collecting community feedback on all manner of dockless vehicle issues, and will require the companies themselves to regularly turn over ridership data, which can then be released publicly.
The Board first has to sign off on the policy at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22). It’s currently slated to be considered as part of its consent agenda, generally reserved for non-controversial items to be approved as a block, though it can be pulled from the consent agenda at the request of Board members.
The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Daniel Berkland, an Ashton Heights resident who was recently involved in an accident on a Bird electric scooter.
The dockless vehicles first arrived in Arlington in June, and county officials are planning to unveil a new policy governing their use later this month, as scooter-related injuries appear to be on the rise as the vehicles gain popularity nationwide.
Flippin’ the Bird: A Cautionary Tale
On Labor Day afternoon I was in Clarendon when I decided it was time to go home. I texted my daughter and told her that I was on my way. Then I saw a Bird scooter and thought to myself it is so hot I really want to just ride this scooter home.
I rented the device and was soon on my way. About six blocks from home I turned down Irving because I thought it would be safer not to ride on the busier Wilson Boulevard. I noticed a couple of trucks coming towards me and I remember slowing down — that is my final memory until I woke up in the EMS vehicle. They were taking my vitals and asking me what year it was – a question that I could not answer. I was transported to GW Hospital because I had passed out and had a concussion. There I received a CT scan and a bed. They kept me over night so they could do a follow up scan and monitor my condition.
The good news is there was no bleeding in my brain and I could be released. The bad news was I had bruises on my head, shoulder, hands, elbows, and knees. I am going to be stiff and sore for quite a while. I’m getting a little better every day, but anyone who has been in this condition will recognize the special horror that is sneezing when one is hurt like this. The pain is simply excruciating.
The very worst part was I was given an alias when I checked into GW Hospital so my family couldn’t find me for a couple of hours. A terrifying experience for them while I was in the ER.
I also want to give special thanks to the unknown neighbor who called 911 for me. Who knows how long I would have lain there without someone’s intervention. I owe you one!
So take my unsolicited advice – stay off the scooters. While they may be convenient, they can also be very dangerous! Walking is good for you.
A postscript after this appeared in the Ashton Heights newsletter — the kind neighbor who helped me out was Doug Williams, the AHCA treasurer. Neighbors helping neighbors is what Ashton Heights is all about!
ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.
GMA Broadcasts Segment from Arlington — ABC’s Good Morning America broadcast a live segment from Arlington’s fire training academy near Shirlington yesterday. [Twitter]
Buyers’ Market in 2020? — “Home sellers likely will continue to hold more negotiating power than buyers for the next year and a half, according to the 2018 Q3 Zillow Home Price Expectations Survey. But it won’t last forever, experts say.” [InsideNova]
Local Leaders Decry Loss of Transportation Funding — “The leaders of Northern Virginia’s five most populous jurisdictions pledged Wednesday to push back on the General Assembly’s move this year to pull money from regional transportation projects to provide dedicated funding for the Metro system.” [WTOP]
Flickr pool photo by Brian Irwin
On Sept. 15, stretches of Arlington’s on-street parking will be transformed into pop-up parks for the annual PARK(ing) Day event, and applications are now available to turn your bare asphalt into a roadside oasis.
There are many restrictions on which spots are eligible and what kinds of decorations can be included on-site. The parking spaces must be legal parking spots that aren’t reserved for other uses, like rush hour, handicap, or loading zone spots. Parking spaces also can’t be located at the end of the street block.
The site must occupy a minimum of two parking spaces (40 feet) with a 10-foot buffer on each side. The zones must be separated from the street and other parking spaces by traffic barrels, which can be rented from Arlington County at the time of the application.
The Arlington County Division of Transportation offers several suggestions and restrictions for what can or can’t be placed in the pop-up park. Items prohibited include:
- Distractions to drivers, like banners, balloons, flashing lights, flying items and free standing tents
- Open flames of any kind or generators
- Loose or uncovered material, like sand, gravel, mulch or stone
- Free-standing umbrellas
- Sidewalk storage or overflow of activities
- Physical structures that damage the surface or create a hazard, like slippery surfaces or tripping hazards.
- Activities that are dangerous or restricted by county code
- Any vending or merchandise displays.
PARK(ing) Day begins at 9 a.m. on Sept. 15. By 3:30 p.m. of PARK(ing) Day, the park space must be completely restored back to a parking space, with all trash and materials removed from the site.
Permits cost $36.70 and can be filed in person or online. Two temporary “No Parking” signs can be rented for $27, and traffic barrels rented at $5.40 per barrel.
Applicants are also charged a fee for the impacted meters, with $16.20 for meters with a time limit of four hours or less, or $11.90 for meters for more than four hours. Applications must be submitted by next Friday (Aug. 31).
Photos via Arlington Department of Environmental Services
Motorcycle riders represent just a small portion of traffic on the roads, but they’re consistently involved in more fatal accidents than anyone else — some researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute are looking to change that.
VTTI is teaming up with Transurban, the company building and operating toll lanes on Northern Virginia’s busiest highways, to try and spur the development of new technology to make the roads safer for motorcyclists.
Transurban announced at Virginia Tech’s Ballston research center yesterday (Tuesday) that it would be donating $400,000 to VTTI to kick off the “Motorcycle Technology Evaluation Challenge,” known as “MotoTEC.”
The goal is to pair small technology companies and startups working on devices and software that could be used for motorcycle safety with some needed funding and, perhaps more importantly, the expertise of Virginia Tech’s researchers. VTTI hopes to find some promising technology to test along Transurban’s express lanes on highways like I-495 and I-95, giving it a big boost in making it to market.
“This is all about: What can get on the road fastest to make the most impact?” said Andy Schaudt, project director for VTTI’s motorcycle research group.
Schaudt says the current challenge for tech companies looking to make motorcycles safer is that many have gone overlooked, even amidst the global embrace of “connected cars.” After all, he points out that “there aren’t a lot of places to put sensors” on a motorcycle.
That’s where MotoTEC can come in. Schaudt hopes to convene a steering committee made up of transportation researchers and industry experts alike to evaluate technology with potential, then put out a call to companies looking for a boost.
He expects to hold a “pitch competition” if VTTI gets enough of a response, and he hopes to “keep the funnel wide” in accepting all manner of technologies as possibilities. Jennifer Aument, president of Transurban North America, suggested that solutions could include things like a system to connect a rider’s helmet to road sensors or technology to somehow make work zones safer for motorcyclists.
“It’s about finding something with a big impact,” Aument said. “Our single focus is on how to save lives.”
Depending on what technology wins out, Schaudt said testing could start as soon as this fall. Should it need a little more time to develop, however, he said VTTI could instead wait for the next “riding season” to start next spring.
No matter the exact timeline, Schaudt says the goal is that “within one year of program starting, we want results ready to share.” He noted that testing out the efficacy of various technologies can often be “extremely expensive” for small companies, and he thinks VTTI can play a big part in making that process a lot smoother.
“This all goes towards expediting deployment,” Schaudt said. “If they have the right support, they can start putting it on roadways and benefitting motorcycle riders right away.”
Aument added that the research work could even have a more immediate impact along the highways Transurban is working on.
With construction on the I-395 toll lanes picking up in earnest, necessitating work zones that become especially dangerous for drivers and motorcyclists alike, she said her company would be eager to embrace any low-tech solutions VTTI proposes to improve signage or lane markings and make everyone safer on the roads.
“We’re looking for solutions in our work zones right away, so if they find something interesting, we want to hear about it,” Aument said.
Commuters looking to learn more about local transportation options can swing by a block party along Columbia Pike tomorrow night (Tuesday).
Arlington Transportation Partners is hosting its second “Our Shared Street Pop-Up” event on a closed street at the intersection of S. Oakland Street and Columbia Pike, just across from the Oakland Apartments.
The event is designed to connect people to county transportation resources like Walk Arlington and Bike Arlington, in addition to a host of private options as well. Notably, this year’s gathering will feature dockless electric scooter companies Bird and Lime — the former has already started operating in Arlington, while the latter is very much eyeing the county for expansion.
Lime will also be offering its dockless bikes for riders to try, and Capital Bikeshare will be on hand as well to show off its wares to potential customers. The event will also feature games, giveaways and free food from local restaurants.
The party will start at 5 p.m. Tuesday night, and the county has a list of frequently asked questions about the event on its website.
Photo via Arlington Transportation Partners
The Virginia Department of Transportation is looking to “developers, planners, futurists, big data lovers and problem solvers” to help address the state’s biggest transportation questions.
Today (July 17) and tomorrow, participants in VDOT’s second SmarterRoads Hackathon and Idea Jam Series will gather at startup incubator 1776’s Crystal City campus. They will use VDOT’s open data sets and SmarterRoads portal to develop projects.
Winners receive cash prizes up to $1,000 and some successful entrants will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas at a future workshop.
Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine will deliver a speech tomorrow afternoon, before the event wraps up with an awards ceremony at 4 p.m.
Arlington is now gearing up to officially embrace dockless bikes and scooters, even though some scooters have already arrived in the county.
County officials have spent the last few weeks mulling how to respond to the sudden appearance of dozens of Bird’s dockless scooters around Arlington in late June. Though the county did receive some advance warning from the company that it planned to start operating in Arlington, County Manager Mark Schwartz and the county’s legal team weren’t sure exactly how to react to Bird’s arrival.
Some communities have even chosen to take legal action against dockless vehicle companies that start operating without the local government’s consent, but the county announced in a statement today (Thursday) that staff determined there “are no regulations currently in place that would prohibit the operation and use of these devices in Arlington.” The county doesn’t have any regulation prohibiting the scooters on sidewalks, but it does ban “motorized vehicles” from county bike paths, which would include the scooters.
Moving forward, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet told ARLnow that officials are planning to unveil a “pilot demonstration project” to test out all manner of dockless vehicles this fall.
Much like D.C.’s current pilot program, Balliet says he envisions the effort helping to “provide structure to the deployment, operation and use of scooters and dockless bikes within the county and to evaluate the overall performance and gauge the impacts of these mobility devices.” He says the current plan is to deliver a framework for that effort to Schwartz and the County Board for approval this September.
Should the county design a program similar to the District’s efforts, dockless companies like Bird would be able to partner with the county to participate in the pilot. Lime Bike has already been working with the Crystal City BID, as it eyes the county for expansion. Skip’s CEO also says his company, the third dockless scooter outfit operating in D.C., is interested in Arlington.
Balliet did not immediately provide details on what form the pilot program might take, but County Board member John Vihstadt says he’d be broadly receptive to clearing the way for more dockless vehicles to become available around Arlington.
“New methods of mobility are something we need to embrace,” Vihstadt said. “Some people will say, with the greater consumer choice one has with mobility, is that undercutting the Metro system or our bus system… but I think they can work together. If people have to get to to the Metro, or get to the bus stop, we can utilize these other modes of personal transportation.”
In the meantime, the county is urging anyone using dockless vehicles around Arlington to be considerate of other drivers and bike riders. The county also released a new tip sheet today with suggestions on the best ways to use the scooters, while officials hammer out a more detailed policy.
Between Bird and the other dockless companies currently operating in D.C. and Maryland, the county estimates that roughly 100 dockless vehicles pop up in Arlington each day.
Construction kicked off this morning (Thursday) on a persistently congested section of eastbound I-66 with a ceremonial groundbreaking on Fairfax Drive.
The estimated $125 million project will add a lane to stretch approximately four miles inside the Beltway — from the Dulles Connector Road to Fairfax Drive — while mostly maintaining the existing right of way.
VDOT plans to complete construction of the lane in fall 2020. There will be night time lane closures along the project route throughout the summer to accommodate construction, according to information presented at a June 5 community meeting.
Night time closures will continue on a more limited basis through summer 2019. By the end of this summer, VDOT plans to begin primarily conducting work during the day without lane closures.
The findings of a noise analysis in the fall will potentially allow VDOT to incorporate approved noise walls into final construction plans.
Two other projects are slated to be completed by October 2021 as part of the widening initiative. First, a new ramp will be built to establish direct access to the West Falls Church Metro station from the highway. Second, a pedestrian bridge will be constructed over Lee Highway on the W&OD Trail. Currently, the trail crosses Lee Highway at its intersection with Fairfax Drive.
These plans have not gone uncontested — Preservation Arlington included the inside the Beltway portion of the highway on its 2017 list of “endangered historic places” and some East Falls Church residents have expressed concerns about the pedestrian bridge, for example.
Shannon Valentine, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, noted in her keynote address at the groundbreaking that I-66 is often considered one of the worst highways in America. Efforts such as this project, dynamically priced tolls on I-66 and an increase in travel options aim to change that.
“As we move forward, smart, targeted investments like the eastbound widening today are steps… [toward] building a transportation platform that supports and enhances our workforce, jobs, business investment and growth,” Valentine said.
Dockless electric scooters only popped up in Arlington for the first time last weekend, but it seems like a sure bet that more are on the way.
Lime Bike is eyeing the county for its next expansion of its dockless scooter service, after starting up operations in D.C. last fall. The company even teamed up with the Crystal City Business Improvement District to offer free scooter rides for people walking along Crystal Drive today (Thursday), as part of a bid to build community support ahead of an eventual rollout in Arlington.
“You can’t just serve the District and expect to offer a transportation solution for the entire region,” Jason Starr, Lime’s D.C. general manager, told ARLnow. “But we don’t just want to operate without some good will and support from residents and businesses alike… While, yes, we do want to operate in Arlington, one thing we really pride ourselves on as a company is working with jurisdictions to create a viable source of support for this.”
Starr makes this point, in part, to draw a contrast with Bird, another dockless company in D.C., which first deployed its scooters in Arlington on Sunday. County transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says that county officials “did receive a heads-up” from Bird about its plans, at least, but he added that the county is very much weighing how to react to Bird’s sudden arrival.
“We will be having discussions with the county manager and the county attorney’s office on how to respond to their deployment in Arlington,” Balliet wrote in an email.
Some cities have chosen to take legal action in response to such tactics by the scooter companies. For instance, Santa Monica sued Bird over its failure to secure necessary business licenses and permits, while San Francisco has temporarily banned all electric scooters in the city as it hammers out a new permitting process.
Balliet says county officials have “met informally” with the various dockless vehicle companies in the region, in part to avoid any such conflict. In fact, Balliet says the county’s commuter services bureau is crafting a draft policy to govern how all manner of dockless vehicles can be used around Arlington.
He’s hoping that will be ready for presentation to County Manager Mark Schwartz and Transportation Director Dennis Leach by September, who will then be able to provide “guidance on next steps,” such as deciding whether the County Board will need to review the document.
Starr suggested that part of the county’s reticence to take action on a more formal policy just yet could be that officials are waiting to see how D.C. handles its ongoing pilot program with dockless vehicles, which is set to run through August. However, he stressed that he doesn’t think that’s “totally necessary,” considering the willingness of companies like Lime to work with the county.
Even with Bird’s arrival in Arlington, Starr doesn’t expect to change the company’s plans to work hand-in-hand with Arlington and its business community, however.
“There’s naturally a reason to act quickly, but I don’t want to do that at the expense of making sure we have a relationship with everyone here,” Starr said. “If we get the sense that this is something people are in favor of, that will be a natural time to approach Arlington and say, ‘We want to start operating the service now,’ but right now we’re still in the early phase.”
Yet it seems competition in the county is only set to increase in the coming weeks.
The head of Skip, the third dockless scooter company currently active in D.C., says their conversations with the county have been “incredibly positive” and hinted that Skip would also be interested in Arlington.
“We plan to invest in the local community and be a responsible partner in Arlington just as we’ve done in D.C.,” CEO Sanjay Dastoor wrote in an email.
Rob Mandle, chief operating officer of the Crystal City BID, expects that any competition among the dockless companies will only be healthy for Arlington.
He sees offering a full range of transportation options, dockless vehicles included, is crucial to attracting businesses to area. After all, companies tend to follow the demands of their potential workers, Amazon included, and young professionals are increasingly clamoring for the scooters.
“Mobility solutions is what top talent looks for,” Mandle said. “So if you don’t have those solutions, then you are at a competitive disadvantage.”
More than 100 bicyclists hit Columbia Pike on Saturday (June 23) to draw attention to a new push to improve bike routes along the road.
The newly-formed advocacy group Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County organized the roughly two-mile-long “Bike for the Pike” protest ride, which ran down Columbia Pike from the Penrose Square Park to the intersection with with S. Four Mile Run Drive.
The group is lobbying county leaders to consider a slew of improvements to make the Pike corridor easier on cyclists, arguing that large sections of the road remain unsafe. County Board members Libby Garvey and Erik Gutshall attended Saturday to lend their support to the effort.
“Despite budgeting over $100 million in the current adopted capital plan to make Columbia Pike a complete street, the county’s current plans wouldn’t even provide a complete bike facility that runs the full length of the Pike, let alone one that is safe, direct and low-stress,” Chris Slatt, the group’s founder and a transit-focused blogger, wrote in a statement. “#Bike4ThePike was a chance to say ‘We’re here, we ride, we pay taxes, we deserve safe, direct, low-stress routes.'”
The county has indeed made efforts to improving transit options along the Pike, with long-awaited changes to Metrobus service along the corridor starting yesterday (June 24). But Slatt’s organization is pressing for a variety of new roadway improvements and policy revisions to make the Pike even more hospitable to cyclists.
In the near term, Slatt wants to see the county conduct a “comprehensive safety review” of the Pike’s intersection with Washington Blvd. In a news release, the group notes that the area “has been the site of numerous bicycle and pedestrian crashes” since VDOT finished a major overhaul of the interchange a few years ago, and Slatt wants to see the county commission a study of the area within the next year.
His group is also advocating for the construction of a parallel bike and pedestrian bridge over Four Mile Run in the next three years, arguing that the current bridge is “dangerously narrow and lacks any sort of buffer from speeding traffic.”
They’re also pushing for traffic signal changes to make 9th Street S. friendlier for bicyclists as it intersects with both S. Glebe Road and S. Walter Reed Drive, as well as the construction of an access road connecting the Arlington View neighborhood to Army Navy Drive within the next five years — the county likely won’t start work on the latter project until 2027.
Slatt’s group plans to hold additional advocacy events focused on bicycling, walking and public transit around the county in the coming weeks.
Dockless electric scooters have now made their way to Arlington.
The electric vehicle company Bird scattered dozens of its scooters across the county on Sunday (June 24), becoming the first company to offer the vehicles in Arlington. Bird’s operated in D.C. for the past few months, in addition to several other electric bike and scooter “ride sharing” firms like Lime and Skip.
Company spokesman Nick Samonas says Bird scooters are now available in Ballston, Clarendon, Crystal City, Pentagon City and some areas along Columbia Pike, and he noted that “as ridership grows, the company will expand its fleet to serve all of Arlington’s residents and communities.”
“As Arlington rapidly develops, it’s clear there’s an urgent need for additional transit options that are accessible, affordable and reliable for all residents and local communities,” Samonas wrote in an email. “Birds are a great solution for short ‘last mile’ trips that are too long to walk, but too short to drive.”
— Bird (@BirdRide) June 24, 2018
Anyone hoping to use the scooters needs to download the company’s mobile app, then use it to find an available scooter. The app then guides would-be riders through the process of piloting the scooter, parking it and, of course, paying for the ride. Bird charges a base fee to “unlock” each scooter, then assess an additional fee based on how long riders use the vehicle.
Samonas declined to discuss how many scooters the company has made available across Arlington — though a quick scan of the app Monday morning shows more than 50 scooters around the county — but he said the company will only add more vehicles “when each is being ridden three or more times per day.”
Spokesmen for Lime and Skip, the other dockless scooter companies operating in D.C., didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on whether they plan to follow suit and expand to Arlington. As of Monday morning, Lime’s app does show one scooter available just outside Crystal City; Skip’s scooters, meanwhile, remain on the other side of the Potomac River for now.
— Crystal City (@crystalcityva) June 24, 2018