By now you might have seen someone riding a brightly-painted bike or whizzing around on an electric scooter. These vehicles have already flooded the streets of downtown D.C. and Silver Spring, and they could be coming to Bethesda soon as a part of the dockless vehicle craze spreading across the region and the country.
The system that these vehicles run on is incredibly simple: all a user has to do to ride is to download an app and scan a code on the bike or scooter. Then they are free to go wherever they want, and simply lock the vehicle when they’re done. There’s no hassle of having to park a bike at a dock, so people can ride straight to their destination.
Montgomery County has been running a pilot program of dockless bikes in downtown Silver Spring. They’ve allowed Lime, one of the companies running the bikes and scooters, to place a number of them on the streets. County officials have been impressed with the results of the pilot and are looking to expand the program throughout the county, starting with downtown Bethesda, among other areas like Friendship Heights, North Bethesda, and Wheaton.
This next phase would bring the vehicles right to the backdoor of BCC, with huge advantages for students. One notable benefit would be for those who have to stay after school and don’t have a car, like students on sports teams or attending TAP. The vehicles would be a quick way to get home, being much cheaper than an Uber and potentially faster than public transit.
Another perk of the vehicles would be noticed at lunchtime. Instead of rushing to get food off-campus at lunch and eating on the way back to school, electric scooters and bikes would allow students to quickly get to places like Bethesda Row and elsewhere with time to spare.
There are some possible drawbacks to adopting this new system, however. Residents have complained about bikes improperly parked on sidewalks, blocking the way. In a presentation made at several town hall meetings on the subject, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation found that 7% of parked bikes were blocking sidewalks or buildings. Even though this is a fairly low rate, it should ideally not become elevated as the system is expanded. Also, the dockless bikes and scooters prompt safety concerns as riders must either share the road with cars or the sidewalks with pedestrians. The county is currently working on a solution to this issue by expanding bike lanes to accommodate an increase in ridership.
Despite these areas of concern, dockless bikes and scooters present a significant opportunity. They have the potential to alleviate traffic while at the same time getting people where they want to go faster than other methods. If the issues are managed well, the vehicles could truly change and improve the way we get from place to place.