Burke, BHAGs, and Bikeshare

A million-dollar idea for whoever the tech-smartest of my six readers is — a CAPTCHA-like gizmo that bars owners of bicycle-oriented blogs from posting after a less-than-stellar workday and commute. Please pardon today’s extra dose of cynicism.

Out in Las Vegas (“it’s a dry heat, but dripping in irony”), the bicycle industry has gathered for their start-of-school-year Sorting Hat ceremony, Interbike. The smart and studious Ravenclaw bicycle store buyers and owners eye-f@#k the shoes of Shawn Johnson’s ex like satellite images of Saddam’s alleged nuclear missile tubes. Be sure to politely exchange business cards with the diligent and purposeful Hufflepuff import brokers cloistered in their own small corral with the vaguely-racist nickname. But beware the cunning Slytherin, those CAT4 bros on the shop team who tag along as “employees.

From the start, however, we all know who the real heroes are in this fable. The US bicycle branding and marketing industry firmly inhabits the House of Gryffindor at the Hogwarts Conference Center and Casino. And the Harry-Potteriest of all is John Burke, head of Trek Bikes [I would love to somehow add a “Mike Sinyard = Ron Weasley” crack in here, but I am afraid that I would get sued]. Anyway, today, Twitter tells me that Mr. Burke gave the gathered masses a keynote address, where he said things like bicycling, “needs to get its act together like the NRA.” Um, OK… not sure that simile is gonna play well in Portlandia. But he also apparently unleashed this b-school textbook Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) – “Let’s get biking up to 5% of all trips by 2025.

A seemingly feasible goal — about half of the current bike modeshare in Germany, for example…

Chart from “Walking and Biking in Western Europe” (pdf), Pucher and Buehler 2012

But here comes the extra serving of cynicism I promised. I went on at some length yesterday about why Capital Bikeshare needs to start convincing some bikeshare users to become bike owners.  Because as awesome as CaBi is, and all its great attributes, I believe that it has given the Washington DC area a decent bump in bike modeshare, but not the revolutionary multiple necessary to, say, approach the “Burke BHAG.”

Just one cynical idiot’s jaded opinion, but the estimated 11% of local rides taken by bikeshare seem to be blotting out the sun in the local bike world these days. While CaBi grows up and out and finishes triathlons, the creation of new enticing places for all riders to ride are mired in unexplained delay, stepwise delay, and carefully-studied mediocrity.

Becoming a world-class bicycle transportation city will take more than boundless expansion of bikeshare. How about we grab hold of the Burke BHAG of 5% modeshare to illustrate the point, and use the same assumptions I used to estimate that CaBi accounts for 11% of current bike trips:

  • About 215,000 people live in Arlington County, VA, 615,000 live in Washington, DC. We’ll assume this doesn’t change in the next 12 years.
  • According to the MWCOG’s ’07-08 household travel survey, Arlingtonians took 0.8% of all their trips by bicycle, and District residents took 1.5% by bike.
  • So the population-weighted average bike modeshare for all trips is 1.3%
  • We’re going to ignore other cities and counties, just cuz.
  • People averaged about 4 trips per person per day.
  • We can estimate (people x trips x bike rates = total trips) that somewhere around 44,000 combined trips are taken by Arlington and District residents by bike every day.
  • According to the latest CaBi Dashboard ridership data, CaBi averaged 4,715 rides per day over the past year.

So the “Burke BHAG” requires us to roughly triple quadruple (math is hard!) the number of trips taken by bike in DC and Arlington in the next 12 years. And since each is a Silver level Bicycle Friendly Community, logic dictates that we would need to actually achieve far higher to get all trips across the country to 5%, since we have to make up for lovely places like Blackhawk, CO, and Grimes, IA. But for simplicity’s sake, we will ignore that, and just shoot for taking care of our own house.

Using all those assumptions above, we need to collectively take 166,000 trips by bicycle per day. If we ignore all logic, and plan for every single additional bicycle trip to be taken by Capital Bikeshare, we would need a system that:

Don’t misunderstand me — Capital Bikeshare plays an important role in bicycling, by introducing new or lapsed riders to the bicycle as transportation, and bumping up the number of trips taken by existing bicyclists by providing convenience. We absolutely should continue growing the system, and there’s no reason why CaBi shouldn’t still account for 11ish% of the tripled bike modeshare in 2025. But that other 89% needs some very focused attention paid to the less sexy stuff – things like inviting the interested to buy the all-you-can-bike buffet, and providing low-stress places to ride, arranged in a useful network, with an eye firmly on mobility. Perhaps we need an Albus Dumbledore to get us pointed in the right direction.

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7 Responses to Burke, BHAGs, and Bikeshare

  1. portajohn says:

    Darren – Your blog is awesome.

    I have to say that I appreciate Burkes’ NRA analogy a hell of a lot more than the “its a WAR on bike” analogy of advocates/activists. I feel like the advocacy organizations, while good at public outreach, are not very good at lobbying. We need a multi-faceted approach to engage and hold accountable politicians, citizens and industry. We also need to realize that working top down isn’t always the most efficient route. If the bike advocacy/lobby is going to break the cycle of being a marginalized group, a better job needs to be done by all. Of course it takes time, money and effort – and all three are often in short supply.

    • bikepedantic says:


      In re messaging and advocacy, I’m not sure where exactly I stand. The only thing i truly believe is that comparing to any other special interest is tough and imprecise, because we don’t have huge numbers or robust industry backing or an amendment in the Constitution. I also leave it to the experts to blast out any over-the-top rhetoric, I tend to cringe at it as well.

      Lobbying – again, i’m clueless. Seems that the ‘top-down’ lobbying is getting better every year, but Burke is right that it still didn’t get us much. Hard to take lasting lessons from this ridiculously polarized patch we’re in right now, though. Bottom-up lobbying – I just don’t follow WABA, the ANCs, or Arlington neighborhood association goings-on enough to know what is good and bad there.

      Only thing i do believe is the big paradox — that past a certain tipping point, we’ll have strength in numbers. Numbers come with more enticing facilities. Good facilities only get done with political strength. All we seem to be able to do is inch along incrementally to get over that tipping point.

  2. ericmbudd says:

    Insightful post, and a reminder that traditional bike ownership is still an overwhelming majority of the riders in DC, not to mention all of the cities that don’t have bike share. The real question to me: how does bike sharing supplement, rather than replace traditional biking? In what ways is bike sharing truly better than riding a personal commuter bike? I struggle as well, as the answer to me is “almost never.”

    Then again, all people are different and have different needs. Some are actually better served by bike share. But you’re right – the real competition isn’t between bikeshare/traditional biking, but rather both of these against other forms of transit. Has to be a partnership, and preferably a well-funded one.

  3. MarcO says:

    I am reader # 7.

  4. Pingback: What happens in Vegas stays in cages | bikepedantic

  5. PedalGal says:

    To ericmbudd: As someone that relies on CaBi when i am in DC – about 2x/yr, and has friends that use it on a regular basis, here’s when it is superior to using a personal bike:

    1. You don’t have a personal bike with you, and don’t really want to rent and take care of a personal bike while you are visiting DC. That would be me. I love having a bike available while in DC, but don’t really want to have it all the time. I don’t want to lock it and worry about it while in meetings or visiting a museum, having dinner, or just strolling the city.

    2. You take the Metro to work, but want a bike for doing errands, getting to meetings, or “whatever.” This is my friend that comes in every day by Metro, but uses the CaBi when he’s running late or the trips is too far to walk, but too short for Metro. Why not keep a bike at the office? Because then you have to be responsible for it, store it at work, and deal with it when your wife picks you up from that work dinner you just biked to.

    Bike sharing is like a cab in a large city. you may own a car, but you don’t always want to drive to work, park, or deal with a car in the city, so you take a cab. Same with bike sharing.

    I find it strangely hard to explain the utility of bike sharing to bike advocates and every day transportation bicyclists. They have the bike-in-the-city already figured out and can’t see the need for others.

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