Capital Bikeshare becoming an economic development tool

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Capital Bikeshare is doing more than moving people around on red bikes. It's also helping sell houses and apartments and draw people to businesses.

The bike-sharing system, which has more than 175 docking stations across the District, Arlington and Alexandria, has become the latest tool to spur development and attract young people. Soon it will be coming to Montgomery County, and other communities are trying to bring it to their neighborhoods.

Craigslist showed 72 active housing listings touting proximity to bikeshare on Friday. It is featured on Airbnb as a perk for visiting tourists seeking to rent out locals' homes. Wal-Mart is planning to add the docking stations to its stores coming to the District, according to bikeshare officials.

About eight in 10 bikeshare members who responded to an annual survey said they are more likely to patronize a business if it is accessible by bikeshare. Those riders are a coveted demographic. They tend to be higher educated, wealthier and younger -- plus more likely to be male and white -- than the general population. Stewart Schwartz, who runs the Coalition for Smarter Growth, noted the service attracts new and young residents who are looking for walkable places to live and work. They are likely to be innovators who will help spur the economy, he said.

Arlington County has viewed bikeshare as a economic development tool from the start, according to Chris Hamilton, who runs Arlington County commuter services. He said retailers, restaurants and shop owners want to be near the docking stations. "I think it's helping our local economy," he said.

The bikeshare stations were not always so coveted, though. A few years ago, neighbors near Lincoln Park in Capitol Hill fought against a docking station near them. But now, officials said, some developers are seeking them out.

Christopher Leinberger, a George Washington University professor and Brookings Institution fellow, said that Capital Bikeshare could become akin to cars and Metro in changing the dynamics of development around the region. Leinberger has studied the economic impact of Metrorail, which has spurred billions of dollars of development around the region in the past 37 years. "It could be that significant and yet it's really cheap," he said.

But bikeshare does not have the stability of Metro stations, noted Matt Klein, president of D.C. developer Akridge. Bikeshare docks are solar-powered, which has made them easy to install without needing to wire into the power grid. But that same ease of installation makes them easy to take away. By contrast, fixed rail Metro stations provide a predictable and unmovable piece of transportation infrastructure that can transport far more people than a 40-bike docking station, he said. Developers can build around a Metro station confident it will likely attract a permanent and steady flow of people.

Still, Klein said bikeshare is nice to have near Akridge projects. "It would fall more into an amenity category than important transportation infrastructure," he said. "It may evolve into something more."

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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