Bike Valets for Inauguration Day
By Bernie Becker
Driving doesn’t look like a great option. And while mass transit may be, Washington’s subway and bus system are expected to be packed.
Which, in spite of the expected frigid conditions, makes the idea of biking to President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration all the more attractive. One question, though: Where do you stash your bike?
The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has come up with an answer – bike valets.
With the blessing and support of Washington’s Transportation Department, W.A.B.A. will be operating two valet stations near the National Mall – one to the south (at the Jefferson Memorial) and one to the north (just north of the White House on 16th Street).
“We’re trying to provide as many options as possible,” said Jim Sebastian, who manages bicycle programs for the Transportation Department. “If you live three, four, five miles away, that’s a long way to walk. But – weather permitting – it’s not far for a bike ride.”
Eric Gilliland, W.A.B.A.’s executive director, said he believed the valet stations will help funnel visitors toward the Mall more smoothly.
“Security zones were up in the air for a long time. You don’t know how security’s going to handle all these people,” Mr. Gilliland said. “This will be a safe place, with everything closely monitored.”
“When you focus the bikes in a couple of locations, instead of scattered all over, it helps the safety of the crowd and the bikes,” Mr. Sebastian added.
Estimates on the size of Tuesday’s crowds are still fluctuating. But if the response to the bike valets is any indication, it could get mighty crowded.
W.A.B.A. first expected up to 1,000 bikes on Inauguration Day, but it now seems that number could double. The non-profit had already received 1,300 RSVP’s by Wednesday afternoon, a full six days before the inauguration. And since RSVP’s are not even required, that number could grow much higher.
“We may have to play it by ear and adjust on the fly,” said Mr. Gilliland. “We can easily account for 2,000 or so. After that, we’ll have to be a little creative.”
Come Tuesday morning, cyclists can drop their bikes off at either location starting at 7 a.m. The cyclist will then receive half a claim ticket, while the other half is fastened to their bike.
The stations close at 5 p.m. Staff at the sites will collect cyclist’s phone numbers, so they can contact the owners of uncollected bikes as closing time approaches.
Unlike most valets for your motorized vehicles, this service will be free. Dero Bike Rack Company, which is based in Minnesota, will provide the racks free of charge, while America Bikes, a Washington-based coalition of cycling groups, is also lending financial support.
This will not be a completely new experience for W.A.B.A., which has supplied valets for other large events in Washington, including the Cherry Blossom Festival and the city’s July 4 celebration.
“We’ve never lost a bike yet,” said Mr. Gilliland.
But at those events, W.A.B.A. probably never handled more than 300 bikes, Mr. Gilliland said, less than a quarter of the numbers that have already RSVP’ed for Tuesday.
Now, with Inauguration Day quickly approaching, Mr. Gilliland is trying to tie up the last few loose ends. Though W.A.B.A. already has 70 volunteers lined up for Inauguration Day, Mr. Gilliland expects to need around 90. And he still has to secure coffee for those volunteers and maybe even line up a messenger service to shuttle back and forth between the two stations.
“A lot of it’s covered,” Mr. Gilliland said. “But we’re not quite ready yet.”