I had a great time in Washington, D.C. this weekend. One highlight was my first experience with Capital Bikeshare, the popular bicycling program.
Bicycle sharing has been around for decades, but its current resurgence began in Paris in 2007. Called Vélib’ (a portmanteau of vélo libre, “free bike”), the Paris program ushered in a thought-revolution in commuting in the French capital. There are now over 150 such programs around the world.
Using Capital Bikeshare is simple: you swipe your card at one of the over 200 stations, take a bike, ride it to your destination, and place it in another dock.
I made a six-second video of one of my many commutes:
— Keith Williams (@TheWeeklyNabe) March 22, 2013
After several delays, New York is slated to launch its own program, Citi Bike, this May. Even with the anti-bike zealots mouthing off about Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s “Amsterdamnation” of New York, I’m hopeful Citi Bike will change the way most New Yorkers think about riding.
Citi Bike will be very similar to Capital Bikeshare; in fact, both are operated by the same company. You’ll be able to purchase an annual pass for $95 – meaning you’ll have to ride a bike instead of the subway just 40 times a year to save money. Visitors can get 7-day or 24-hour passes.
If you have a smartphone, finding a station is a breeze. The Spotcycle app shares real-time data on bike and dock availability throughout dozens of systems. On Friday afternoon in DC, the app correctly advertised nine bikes at this particular station.
Each trip can last up to 30 minutes, with escalating fines for overuse; the idea is to encourage commuting, not sightseeing. (Annual members in New York will have 45 minutes.) If your destination’s rack is full, you get an extra 15 minutes to find another place to leave your wheels. Going a long distance? Just check in and check right back out at a station along the way.
The bikes in DC all look the same but vary in quality. I had gears that were too loose, bells that didn’t work, tires that could have used some air. But these are inconsequential gripes compared with the system’s main advantage: self-reliant, healthy transportation.
An increase in bike ridership also leads to an overall reduction in injuries – the “safety in numbers” theory. Not only will it be fun for me to have more cycling companions on the streets, my overall experience will be safer, too.
But this assumes it won’t be postponed again. This weekend, I was sharing my excitement for Citi Bike with a DC friend when he asked a very pointed question: “Given all of the delays, do you think it will ever come to fruition?” Here’s hoping.