WASHINGTON — Starting next month, people here will be able to rent a bicycle day and night with the swipe of a membership card.
A new public-private venture called SmartBike DC will make 120 bicycles available at 10 spots in central locations in the city. The automated program, which district officials say is the first of its kind in the nation, will operate in a similar fashion to car-sharing programs like Zipcar.
Of course, 120 bicycles doesn’t hold a headlight to the more than 10,000 that the French system started with, and Paris should have well over 20,000 available by now, ten months into the program. Even so, it’s worth starting it up and trying it out, and if it works well they can add more wheels on the ground.
Still, it seems odd that they’re only kicking it off with 120 bikes and ten locations, given that DC is around twice the size of Paris (though it has only about ¼ the population). And, of course, they’re worried about theft of the bicycles. They plan to charge the last user for a bike missing longer than two days... but that could kill the system if people figure out how to steal the bikes between uses, and innocent users wind up being held responsible.
The article says that San Francisco, Chicago, and Portland are considering it too (I can see cycling up some of those San Franciscan hills, yo).
In other bicycle news, New York City has designated May as Bike Month, using it to promote bike-riding to reduce congestion and pollution, and to improve health. Ms Lee’s article doesn’t mention the annual Five Borough Bike Tour, the first Sunday each May (May 4th, this year), a nice 42-mile ride that I did once, ten years or so ago. It’s a bit of a zoo, biking in a pack of 30,000 cyclists (of varying skill and politeness levels), and I see that they’ve put a cap of that number on the sign-ups, and have been sold out since early April.
Even though it’s kind of crazy, it’s a good ride, and something one should do at least once. It’s really neat riding through one of the busiest cities in the world on streets that have been closed to motorized traffic. And it’s neat to ride through the various neighborhoods, seeing the residents out on the sidewalk watching, waving, and cheering (though it’s not a race, in any sense).
It’s time to get my bike tuned up and get out in the spring air....