D.C. Rings in Bike to Work Day With Big Bike-Sharing Announcement

SmartBike_DC.jpgA big expansion of bike-sharing in D.C. will make public bikes a real transportation option for many more people. Image: Pedal_Power_Pete/Flickr

Washington D.C. is making the biggest splash (policy-wise) on Bike to Work Day this year, with officials announcing a major expansion of the city’s bike-sharing system. According to Greater Greater Washington, the new system will have around 1,100 bikes at 114 stations across the entire District and in neighboring Arlington County. If the expansion goes into effect, bike-sharing in the capital could be transformed from a niche service into an essential piece of the transportation system.

D.C. was the first American city to institute a bike-sharing program, known as SmartBike. That program was hampered by its small size — only 120 bikes at ten locations, and by a business model that catered too much to advertising giant Clear Channel at the expense of bike-share users. The next iteration of bike-sharing would drop Clear Channel, GGW reports, switching to an operator whose incentives call for expanding the system and who would be willing to work across multiple jurisdictions. Yearly memberships would cost $80, with every ride free for the first half-hour. 

Looking ahead, 1,100 bikes might be just the beginning for D.C. The region is applying for federal funding to more than double the size of the program announced today, and Arlington, at least, has already announced its intention to add more bikes and stations down the line. 

Today’s announcement adds to the wave of bike-sharing breakthroughs in American cities. Denver launched its 500-bike program, currently the largest in the country, on Earth Day, and both Minneapolis and Boston are scheduled to open 1,000-bike systems later this year. In New York, the most recent government action on bike-sharing occurred last April, when the Department of City Planning released an extensive study of how a system could work here.