RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Here in Southern California, bicycling has always been a part of the culture.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Here in Washington, we're a bit more formal and a bit behind the curve, when it comes to bicycling. But that's starting to change.

MONTAGNE: And Ari, you know, you took to the streets, I gather, to look at one project the city has in the works at Washington's train station right here. Let's take a listen to what happened to you.

(Soundbite of traffic)

SHAPIRO: I'm on my bicycle trying to dodge traffic in the streets of Washington, D.C., as I ride to Union Station, where I'm going to visit a parking garage that's been built especially for bicycles. And there it is. It looks like the upper part of a bicycle tire sticking out of the ground with spokes going from the ground up to the top of this metal arch.

It's called the Bikestation, a sleek, modern, glass-and-metal swoosh in contrast with the monolithic marble columns and arches Union Station a few feet away. Mazen Soueidan is the project manager.

Mr. MAZEN SOUEIDAN (Bikestation Project Manager): Some people say it's a half-football or a shell. It really has four sides to it, and they're like scalloped shells that overlap.

SHAPIRO: People who commute to Union Station every day by train or subway can leave a bike here permanently, safe from vandals and weather. Then they can ride from this hub to wherever they're going. It's expected to open soon. Inside there's room for lockers, a small bike shop and a 130 bicycles on two tiers.

Mr. SOUEIDAN: You can swing your bike on the lower row.

(Soundbite of clanging)

Mr. SOUEIDAN: And you can bring your bike, I can actually show you.

SHAPIRO: Okay, let's do it.

(Soundbite of clanging)

SHAPIRO: So you're just rolling it into this rack on the lower level. I'm really honored that my bicycle is one of the first ever to experience…

Mr. SOUEIDAN: Probably is, yeah. You want to try at the second level?

SHAPIRO: Sure.

SHAPIRO: Oh, and those little locks come in around the tire to hold it in place.

Mr. SOUEIDAN: Makes it very easy.

(Soundbite of clanging)

Mr. SOUEIDAN: There you go.

SHAPIRO: Looks so happy sitting up there on that (unintelligible).

Mr. SOUEIDAN: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: People with a yearly membership can access the Bikestation 24/7, or users can pay a daily fee. The city of Washington hopes this will help get cars off the road. California has had bike garages for more than a decade. And a third of the people using those facilities say before the Bikestation opened, they commuted by car.

Mr. JOHN CICCARELLI (Consultant, Bicycle Solutions): It really makes or breaks the trip of to have a place where they can know that bike's going to be secure all day.

SHAPIRO: That's John Ciccarelli of Bicycle Solutions in San Mateo, California. He has seen Americans' attitudes towards bicycle shift in the last decade.

Mr. CICCARELLI: What's growing is the acceptance that the bicycle is a mode of transportation as well as recreation.

SHAPIRO: Overseas, Ciccarelli says, cities have been built around bicycles since the 1970s, and their bike garages are orders of magnitude larger.

Mr. CICCARELLI: If you look at the comparable facilities in, say, Germany or Japan, you're not looking at 150 capacity, which is typical of the current U.S. bike station, but something like 3,000 to 4,000 bicycles.

SHAPIRO: Of course part of the appeal of bicycling is convenience. You don't need a special parking garage. You can lock a bike to pretty much anything. But if you lock your bike to a parking meter, you might come back to find it's missing a seat or wheels, or just gone. Union Station project manager Mazen Soueidan says theft was an issue even while building this bike garage.

Mr. SOUEIDAN: The superintendent actually had his bike here once and he didn't lock it. He was just gone for five minutes, and we actually saw the bike take off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: Now, that's ironic.

Mr. SOUEIDAN: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: A guy is here building a structure…

Mr. SOUEIDAN: For a bike.

SHAPIRO: …to lock up a bike safely and his bike gets stolen in the meantime.

Mr. SOUEIDAN: Exactly. And we actually saw it. It's very easy to steal a bike, you know? It's wheels and you just hop on and keep going.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: Soueidan says he was never a bicycle commuter before, but working on this project is changing his mind. And you can see photos of Washington's Bikestation at npr.org.

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