Bikeshare Program Rides High In D.C.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
For people that want to get their exercise on bikes, they no longer have to own one to ride one. In a number of big cities they have introduced bike-sharing schemes.
Jacob Fenston reports on the nation's largest, in Washington, D.C.
JACOB FENSTON: It seemed like overnight, all of a sudden these funny-looking bikes were everywhere.
ARIELLE: Well, you've probably seen them. They're just a big red bike.
DANIELLA: I don't want to say Dorky. They're thick.
BRADY: They're really distinctive.
DANIELLA: They're big.
FENSTON: They're crowding the bike lane, lining up at intersections, dodging traffic and the people who ride them can't get enough.
JAY: I use it at least once a day, if not more.
ANDREW: I go to meetings for work, I use it to go to the grocery store, I used to see a concert at 9:30 Club.
STEPHANIE: Running my errands or biking to dinner with friends.
JUSTIN: Mostly I use it for commuting.
JENNIFER: I try to everyday, if it's not raining.
FENSTON: D.C. installed the system just over eight months ago with about a thousand of these red bikes scattered across the city.
The idea is simple: Check out a bike at any of the high-tech solar-powered stations...
(Soundbite of beeping and unlocking of bike)
FENSTON: ...pedal across town, and drop it off at any other station It's public transportation on a bicycle.
Mr. PAUL DEMAIO: I look at it as two-wheel buses.
FENSTON: Paul DeMaio is a bit of a bikesharing zealot. He was into sharing bikes way before it was cool. Back in 1995 he was up late one night in college, even before.
Mr. DEMAIO: Even before Google was out I was Yahooing and came across some photographs of Copenhagen's Bycyklen, or city bike program, and just said, we need this in the U.S., we need this everywhere.
FENSTON: The next semester he took off to Copenhagen to study these amazing Bycyklen. And that was the start of his bikesharing crusade. A few years later he quite his day job and started a business as a bikeshare consultant. The system here is one of his clients.
Mr. DEMAIO: You know, right now, for the most part, driving is easy, and that's why people do it. And so if we make bicycling easy, people will do it.
FENSTON: And here in D.C. people are doing it. The system now has 12,000 members. Many of them weren't biking at all before.
ANDREW: I have not owed a bike in probably 20 years.
JENNIFER: I do this instead because it's cheaper.
PETER: Because my apartment's too small to have a bike in it.
CHRIS: I've had two bikes stolen.
GREG: My bike was stolen.
STEPHANIE: And I've had a bike in the city a few years back that was stolen.
FENSTON: The main complaint people have about the BikeShare system is that some many people are using it, it can be impossible to find a bike, especially at rush hour.
Mr. DANIEL GOHLKE: There aren't enough docks at a station, there aren't enough stations around the city, there aren't enough bikes.
FENSTON: Daniel Gohlke used to bikeshare to work - but now he walks because he can never find a bike. Of course, not everyone wants a shiny red bicycle.
Mr. JEFF MILLER: I'm hard-pressed, really, to understand the advantages of it.
FENSTON: Jeff Miller. We're in Arlington, Virginia, a D.C. suburb that's part of the BikeShare system. Miller's a spokesman for the Arlington Republican Party, and lately he's the public face of BikeShare opposition.
Mr. MILLER: The taxpayers are subsidizing $7,000 per bicycle for the startup costs of this system. For $7,000 we could be buying 700 bicycles and giving them away.
FENSTON: These indestructible bikes cost about a thousand dollars each, plus the cost of the bike stations. The District of Columbia got a federal air quality grant to cover most of the first three years.
Tommy Wells is a D.C. city councilmember and a die-hard bike commuter. He says investing in bikesharing is well worth it for the number of people its gotten riding bikes.
Mr. TOMMY WELLS (Councilmember, Washington, D.C.): There's always going to be groups of grumpy folks that came up during a time when streets were only for cars. And so, they're going to have to adapt.
FENSTON: Whether you think it sounds like fun or a waste of money, bikesharing may be coming to a city near you. Already about 10 U.S. cities are sharing bikes. Now Boston is planning to launch this summer. San Francisco has a regional system in works. And New York City is looking to rollout some 10,000 shared bikes early next year.
(Soundbite of ringing)
FENSTON: For NPR News, I'm Jacob Fenston.
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.