Washington, District Of Cycling [FastCompany]
Few modes of transportation are more basic than the humble bike. Heck, people have been straddling them for some 200 years, far longer than we’ve been moving about town in streetcars, subways, or our own cars. And so this seems a bit counterintuitive: A citywide bikeshare system is a remarkably complicated thing to create.
You’ve got your bike design: They need to be easy to ride but hard to steal. And your network design: Stations should be obvious to find, seldom full and never empty. And then you have to plan for actual people. Most of us won’t bike uphill. And we have a particularly hard time crossing rivers and railroad lines. Oh, and this entire system--it can't be tested on a small scale.
“By its nature, in order for it be a worthy investment, to have that return on investment, you have to have a large-scale system,” says Josh Moskowitz, a program manager for the Capital Bikeshare system in Washington, D.C.
The District piloted the country’s first bike share in 2008 and then launched Capital Bikeshare--or CaBi--two years ago as the large-scale prototype for systems that later spread to Boston, Miami and a dozen other towns, and that will come next year, finally, to Chicago and New York City. For reasons that Washington officials did not count on at the time, the nation’s capital may well have been the right place to kickstart the program.
“It wasn’t necessarily that people were clamoring for it,” recalls Chris Holben, CaBi’s other program manager. Some of the city’s transportation officials had been interested in the idea dating back almost a decade, and a bus shelter advertising contract with Clear Channel Communications had created the 120-bike pilot program in 2008, at no expense to the city. But mostly, officials in Washington had simply seen it work in places like Montreal and Parisand suspected it might work in the District, too. “It was nothing more beyond that,” Holben says. “It really was: Build it and hope they will come.”
Come they have. In two years, the system has expanded to 189 stations in the District and Northern Virginia, with more than 1,700 bikes and 2 million trips already taken. Now 17,000 people have annual memberships, and as of the end of the July, the self-sustaining system was nearly a million dollars in the black. The idea of bikesharing has turned out to be a cozy, aerodynamic fit for the area’s geography and changing demographics. Residents aged 20-34 now account for about a third of the District’s population (and nearly all of its population growth over the past decade). Nationally, this is also the demographic for whom biking is most popular...
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