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Jan 30, 2009

A new bike-sharing program in the nation’s capital could be a model for the rest of the country.

By Donna Sapolin

At a time when traffic, pollution and fuel prices are on the rise, bike-sharing programs are emerging as a critical piece of the national transportation puzzle.
Paul DeMaio climbs the steps of Washington, D.C.’s Foggy Bottom Metro station and heads for a neat row of red-and-white bikes parked on the walkway alongside the subway exit.
As he slides a radio frequency ID card through the docking system’s attached kiosk, the screen flashes the number of the bike it will automatically release for his use. Once DeMaio completes his ride, he can drop off the bike at any of ten (more are planned) SmartBike D.C. racks around the city.
“This is a great way to get around,” says DeMaio. “The bikes are incredibly easy to check out and ride and they’re a perfect solution for the final leg of a commute or any short trip where taking another form of public transit would be more taxing or expensive.”

DeMaio is not only a devoted user of America’s first bike-sharing system, but a passionate missionary for bike-sharing programs as a critical piece of the national transportation puzzle. He is managing member of MetroBike LLC, a transportation consulting firm, which helped Clear Channel Outdoor and D.C.’s Department of Transportation to implement the SmartBike, D.C. program, and an active consultant on bike-sharing technology, routing and funding. DeMaio’s blog is ground zero for information about bike-sharing plans in this country and around the world.
As cities across the country struggle to reduce their carbon footprints, manage fuel costs, ease traffic congestion and devise strategies for increasing the health of their citizens, DeMaio has never been busier. Interest in bike-sharing programs is exploding: 40 are slated to launch in North America in 2009, including in cities like Denver, Minneapolis and Miami, and another 50 in 2010. “I can barely keep up with the pace of launches,” he says.

Like Riding a Bike: In FLYP Media’s interactive infographic, learn about the launchings of bike-sharing programs around the world and near you. Also, check out how the entire system for SmartBike D.C. works in our audio-visual graphic.
 
At the same time, universities are installing programs to help students, staff and faculty get around campuses, and corporations are deploying bike shares to help employees navigate among company buildings and other destinations.
Chicago’s Saint Xavier University and Seattle’s Washington University are currently testing new systems. The National Park Service has just implemented a program for 300 employees in D.C. with the support of health insurer Humana, which donated 30 bicycles. The program “provides a wonderful opportunity for our employees to get out of their cars and ride a bicycle, and in the process promotes cleaner air and good health,” Mary A. Bomar, director of the National Park Service, said in a recent news release.

FLYP sat down with SmartBike leader Paul DeMaio and spoke about all of the details of the system. Watch the video interview here.

Bike-sharing has changed since Amsterdam instituted the first big municipal program in 1964. What were initially free “take it and leave it for the next person” programs have evolved, first, to coin-operated rental systems and, more recently, to today’s smart technology-driven platforms that minimize both maintenance and theft.
Programs have also grown in size. Perhaps the largest is the Velib program in Paris. Launched in July of 2007 with 20,600 bikes, officials are now planning to add another 3,300 and extend the system to 30 jurisdictions surrounding the city.
While these up-and-running systems differ in detail, they tend to share several common features. In general, subscribers pay a monthly or yearly fee granting a set amount of riding time, release a bike through access codes or an ID card that is inserted in the docking station’s kiosk, and incur penalties if they exceed the check-out period or fail to return the bike. Some systems enable non-members to ride by running a credit card through the kiosk.
Despite their obvious advantages, bike-sharing programs face big challenges. These range from concerns about safety and integration into existing public transportation systems to liability and financing. SmartBike D.C. derived its start-up and operating funds from a combination of Clear Channel advertising on city property, government funding and user subscription fees. But with municipal budgets being cut and advertising revenue shrinking, new programs may have to rely more heavily on membership and corporate sponsorship.
DeMaio, however, is optimistic about the prospects for these programs: “It’ll happen over time,” he says. “As with anything new, people need to get comfortable with it. Elected officials are coming to D.C., seeing how great it is to have a bike to use near their place of work and wanting to bring bike sharing back home to their own jurisdiction. In this way, a concept that took hold in the nation’s capital will spread very quickly.”


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Nice articles, as they are all in Flyp. I thought this was part of the Going Green segment – miss that series.

gloria w
Jan 31, 2009

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