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Checking Out DC’s SmartBike

Published March 15, 2009

Having reported on the launch of SmartBikeDC, the city’s new bike-share program, I couldn’t fly home from the Summit without checking out the bikes. D.C. DOT director Emeka Moneme announced plans for SmartBikeDC at the Summit last year and the program rolled out in August with 120 bikes at 10 stations. For full story, go here.

So I went on a hunt and found a station near my hotel at the corner of G and 12th, next to the Metro Center subway station in the heart of downtown. At first glance the bikes looked like they were in rideable condition. No parts were missing or vandalized. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take one out for a test ride since I lacked the membership card. The kiosk doesn’t give you the option of buying a membership on the spot—you have to go to the Web site to purchase.

And though I lingered for about 20 minutes, nobody ever checked one out so I couldn’t get rider feedback. It was 4 p.m. so maybe it wasn’t bike rush hour yet. About half of the 15 bikes the rack could hold were out.

However, later at the Summit’s Congressional Reception, as luck would have it, I was introduced to Ben West, who before joining the Washington Area Bicyclist Association recently, worked in tech support for SmartBike.

He said initially memberships sold like crazy, from the time it launched to about October-November, when things slowed down a bit, but he says the program has a “ton of members.” He believes winter weather has something to do with the slowdown in membership sales. He also thinks that usage could increase if the program expands with more stations that reach out to residential areas outside of D.C. and if distances between the stations are longer.

He said the busiest corridor, or the bikes that get used a lot, is from Logan Circle to Archives Station, which happens to be a section that spans from a residential area to an office district.

Also at the reception was Meredith Begin, who serves on the D.C. bicycle advisory council. She said the city plans to expand the program because people want to buy memberships and are interested but “they just need more bikes and stations in residential areas.”

The goal, she said, is to add 40 more stations to make available 400 more bikes, but couldn’t specify a timeframe for when that would happen.

Regardless, D.C. has a leg up in becoming a bike city. The downtown area has many bike lanes and bikes can be seen just about everywhere you go.

 

A common sight in downtown D.C. 

 

 

 

No bike racks? No problem. 

 

 

City bikes at the Metro Center SmartBike station waiting for their renters.

 

 

The SmartBike station is the length of about two car spots on the street. 

 

 

The kiosk unlocks a bike once a user inserts their membership card. A bike lane is conveniently next to the bikes. 

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