Streetfilms: DC Bike-Share Hits the Ground Rolling

With the first US bike-share system starting up just a short Amtrak ride away in Washington, DC, you know it wouldn’t take long for the Streetfilms crew to make the scene. This week, Elizabeth Press, Clarence Eckerson and Robin Urban Smith took the already-popular SmartBike DC for a spin, and talked to local citizens, advocates and Alice Kelly of the District Department of Transportation, who hints at a possible expansion of the 120 bike fleet:

"Knowing what we know now, of course, we would have launched it bigger. But when we were initially thinking about this we really weren’t sure how popular it would be. The rising cost of gas and the ever-increasing green attitude of everybody is now showing us that yes, the city will support a broader program."

  • Jay D

    I’m envious that button down DC got this first. They definitely should have rolled out with many more bikes and bike stations, and the bikes need baskets or rear racks to increase the utility of the bike. Then it really becomes a viable utilitarian mode of transportation for daily living.

    Can’t wait until we see bike share in NYC!

  • Ah-hah — the standard Clear Channel bike setup. Same bikes and racks as you’d find with Barcelona’s Bicing, Oslo’s Bysykkel or Stockholm’s City Bikes. Hope they expand considerably in DC.

    Shea and I are going to Paris this weekend (after Summer Streets, of course) to ride around for a day on the Vélib bikes (well, I’m going there because that’s where my work-trip is, Shea is, in fact, going for the bikes).

    An idea whose time has come… thanks for the update, Clarence and Elizabeth!

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Props to D.C. for doing this, but don’t take credit for being the first in the nation. Tulsa Townies bike sharing launched in August 2007. Some people don’t consider Tulsa to be a “city” but its population is similar to D.C.’s.

  • Jeffrey,

    Wow look at that in Tulsa! Way to go, I think people are trusting DC’s press releases at it being the first in the nation, but yes there have been many small scale efforts/attempts over the years for sure…in NYC in Summer ’07, Eugene had a yellow bikes program in the late 90s, etc. etc.

    One observation: the bikes as well as the color scheme and font choices for the Tulsa Townies website reminded me of a Barbie play set. Anyone else get that vibe?

  • Louis

    Ian, make sure you have a French CB (Bank card) in order to use the Velib’s! Or borrow a friend’s.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Here’s Sesame Street’s take on bicycle sharing!

    Video: Sesame Street on Bike Sharing (1:13)
    Via Morristown Pedal Pushers • Thursday, August 14, 2008

  • very cool, y’all! good work, as usual!

  • Justin


    Tulsa has a population of almost 400,000 with a metro area population of about 900,000, and a population density of about 2100/ sq. mile. DC had a population of about 600,000, a metro area population of over 5 million and population density of over 9000/ sq. mile. Not very similar in size at all.

    As for being the first in the nation, Tulsa’s system is more of a bike rental system than a bikeshare (but that’s up for interpretation). DC’s is designed to be much more of an urban transportation system basically identical to systems in Barcelona and Stockholm.

  • Thanks for pointing that out, Louis. As previously discussed, U.S. residents can obtain a JCB Card, which has the all important chip. Some people say that American Express works as well, but I haven’t seen official confirmation of that.

  • I just found this page from the Paris Office of Tourism, which says that the stations accept American Express and Diners’ Club as well as JCB and chip-enabled Visa/Mastercards.

  • Arcata has been doing a bike share for years. Why do they not get credit?

  • Greener Grass

    DC’s program is all about being first and adding a “bike-share” bullet to the city’s policy list, but its pathetic size makes it irrelevant beyond the press release.

  • Some random thoughts:

    – I love the music.

    – I don’t quite understand the economics of the program — considering the puny number of bikes, I doubt it even pays for the maintenance crew. Does that mean that Clear Channel takes a loss for tax reasons/in order to generate goodwill, or some other reason?

    – Talking about Clear Channel, I though they were the bad guys because of what they’re doing to the American media landscape. Now I’m confused.

    – There seemed to be plenty of bikes everywhere except possibly at Dupont Circle. If the program is truly popular, shouldn’t we expect fewer bikes in racks, at least during the day?

  • Thanks for people pointing out that shortcoming of Vélib (or US credit cards, depending on your point of view) – that your card must have a European chip. We’re aware of that and intend to give it a go with the AmEx – I’ll let you know how it goes, though I apologize for taking the comments a bit off-topic.

  • When I walk around DC, I don’t usually see the racks more than half full. You’re not really seeing the popularity of the program yet, either, as it takes a a few weeks to receive the card necessary to use. The public has only been able to apply for the cards for about 3 weeks.

  • Eric

    This is an OK system, but it’s too small and unnecessarily complex. Paris’ Vélib’ system is awesome, cheap, and it’s faster. You just go to the lock holding your bike and swipe your Vélib’ card or your NaviGo Pass (Subscription card for Paris’ transit system.) The D.C. system shows promise.


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