D.C. Rings in Bike to Work Day With Big Bike-Sharing Announcement

SmartBike_DC.jpgA big expansion of bike-sharing in D.C. will make public bikes a real transportation option for many more people. Image: Pedal_Power_Pete/Flickr

Washington D.C. is making the biggest splash (policy-wise) on Bike to Work Day this year, with officials announcing a major expansion of the city’s bike-sharing system. According to Greater Greater Washington, the new system will have around 1,100 bikes at 114 stations across the entire District and in neighboring Arlington County. If the expansion goes into effect, bike-sharing in the capital could be transformed from a niche service into an essential piece of the transportation system.

D.C. was the first American city to institute a bike-sharing program, known as SmartBike. That program was hampered by its small size — only 120 bikes at ten locations, and by a business model that catered too much to advertising giant Clear Channel at the expense of bike-share users. The next iteration of bike-sharing would drop Clear Channel, GGW reports, switching to an operator whose incentives call for expanding the system and who would be willing to work across multiple jurisdictions. Yearly memberships would cost $80, with every ride free for the first half-hour. 

Looking ahead, 1,100 bikes might be just the beginning for D.C. The region is applying for federal funding to more than double the size of the program announced today, and Arlington, at least, has already announced its intention to add more bikes and stations down the line. 

Today’s announcement adds to the wave of bike-sharing breakthroughs in American cities. Denver launched its 500-bike program, currently the largest in the country, on Earth Day, and both Minneapolis and Boston are scheduled to open 1,000-bike systems later this year. In New York, the most recent government action on bike-sharing occurred last April, when the Department of City Planning released an extensive study of how a system could work here. 

  • ZA

    While I’m certainly happy to hear that DC’s SmartBike system is expanding, I’d be even happier if they figured out a realistic fee system to maximize short-term rentals.

    Right now, the $40 annual subscription is a barrier, not a bridge, to increased use. Deeply ironic, considering the millions of tourists, lobbyists, and federal workers that flow through DC every year.


    Yeah, the politics of reaching an agreement with the existing bike rental companies are tough, but how about a little less showcase, and a lot more use?

  • Holly

    I moved to NYC in January from DC. I *loved* the bike share program there. Especially after my husband’s and my bike got stolen. I’ve heard commenters on this site complain that bike sharing would put too many tourists on bikes in the city, but that is not what happens. To access the bikes you must pay for a year’s membership online and you are mailed a swipe-card to unlock the bikes, only the most dedicated tourists would go through the trouble. Also, there are no worries about abandoned bikes because when you sign up for membership they get your credit card number and you agree to take responsibility for the bike while you have it out. If you don’t return it to a rack within a set amount of time (3 hours in DC) they could charge you for it.

    We rode the bikes a lot, they were comfortable, and if you found a damaged one it was easy to report it for repair. We also saw vans in the late morning redistributing the bikes after rush hour so that there would be bikes at every rack. Can’t wait for something like this in NY.

  • Dave

    In Denver you can sign up for daily, weekly, monthly or annual passes which is great for tourists and locals alike.

  • J:Lai

    ZA – why are you against a small annual fee? Seems like $40 is not much of a barrier to use, and when paired with a pricing structure where the first 30 min are free, it enourages people to take make frequent use of the service for short trips to get the maximum value out of the fixed payment.
    The alternative – no annual fee but charging beginning with the first minute of use – seems like it would be more of a barrier.

  • Below is a link to a fact sheet about the bike sharing expansion in DC, including more details about the pricing structure. There will be annual, monthly and daily memberships ($5) to fit different needs. The first 1/2 will be free, the second 1/2 hour $1.5 and then the cost will incrementally increase depending on how long you keep the bike.


    John Lisle
    DDOT Communications Office

  • trj

    this is great news, but for bike sharing to work, you need a critical mass of bikes, and 1000 is far below what is needed. Paris, where the velib program has transformed the city, has 20,000. And it’s worth noting that this is for an area of 33 square miles, whereas DC is actually bigger at 68 square miles. Launching bike sharing programs with too few bikes to make it effective provides an excuse for critics of the program to seize on its failures and kill the idea entirely. I hope the DC will ramp up the number of bikes (it needs to increase at least ten fold to work) quickly.

  • Amalio Escobar

    Bike Sharing is great and certainly welcome in the DC Metro are. My only concern is that on the Arlington side they left most of Arlington out, specially the Rosslyn – Ballston corridor (which I understand will be serviced later).

  • g767

    In this day & age the inevitable question is: if they have your credit card number and the information on the origin and destination of every trip you make, what do they do with that information?

    Do they sell it to advertisers who spam your email? “Dear Mr. Smith: we noticed you seem to like going to museums. How would you like to sign up for…” blah blah blah.

    Do they use it to put you in categories of one kind or another? “Based on your Travel Profile, you are probably a Luddite….”

    Who gets the information, and what can they do with it?

    As for me, no, I will not give away personal information about where I go and when I go there, and by inference, what my interests are and with whom I associate.

    The Netherlands had a bike share program and it was free.

    Not everything in life has to be somebody’s cash cow.

  • That’s a great news! But current splash is sufficient. Why they making more big?



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