Friday Question of the Day: Will You Rent A Bicycle?

bike rack, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

Will bike rentals work in DC? Thanks to a reader for sending the above photo of a bike rental station being built on Rhode Island Ave at 14th Street. I remember reading that bike rentals have been a huge success in Paris, so will it work here in DC? I’m super psyched, it sounds like an awesome idea to me. After the jump read the full email from the reader with some details on the program and a link to a Web site explaining more.

The reader writes:  “My friend sent met the attached photo, asking if I’d heard anything
about bike rental stations going up in the district (how he knew that
that’s what a partially constructed bike-rental stand looks like is
beyond me). I, being the nosey nelly that I am, did some google work,
and them emailed Jim Sebastian, the city government’s manager of
Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Transportation Demand Management Programs.

In a nutshell:

To be launched downtown in the next few weeks, Jim says, and expanding
to other areas such as Petworth later, SmartBike is a bike sharing
program developed by Clear Channel Adshel, an international outdoor
advertising company, and coming to DC as part of the city’s bus
shelter advertising contract.

The system will work similar to Zip Car – you register online or on
the phone, get a membership card and use that card to release the bike
at one of the 10 kiosks around town. Rates are expected to be $1 to $2
per hour, the DC gov site says. You can return the bike to any of the
sites, unless it’s full, and then you’ll have to move on to the next

The bikes will have “4 speed internal hub gears, coaster and hand
breaks, fenders, chain guard, lights, and a front rack,” according to
the DC gov site (I know nothing about bikes, really, so take that for
what it is.) No helmets provided.

Oh, and if you lose a bike, you buy a bike, so keep an eye out.

Much of that info comes from this site:

The pic was from just outside the 7/11 on Rhode Island Ave at 14th St, NW.

My friend says there’s another one just outside the Reeves Gov’t Bldg
on U at 14th St, NW.”

33 Comment

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  • I thought Paris had a system of free bikes?

  • I actually saw some one riding one yesterday

  • Hmm. Frankly, I am not sure if this will work – having to registers etc. and then paying even $1-2/hour may be too much for most people – those who actually use bikes will rather buy one of their own. If there are only 10 locations in the city ( I guess the numbe grows if it is a success) its not very convenient for most people.

    A much more useful initiative would be what e.g. some Nordic cities have – city owned bikes all over the city, locked with a lock that opens with a high denomination coin ($1 or so), which you get back when you return the bike to any one of those stands anywhere in the city. The bikes have funky colors, disk wheels, they are not terribly comfortable in the long run etc. to make them “unsalable” in the market and not very interesting for people to steel. Extremely handy a system for on the spot need for a bike and for tourists.

  • I think this is a good idea. DC could look to Chicago for other ideas–the mayor there has ambitious plans to make that city more bicycle-friendly, including a dowtown bike center for commuters:

  • Is DC too hilly for bikes? Im not sure about Paris, but I know Amsterdam is super flat, making biking easy.

  • DC is not THAT hilly. I bike and its perfectly fine.

    Actually, DC has been fairly persistent in improving biking conditions. When I first moved here 7-8 years ago, there were a lot less of those painted biking lanes around. They actually do help, although are not perfect and a far cry from separate bike lanes found in many European cities for example (not sure if there many around the US).

  • I am all for it if they crack down harder on bike riders in DC with traffic laws. I drive and nothing is more frustrating than some of the bikers in DC. (This is not to say ALL bikers, but you/they know who you/they are) They don’t follow the traffic laws like they are supposed to making it very stressful to drive around. They run red lights and cut through intersections, they ride on sidewalks and almost run people over, they take up too much of the lane and go entirely too slow and then don’t make it easy enough for you to pass them. Also, they ride up between cars on the line and don’t always signal when they are changing lanes. I think if you have to have a license to operate a car than you should be required to have one to ride a bike in a city setting.

  • that is some of the coolest news i’ve heard in a long time. i can’t wait to sign up. after losing several bikes to theft i haven’t purchased another. but i would rather spend 5-10 bucks a week on a bike than on fancy coffee. i just don’t think dc is tere yet in terms of government sposored programs like this. i think this may be a private company/service/monopoly that i would support.

  • As a bike rider, I would be thrilled to see more bike lanes. It would make it a lot safer for bikers and easier on drivers as well, everyone knows where they are supposed to be. I bike from Petworth to Union Station and there’s no way for me to ride on streets with bike lanes the whole way. If you look at this map I found on the WABA website, you’ll see none of the streets with bike lanes (in red) really connect – just a couple blocks here and there,a,1245,q,629849,ddotNav,%7C32399%7C.asp

    When I’m in the area around North Capitol Street, riding my bike on 1st St NW or on other streets in Ledroit Park, I get a lot of threatening behavior from drivers, I’ve been honked at and passed so closely cars whiz by me within inches of me. I have no idea why, I obey the traffic laws and bike pretty sedately – it just seems they are offended that I’m on the street at all. North Capitol St is so busy I’d never try to bike on that street. It’s definitely NOT a friendly area for bikers, so maybe some driver education is in order, too!

    I’ve noticed a lot of new bike lanes going in, so kudos to Fenty our triathelete mayor. Let’s just CONNECT the bike lanes to each other so you can actually commute without getting killed!

  • In theory I would love this to work. But even free bike systems in some european cities have failed. And we are far less bike-minded than your average european city. I am not optimistic that it’s going to be embraced by a lot of people. And in order for it to even be practical, don’t you need tons of stations all over the city? Where are you supposed to leave the bikes?

    It seems to me anyone who has got the bike mentality around here already owns one (or more) bikes. Why would they rent one.

    Anon: If you have trouble with bike thefts why don’t you just buy used beaters on Craig’s List? They cost nothing and you don’t care if they get stolen. Most people I know have gone this route if they have to leave a bike parked in an insecure place on a regular basis.

  • I would totally do this if there were more locations in my neighborhood (NE Capitol Hill), and if there were more locations by Metro stops, so I could hop off the metro, grab a bike, run my errands and return it close to home.

  • Its a great service but I’m afraid it will be underused in DC. Now, a short rant. I drive and bike in DC. When I drive, I pass or am passed by maybe 2 bikes per trip, which is just not that big a deal — even when they are hard to pass in my hurry to meet the next stop light. When I bike, I pass or am passed by hundreds of drivers “who don’t follow the traffic laws like they are supposed to making it very stressful to [bike] around.” They drive way above the speed limit, don’t use signals to change lanes, don’t use signals when making abrupt right hand turns though bike lanes, honk inappropriately, habitually crowd or obstruct those precious few bike lanes that exist, haphazardly throw their car doors open into the traffic lanes when parked or stopped at lights, talk on their cell phones in violation of traffic law, and generally pay no attention to bikes or pedestrians. Maybe people who have licenses to drive should abide by some modest percentage of the traffic laws, or else acknowledge that traffic laws are pretty much routinely disregarded by bike, car, pedestrian, skateboard, and wildlife. Seriously.

  • Miss K: i agree with you, but replace “bike riders” with “automobile drivers”, and almost all of those problems can be attributed to some of those in this city too. there are bad apples in every basket, and as a biker, it pains me to see them getting all the attention. rest assured, good bikers despise that, just like i’m sure you car drivers hate it when you see people driving 20 miles over the speed limit, weaving between lanes, and causing problems on the road.

    hurrah for following traffic regulations!

  • GforGood is right on. It doesn’t sound like DDOT or ClearChannel thought this thing through when they set it up: you have to sign up for it in advance, making it hard for tourists to use, and unless you’ve got your own lock the bikes can only be locked to the special bike racks pictured above. With only ten racks in the city, that makes it really hard to use the bikes for errands or anything but joyriding. What’s the point?

  • If you look at the map of the proposed locations on the dc gov site, you’ll realize that this isn’t a program to cut down on traffic / provide alternative commuting or errand options. It appears to be aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles / joyriding, etc. I think this is an excellent idea, and, on nice weekends anyway, will be a huge success. Tourists may use them as well–many tourists make reservations / sign up for things in advance of coming to a city. To the small percentage of tourists who want to tour dc on a bike at an economical price, this is a good option. But, as a resident, I am more excited that the city (albeit through private enterprise) is promoting healthy outdoor activities. There really is no excuse that programs such as this are not available.

  • people are so critical! i think it’s a great idea. projects like this don’t just spring from the ground, fully formed and largely functional — people have to show interest. I think 10 locations is an excellent start, and it’s a good way to get people to start trying another method of transportation. It’s healthy and fun, and maybe people will use them for that, and not just functional errands. I like that it’s not for tourists, but for DC residents.
    And to Miss K, I say if DC police should crack down on anyone it’s the drivers in this city who have no respect for pedestrians. I understand that driving near bikers is difficult, and they can be a problem, but it’s way too easy to get hit by a car when legally crossing the street in this city. The streets belong to everyone — not just drivers.

  • I looked around a little on the website – it looks like the 10 bike rental stations will all be near downtown in the more flat part of the city. The furthest north one is on U St. But maybe that’s just to start.

    If you google Smartbike you get links to bike rental programs in London, Paris, Norway – so they are using the European plans as a model. The London site said the goal is for 10% of traveling within the city to happen by bike, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to relieve the pressure on already maxed out mass transit. Pretty cool.

    I agree with comments about the cards making it not useful to tourists or travelers to DC. Seems like you should be able to buy a card from a kiosk on the street and not have to buy one online and wait for it to be mailed to you.

  • Anonymous, I’m a bike rider, a driver and a pedestrian in this city and in my experience…I repeat, in my experience….the worst street offenders are the biker riders. There, I said it. I actually get pissed off about it because we bike riders who actually follow the rules end up guilty by association…it sucks. You know who you are…you’re the ones who run red lights, switch lanes without hand signals, weave between the streets and the sidewalks. You make us all look bad so STOP IT!!!!!

  • Anonymous, you have totally taken my point and turned it around with an argument about another point. Stating that DC drivers are bad does not make my point any less valid, about the bikers in DC riding around breaking laws and making it a stressful, unsafe situation for the drivers. And Yes, DC drivers, as a whole pretty much suck as well.

  • i think this could be pretty cool, as long as the people who use the system have the respect and decency to treat the bikes like their own. im a little less than convinced that they will, but hope springs eternal.

    as far as the roads belong to everyone, sure they do… but pedestrians have cross walks and sidewalks that they should stick to. not that that will solve everything, but i havent heard anything about a car running up on the sidewalk to strike a pedestrian… its only when they are in the ROADS. and bikers in the streets… kudos to bike riders for getting a great work out while saving the planet, but PLEASE act like youre on a street with motorized vehicles that can kill you, and not just peddling through the park. i agree with miss k’s point about most bike riders being way to dangerous. dc can regulate the roads and drivers all they want, but at the end of a crash, youre the one that will end up dead, so stop acting like every driver is going to smile and wave you on whenever you ring your stupid bell and swerve out in front of them…

  • I ride my bike in the street a lot, and I drive a lot, and I agree with Miss K. I feel like a fool stopping at intersections and lights and doing all my “Safety Sam” hand gestures when I see other bike riders ride with no regard for the rules of the road. Cyclists have to act like vehicles if they want to be treated with respect.

    That said, yep, a lot of drivers here suck also.

  • DC has had bike rentals. I know that rents bikes. I actually purchased a bike from a bike rental place that was near Penn Quarter a little while ago. The name escapes me…it has since closed. I guess the difference is the Zip car type format and being able to return the bike to different locations.

  • This seems like a good idea, I bet it’d be popular with the European tourists if placed properly and made accessible. I saw something similar in Paris (which is flat with some large hills), but if drivers here worry me I think I’d have a breakdown there.

    More bike lanes seem like a good idea. I walk/metro everywhere and bike a few times a week. This morning I tried a different street, it’s one I’ve been avoiding because it is busy, but it has a bike lane. It was a rough trip with pedestrians running across the lane from behind cars and cars cutting in/out to park or merge, or just double parking in the bike lane. When the lane ended I was able to ride happily with but out of the way of vehicles. I needed to make a left, so I checked for cars and signaled, then checked again before moving over only to have someone accelerate up on me and honk once I was in front of him until I was able to merge into the next lane to make my turn. I think I’ll be sticking to my quieter street sans bike lane… pleaaaase don’t honk at me, I’m already stressed enough riding in traffic, I’m going as fast as I can, and I’ll be out of your way as soon as possible!

  • Miss K, yes, I responded to your point that bikers don’t follow traffic regulations with the accusation “neither do drivers.” I do find it interesting that you characterize my response as a statement that DC drivers are “bad” — as if drivers who break the law aren’t really breaking the law, they’re just “bad drivers.” Yet the bikers are riding around “breaking the law” making it “stressful” and “unsafe” for people driving cars (those poor angels). Okay, even the most conscientious of drivers and bikers don’t follow 100 percent of traffic regulations, and a select few of worst drivers and bikers make it significantly more stressful and unsafe for everyone to get around. But, when you suggest that nothing is more frustrating than a few bad bikers on the road and that bad bikers are disproportionately the cause of stressful driving conditions downtown, I think that’s crazy. There should be more traffic enforcement in DC, period. I’d suggest starting with drivers on their cell phones.

  • Bikers break the law a lot more than cars do. I rarely see cars pull up to a red light, slow down for a second, and blow right through it. Bikers do it all the time.

    I nearly ran one down a couple weeks ago. After slamming on my brakes to avoid shanking the guy, I yelled out that I’d nearly killed him because he ran the red light. His response? The salute and an epithet. Nice. That was a traffic light. Stop signs? I simply assume they won’t stop.

    The irony is, it’s the bikers who are going to lose in that game of chicken. If they (as a community) want respect then they need to deserve it. I understand that there are many bikers who do respect the rules of the road. But a very significant portion of them do not, enough that it’s not just “a few bad apples.” It’s the attitude in general.

  • I think there’s something of a hierarchy among cyclists who break the law. First, there are those who are as observant as the most law-abiding motorist. I know maybe one or two of these people. Second are the cyclists who will stop at a red, check things out, and then break the law after making sure the coast is clear. Then there are the cyclists who treat red like yellow–they just tear right into the intersection in search of a seam between cars, and slide through. Within this subgroup, there are subsubgroups as well. The more extreme the behavior, obviously, the more hazard.

  • Bikers can’t have it both ways. You want respect on the roads? Follow the rules of the road!

    If you blast through red lights, lane-split, speed down active sidewalks when it’s convenient, and ride the wrong way down one-way streets, the clear message to drivers is “just ignore me, I am operating in a completely different universe than you are.”

  • They already rent out bikes in DC. I went on a Bike the Sites tour for $20.00. They have a location near the Old Post Office. You don’t have to do the tour — you can just rent the bike. It is also a good place to buy used bikes — they usually sell them after about a year of usage.

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  • Why is it so hard to understand that in a city of “poor” drivers, that the bicyclists are no better? And by poor, I mean law breaking, careless, and dangerous. Do what you can to let people know that they are driving/bicycling inappropriately (honking, waving of your hands, etc.). Besides driving/bicycling safely yourself, I don’t see much else you can do on an individual basis. That is unless you have an in with the MPD to actually enforce traffic laws.

  • Technically this isn’t a bike rental system but a bike sharing system – more like using books from the library. Except for the $40 annual fee, it’s totally free. Bikes can be checked out at one location and returned to another.

    You can check a bike out for up to three hours for free. After that you get a penalty point on your account. Three penalty points and you’re account is canceled.

    More kiosks and more bikes are probably going to be needed to make the system work, but it’s like your first apartment, it is what it is and hopefully it will get better. The need to sign up will make it hard for tourists to use, but it isn’t supposed to be a tourist transportation system. It’s for residents. What percentage of traffic is made up of European tourists anyway?

    DC is building a bike station near Union Station. Work should start this year.

    Lane splitting is legal. As is taking the entire lane – even if it makes it difficult to pass.

    And finally I doubt that cyclists break the law more frequently than drivers. There’s been no real study, but I know which side I’d put my money on.

  • Steve, I guess you should be reading…

    And Erik, I am in the middle group. I do ride through red lights if there isn’t traffic. I think most of the reason drivers get worked up about it, is because they wish they were able to do it to. It’s resentment.

    I think of it more as giving me more opportunity to stay away from cars for longer periods of time, since it is fair as a rule to say that most automobile drivers don’t pay attention to non-autos/trucks. I have been hit a few times by cars while riding legally…

    Drivers who bitch about bicyclists tend to not be too cognizant of the _fact_ that while auto drivers are not at risk from bicyclists, bicyclists are at great risk from drivers, and so our doing things like going through a red light (after stopping and checking, and never if there is oncoming traffic) is a logical choice.

    2x I’ve had bikes totalled by car-bike accidents that weren’t my fault. And it doesn’t take much to “total” a bike if your wheels and fork are bent beyond repair. And the car driver sure isn’t gonna pay for it…

    For the comment about lane splitting. Guess what, it’s legal. Check out a recent washcycle post about it.

    You want me to take up a whole lane of traffic, and not lane split, thereby likely slowing one lane of automobile traffic significantly? I’m game, but it would generate a significant amount of resentment that would put me at risk. See discussion above for how I think that would go over with drivers…

    If I had a dollar for every automobile driver who yelled out a nasty comment to me in relation to riding bicycles–not having any thing to do with how I am operating my bicycle–I would be very rich indeed.

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