Federal Partnership with Capital Bikeshare Program. Can you get a Bike when you need one?

From a press release:

“The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the General Services Administration (GSA), and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced today that they are offering corporate bike memberships to their employees in the Washington, DC metropolitan area through the District’s Capital Bikeshare Program. The District kick-started the program last Monday and by late-October it is slated to become the largest in the nation.”

I think this is a great idea. But I have a question about Capital Bike distribution. I notice that some stations (like the one above at 16th and Harvard) are packed with bikes and other are empty or nearly empty (like the one below at 18th and Columbia Rd, NW). So my questions is – and I know the system is still relatively new – are the bikes there when you need them? I just got my packet in the mail today and I’m a bit nervous because over half the time I pass the Petworth station it is empty. What have you guys noticed around town?

54 Comment

  • I have noticed in my neighborhood these bikes rarely seem used: (over by 7th and T right near Howard University, behind the CVS.) Also, they sit across the street of those other bikes for rent that went up about 18 months ago (which I never saw anyone using anywhere in town).

    Also, when I walked to my friend’s car after the Red Mass over by Rhode Island and Conn Ave NW, we walked past a set of bikes near Conn Ave (can’t remember the exact coordinates – maybe 17 or 18th near Conn Ave : again these bikes were all present (no one was using them).

  • I’ve seen a lot of people riding these around town, particularly around Columbia Heights, where there are usually only one or two bikes at each station (14th & Harvard, Park & Holmead) during the day and especially on weekends. Considering that users are encouraged to lock these bikes back up to a docking station, I’m not surprised that they don’t look like they’re being used.

    • The fee structure encourages you to keep them locked up at stations. In addition to the monthly fee, there is a fee for use after the first half hour. (1st .5hr is free)

  • Walking home at 11pm tonight from LGL (yay Dad!) I noticed that the Petworth bikeshare was well stocked: 10 or so bikes. The Sweet Mango and Red Derby stations are at the highest elevations in DC CaBi system, so hopefully they’ll eventually have a pick-up truck that takes a few from Dupont and leaves them in Petworth/Columbia Heights every night.

  • I’ve also noticed the great fluctuation in available bikes. Although I have only used it a couple times (Petworth–>AdamsMO–>Woodley), I’ve always found bikes where I need them. I read that if you arrive at a parking location and there isn’t room you can enter your key in the over-crowded kiosk and get an extra 15minutes to find another place (not the best if you are on a schedule).

    Also- there is a really great iPhone app that shows a map with all of the bikeshare sites and a real-time count of how many bikes/empty spots for each site: it’s called spotcycle

  • There’s a great iphone app called Spotcycle, which tells you your nearest CaBi station and shows how many bikes are currently docked at each.

  • And for those of you w/o an iphone you can go to their website and look at a similar map.

  • i rode one on sunday. the petworth metro station bike rack was empty but the 14th and spring rack had about 6 bikes. i hope that they regularly bring bikes back up the hill to petworth.

    • A truck to shuttle around bicycles? That seems like a real stain on a green option. How about a time bonus, say an extra half hour, if a rider returns the bike to one of the lesser used stations?

  • Yesterday is exactly why I got a Capital Bikeshare membership. It was raining like hell when I left for work, so I didn’t want to take my bike. By the time I left, it had stopped raining and I had an errand to run on the way home that would take me by two bikeshare stations. The Spotcycle app is great. When I left my office there was one bike at the station a block away. By the time I rode the elevator ten floors, the app told me that bike was gone, so I went to a station that was 3 blocks from my office, instead of two.

    The bikes aren’t great. Very heavy and geared so they won’t go too fast. Going up the hill to Adams Morgan was frustrating because of the bike I’m used to. My girlfriend rides a big, old, heavy three-speed, and she agrees they seem slow, as well.

    Without the app I can imagine it would be a little frustrating, because I almost went to an empty station, and I almost took my shared bike to a completely full station. But if you have an iPhone, the real-time updates are incredibly helpful. As mentioned above, you can find the real-time map on the Capital Bikeshare website, which helps you find a bike, but of course won’t help you find an empty dock.

    Overall, I feel like I will get my money’s worth, especially as they add new stations.

  • I wonder if we, as Americans will have the fortitude to stick with this. My wife and I just spent a week in Barcelona, Spain, where the bikes are used religiously. The serviceing organization, Bicing, which is run by the city, redistrubtes the bikes through out the day, even on weekends.

  • I was psyched to see the new bike station on 14th near Red Derby (couple of blocks from my house), but I had to laugh when I noticed they installed the solar-powered payment kiosk *directly* underneath a tree! I mean leaves of the tree are literally touching the solar panels. And the tree is young. It will only get bigger.

    Someone told me those stations are movable, so maybe they’ll slide it down the sidewalk a little, into the sun?

    • but to actually answer the question: it was fully stocked with bikes around mid morning Sunday.

  • As a regular cyclist, my question about the Capitol Bikeshare bikes, is what do people do about helmets? There aren’t any at the kiosks, and if I’m not riding my bike I don’t take a helmet with me to work, so what do people do? No helmets? To me, this seems to encourage unsafe riding. Or maybe it’s just a Darwinian plot.

    • Bring your helmet with you. 1) Helmets are not required in DC and 2) Your helmet won’t necessarily fit my head. A helmet is pretty lightweight, so taking it with you is not a big deal. If they did provide them, I’d wager they’d disappear in a hurry.

      • Yes, lightweight, but also very bulky. Not likely that it’s going with me unless I’m on a bike already, but that’s just me.

        I realize that helmets aren’t required in DC, but it’s just plain stupid to ride without one.

        I love the idea of bikeshare, but I wonder what happens with the first bikeshare cyclist gets hit my a car whilst not wearing a helmet. Messy.

        • How does the bikeshare program “encourage unsafe riding?” It’s a choice–you use a helmet or you don’t. I agree, riding without a helmet is foolish at best, but to assign any blame to the program because an adult made the decision to get on a bike without a helmet is absurd.

        • If you are going to ride a bike during the day (your own or Capital Bikeshare) take a helmet with you and carry it around. Its better to carry a helmet on your way to work then to ride later without one.

  • What really sucks about the bikeshare is that they totally discriminate against us who live in north country. Upper Georgia Avenue has to go at least a solid mile before access to a station. Upper Ward 4, screwed again…

    • I’ve written to DDOT several times about this issue, and I hope you’ll do the same; the only way we’ll get CaBi in our neighborhood(s) is by assuring them that we want it, and that we’ll use it.

      gabe.klein at dc.gov
      karyn.leblanc at dc.gov

  • The Petworth station was almost completely full when I rode by it this morning.

  • the even distribution of these bikes seems to be an art and a science…and keep in mind the system is only a few weeks old. they are clearly still gathering and analyzing usage data to see which stations are used most and where the bikes need to be redistributed at the end of the day. give them some time, this is a great system that has been proven in MANY other cities. Paris has 14,000 of these kind of bikes, Montreal maybe 5,000? DC has 1,000 right now, lets hope for another 1,000 come spring!

  • What if it was someone’s job to ride bikes from packed stations to empty stations?

    I would totally quit my job to be hired as a full time bike re-distributor for Capital BikeShare. CaBi, do you see this as a part of your strategic vision?
    Holy crap- best.job.ever.

  • In Lyon France where the program is a huge success they have trucks that redistribute the bikes to empty stations. Also mobile repair trucks that pull up at stations and fix the broken bikes. You can also use a credit card to rent a bike without being a member.

    I see people here in DC scoping out the locking mechanisms all the time. They look like they are skeeming on ways to steal the bikes. Should be a good challenge, Engineer VS Bike Thief.

  • I just returned from a week in Paris and folks (residents and tourists) were riding these everywhere. The Parisian bike program is a huge success and I saw racks at very convenient locations. But not once did I see anyone, even kids, wearing a helmet. I’m curious about this.

  • If you look at pictures of bike-riding Dutch or Danish, for example, you almost never see a helmet. Are they all crazy? I guess not, since their excellent safety stats speak for themselves.

    Now, obviously, the US bike environment is not generally as safe as in countries like that. They’ve spent a lot of time and money making things safe for biking, we haven’t yet.

    But I ride without a helmet. I ride slower and defensively, on a fairly slow Dutch-style bike that has an upright sitting position so I can see and be seen, and which also makes it unlikely that I will pitch forward if I did crash. I use bike lanes, stay out of the thick of traffic, and use side streets or sidewalks. I take my time.

    If I was speeding along in traffic, hunched over, I’d wear a helmet too. Or rather, I probably wouldn’t bike at all. It’s the Dutch/Danish model that got me back on a bike after 25 years. It’s more civilized, safe, and fun.

    I understand CaBi wants to encourage helmets, that’s fine too. I think people will make their own decisions as adults. I think the way the CaBi bikes lumber along, you’re better off emulating the D/D anyway. Meaning you probably don’t really need a helmet, but hey, wear one if that works for you. Whatever makes you bike.

    • I find myself wondering how many people get urine-in-a-balloon thrown on them while bike riding in Denmark or Copenhagen or Helsinki.
      Sometimes America just sucks.

    • I respectfully disagree. It is your choice to wear a helmet or not, and really the only person it impacts is you. But it doesn’t really matter how fast you are going–all it takes is one car going as fast (or slow) as it wants–and if it hits you, and your head hits pavement, then that’s pretty much it.

      I think people in Europe have higher safety records without helmets because bikes have been and continue to be widely accepted. But the U.S. is still very car-centric. I bet that when people are taught to drive in European cities, significantly more time is spent on how to deal with bikes than here–people just aren’t conscious of bikes in the U.S. as in Europe (and I’m not even going to touch on the drivers who hate bikers or don’t care).

      I hate wearing a helmet and I hate how dumb I look in it, but I don’t want to put my life in other people’s hands, not in this town. I would encourage you to rethink your decision, no matter how careful you think you are being(And I say this with the best of intentions towards you).

      • Kate, I appreciate the thoughtful concern. I think you could make the same argument for pedestrians, drivers, etc who statistically tend to fare worse than bicyclists. I guess I’ve tried to quantify the risk versus how I want to live and this is what I came up with. A helmet would make me not want to ride as much. Thanks though, really. I’ll do my best not to give the bastards a chance to hit me! 🙂 Even if it takes me forever to get from point A to B.

  • Lots of pics of cool people riding cool bikes in their cool city – without helmets:


  • PS – with normal clothes, dresses, heels… no spandex etc.

    • I do it. Unless you’re doing some serious biking I think it’s silly to have a special outfit for it (though the helmet is a good idea).

  • I don’t think you can forget that in Copenhagen (and Europe) they have a civil society with sane drivers, general common sense and a good public health system, all of which we lack.

    • Europeans aren’t texting, eating Big Macs, flossing their teeth, and painting their nails while driving, so they’re able to pay close enough attention to not hit bikers.

      • I bet you haven’t been to Europe in some time, if you believe what you just wrote.

        • It’s illegal to even drink a cup of coffee while driving in much of Europe.

          • thats why european cars in america had shitty cup holders until only recently.

          • I remember discussing the McDonald’s scalding coffee lawsuit with a Swiss person who didn’t understand the circumstances that caused the injury. She just couldn’t wrap her head around the concept of a person drinking something while driving.

    • As more people commute via bike, urban areas in the US can transition in this direction. Road rage exhibited by car drivers is borderline insane.

      • Right on both counts. The way forward is to get way more people on bikes. People who don’t necessarily see themselves as ‘bike types’, just needing to get around town without stress, parking hassles, etc.

        Toward that end, I’ve just started a new bike-related blog, hope PoP readers will check it out. This is the first time I’ve floated the URL publicly:


        Please let me know what you think!


  • I think this is a wonderful idea. I hope it expands.

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