I left Washington DC in June and was amazed on a visit back this weekend how much seemed to have changed in the urban environment in this short time. The biggest change I'm thrilled about is the launch of a new shared bike scheme - Capital Bikeshare - already now the biggest in the USA.
A previous scheme, Smartbike DC, has been operating since 2008 but never caught on. It's network of a mere 10 locations was woefully insufficient to constitute a new form of transport and they required you to join online first, for a flat fee of $40, before you could use a bike. Compare this to Capital Bikeshare's 1100 bikes at 110 stations stretching from Columbia Heights down to the Mall, East as far as Eastern Market and West into Northern Virgina. It's a dense-enough network to use the bikes as genuine public transport - you can feel secure that there will be a parking station sufficiently close to where you are going.
One person I spoke to over the weekend wasn't confident the new scheme would catch on any more than the last one did, opining that those who liked riding already had bikes in most cases. But I think this is no different to the co-existence of private car usage and taxi cabs. As a bike owner and daily commuter I can imagine many scenarios where I might not want the hassle of keeping track of my bike, or only need to go one way, or am transferring to a car, where a shared bike scheme provides the perfect compliment to my private bike ownership.
I rode bikes three times last Thursday getting from one meeting to another and it was wonderful. Cheap ($5 for a day membership, $25/month, $75/year, with use of the bikes free for journey's under 30 minutes), easy (30 seconds and I was joined and away) and fun. And useful! Much more efficient for piecing together my destinations than trains or buses would have been. For a visitor it's a wonderful way to get around.
Combined with this DC has expanded their bikes lanes, already the best I've seen anywhere in the US. There are dedicated bike lanes every few streets, making it easy to get within a block or two of anywhere you want to go without dodging traffic. Some of these lanes are sectioned off from traffic by bollards, or have a lane of parked cars between bikes and traffic, making them extremely safe for cyclists.
Very impressive, DC. Combined with new light rail lines and the expansion of the Metro out to Dulles airport the District is evolving into one of the most walkable and least car-dependent cities in the country.