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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

The rousing success of DC's Capital Bikeshare

Kaid Benfield

Posted April 26, 2011

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  Capital Bikeshare (By: DC DOT)

Capital Bikeshare, Washington’s wildly popular bikesharing program, now claims to have nearly 11,000 members and 1100 bikes in circulation from “over 110” self-service stations placed strategically around the city and Arlington, Virginia.  (There’s a certain binary quality and similarity to those numbers, no?) 

According to an article written by Ashley Halsey III and published over the weekend in The Washington Post, “more than 300,000 rides have been logged since the program launched September 20, and people were using the bikes an average of 3,000 times a day in mid-April.”  a Capital Bikeshare station (by: James D. Schwartz, creative commons license)No wonder I seem to see them everywhere.  The program’s web site says that one can join for 24 hours, 5 days, 30 days, or a year, and have access to the bikes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The popularity of the program is due to the attractiveness of the sturdy red bikes - every distinctive Capital Bikeshare vehicle on the street is a rolling advertisement for the program - and its incredible convenience.  The system is very easy to use, and riders may pick up a bike at any station and drop it off at any station, perfect for short, one-way trips.  The first 30 minutes of each trip are free, making a year’s membership a bargain for $75 if one uses the bikes for in-city commuting and errands.  Each additional 30 minutes incurs an additional fee. 

Velib' bikes in Paris (c2010 FK Benfield)The world’s best known bikeshare system is the Velib' (for Velo Libre) program in Paris, which urban writer Aurash Khawarzad says now has over 17,000 bicycles and 1,200 stations.  I certainly saw evidence of its popularity last time I was there, with Velib' riders seemingly on every block.  Khawarzad reports that Barcelona, Stockholm, Lyon, Helsinki, and London also have large programs in Europe and that Denver and Montreal are the other (besides Washington) leaders in North America.  Boston, New York, and Chicago are apparently planning or implementing systems with several thousand bikes each.

In DC, the system has become so popular that stations can run out of bikes during rush hours.  Halsey writes:

“The Capital Bikeshare program now knows its own rush hours — coinciding, not surprisingly, with everybody else’s rush hour. location of Capital Bikeshare stations around DC and Arlington (by: Capital Bikeshare)At its peak, bikes are rapidly snapped up from docking stations in neighborhoods dense with younger people — Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights and the U Street corridor.

“Trucks from Alta Bicycle Share, the contractor that runs the program, buzz around to the downtown office buildings where the bikes end up, collecting them and rushing them back to neighborhoods for the next wave of commuters.”

This video from Capital Bikeshare shows how easy the system is to use:


Or, if you prefer a one-minute video with no spoken instruction and a much hipper soundtrack, go here.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 

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John BaileyApr 26 2011 09:58 AM

I used it for four times while I was in DC a couple of weeks ago. Seamless and cool.

Don BabeApr 26 2011 03:52 PM

I see that the cyclists are not wearing helmets. They are compulsory in our country. Are they compulsory in any of the other jurisdictions where bike share is successful? Do they stop the implementation of a successful bike share programme?

Kaid @ NRDCApr 27 2011 10:46 AM

Here, helmet laws vary from place to place, and few places require them for adults. As an avid cyclist, I am very pro-helmet (saved me at least once in a crash), but they do seem largely disregarded by the bikeshare crowd. Unfortunately.

Annika LarssonApr 28 2011 02:11 AM

Don't forget the Copenhagen city bike programme which have been up and running since 1995. In 1997 president Bill Clinton even got a "City bike one" as a present at a visit to Copenhagen. Visit for more info.

Pete StidmanApr 28 2011 10:19 AM

Don Babe, you must be from Australia? The only bike share programs I know of that have compulsory helmets are Brisbane and Melbourne, Australia. And yes, they are having trouble with their program in Melbourne. In its first year numbers were seriously lagging, and then they started offering subsidized helmets, which improved numbers (I can't tell by how much) but also costs the city millions. Here's an article

In Boston, the city is working to offer helmets in local businesses and having bike share users sign a pledge to use a helmet when they ride. It's my view that heavy encouragement is more appropriate than mandatory laws. The reason behind my thinking is that biking has so many health benefits for people when it becomes a habit that they outweigh the risks. People who ride bikes everyday, on a whole, live longer than people who don't.

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