You Can Ride One of Mayor Fenty's Bicycles (But not the really good one)
(Posted by guest blogger Steve Hendrix) I have seen the future and it looks like something Pee Wee Herman would use to deliver pizzas. Heck, I've not only seen the future, I've ridden it around Dupont Circle. Have a look at it here.
Tomorrow, D.C. transportation lords will unveil their long-awaited Smart Bike program (like the one Paris uses, and Barcelona and Oslo), making Washington the first major American city to provide this kind of grab-and-go bicycle for public use on short urban hops. (It's amazing that we beat Seattle or Portland to this particular Edge City punch.) The first 100 bikes at 10 automated racks around the city won't be officially available until Mayor Fenty snips the ribbon Wednesday, but I begged my way onto a list of beta testers who got access in advance. Last Thursday, I spent a few hours taking a city bike ride on a city bike.
Read the jump if you want the details on my jaunt and how the technical stuff works. In broad terms, it's a two-wheel version of the popular Zipcar system, allowing anyone who's registered and paid $40 a year take a bike at will for rides up to three hours. That's long enough for any point-to-point ride in the city. Or to bridge your commute from, say, Dupont Circle Metro, to your U Street office. Or to provide an aerobic way for a Judiciary Square type to hit the Whole Foods at Logan Circle. It's more about transit than recreation, and they don't want you stashing the thing all day in your office. If you don't return by three hours, you get a black mark against your account. A couple of those and you'll be blackballed. And if you fail to return a bike within 24 hours and you'll find a replacement charge of the $550 on your credit card.
The system--which was largely paid for by Clear Channel Communications in exchange for exclusive access to bus shelter advertising--will grow in usefulness as they add bikes and stations around the city (coming soon, Capital Hill, Georgetown, various spots along the mall). For now, I found that much of my test riding was basically tracking the train routes from Metro Station to Metro Station because that's where most of the racks are.
I know plenty of downtown workers will never opt for a mid-day bike ride for ANY reason, particularly in August (although let the record reflect that the heavily fendered and chain-gaurded bikes are kind to work cloths). But to me, a non-biker in real life, it was near euphoria to make a 12-minute trip from U Street to my office at 15th and L Streets, one that would have taken about 30 minutes by Metro. I'll be using it again. And I suspect that as the system grows, it will attract more than enough riders to keep busy all the bikes they provide.
Here are the details: To sign up for Smart Bike membership, go to www.smartbikedc.com and give them your credit card info for the $40 yearly membership. When you get and activate your electronic membership card, take it one of the 10-bike racks, swipe it and the monitor will give you a slot number. At that slot, a green light tells you the handlebar rods have been released from the little docking slots. Pull the bike out, adjust the quick-release seats and off you go.
The website tells you how many bikes are at each rack at any given second, so I left my 15th-street offices knowing I'd fine three of them waiting a few blocks away at rack beside Farragut Square. The 3-speed bikes are sort of retro-functional, red and white, upright handlebars and a sturdy clip for packs and bags. I had brought a rubber band to keep my pants out of the chain, but the Smart Bike is clothing friendly with a covered chain, a front fender and a completely enclosed rear wheel. No grease or rain spots on your person with this bike.
I took off in true bike messenger style, meaning I roared up a wheelchair cut and pumped down the sidewalk, scattering those annoying pedestrians like bowling pins. No, no, no. The Smart Bike is a progressive, civil form of mass transit and the ethos is all about good behavior. I wore a helmet, followed the recommended routes with the City's blossoming number of bike lanes up to Dupont Circle. I left that one and took the Metro up to Shaw and picked up another outside the Shaw station. "It looks cute, like a 1950s bike," said 7th Street resident Kumasic Davis, 29. "I could see using one to run downtown to the museums."
A certain kind of urbanite seemed to know exactly what I was riding. One guy in a car shouted out "Smart Bike! How'd you get it?" as I rode along R Street to a rack near the U Street Metro. After a brief meeting with a friend there, I took yet another Smart Bike down to the rack at Logan Circle a few blocks from my office. That ride by Metro would have taken me a half hour, with the change at Gallery Place. By bike it was less then 15 minutes, door to door.
By Steve Hendrix |
August 12, 2008; 8:57 AM ET
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