Capital Bikeshare gets bin Laden news revelers to celebrations

May 2, 2011

Organizers couldn’t have asked for a better kickoff for a month celebrating bikes and bike safety than the events of Sunday night.

The D.C. area’s bike-sharing network, Capital Bikeshare, got a huge boost in usage late Sunday and early Monday after news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed, and folks eager to get to the celebration in front of the White House opted for two-wheeled transportation over other modes.

According to a tweet from Capital Bikeshare, there were 558 bike rentals between 10 p.m. Sunday and 2 a.m. Monday. The same period the previous week, there were 105 rentals.

“We had no idea that this was going to happen,’’ said John Lisle, spokesman for the District Department of Transportation. “But this is great. This is what we want.”

Stephen Miller joined the spontaneous celebration at the White House. Although he rode his own bike, he was struck by the number of red Capital Bikeshare bikes he saw as he headed downtown from his home in Mount Pleasant. Miller shot a Twitpic of more than a dozen parked near the celebration.

“It was after 11:30 so Metro was shutting down, buses didn’t run that often,” he said. “The only realistic option was to bike.”

A map on the blog Greater Greater Washington documented a surge of bike rental activity at bike-share stations around the White House.

Cycling is in the spotlight across the country as National Bike Safety Month is celebrated. Some say spontaneous bike trips are happening in the Washington area more than ever because of Capital Bikeshare, which launched in Arlington and the District in late September. The bike share program has become so popular that officials recently announced plans to add an additional 25 bike-sharing stations throughout the area. There are more than 110 Capital Bikeshare stations, with more than 1,100 bikes available for rental, in the District and Arlington.

The month’s highlight will be the annual Bike to Work event May 20. Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, which hosts the event, said they expect more than 10,000 registered riders — up from the 8,500 who registered last year.

“I think people are, just over time, [realizing] cycling is a better way to get around the region,’’ he said. “Sometimes, people get fed up with Metro, fed up with traffic — a bike is a way you can travel under your own power.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and AAA will also partner on a bike safety campaign dubbed Roll Model.

The District’s bike-share program has become a model for other cities looking to promote two-wheeled transportation. Boston, which plans to launch such a program in July, is looking to the District for guidance.

As the sun rose Monday morning, Capital Bikeshare officials were quick to remind people about one other element of bike sharing. A tweet that went out just a little after 11 a.m. gave borrowers a little nudge: “FYI, if you rented a CaBI early this morning and haven’t returned it, the meter is running. After 24 hrs = $1000 lost bike fee.”

It worked. By afternoon, most of the bikes were back in place.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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