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Bicycle program makes District easier place to get around, residents say

After his primary loss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is noting his successes, like last month's initiation of a bike-sharing program.
After his primary loss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is noting his successes, like last month's initiation of a bike-sharing program. (Bill O'leary)

But the District is making its biggest splash with its bike-sharing program, the largest of its kind in the nation. Capital Bikeshare, which launched in late September, can trace its origins to a pilot program started in 2008. Operated by Clear Channel and called Smart Bike, that program consisted of about 100 bikes.

Klein said Fenty immediately "fell in love" with the program and started pushing last year to expand it.

"The mayor would have nothing less than the biggest and best in the United States," Klein said.

Under pressure to deliver, local transportation officials quickly discovered that neighboring Arlington was already in talks to launch a bike-sharing program.

After putting up $6 million, largely funded through a federal grant, the District was able to latch onto Arlington's contract and create a universal system modeled after one in Montreal, Klein said.

For an annual membership of $75, or $5 for a daily membership, members can unlock a bicycle at any of the 100 stations in the District and 14 in Arlington. When finished, a rider can drop off the bicycle at any station.

The first half-hour of every trip is free. (Usage charges averaging $1.50 per half-hour apply after that.)

Jim Sebastian, director of the Transportation Department's Bicycle and Pedestrian program, said the system has 4,700 annual members, a number growing by "30 to 40 a day."

Officials had estimated 6,800 members by the end of August, prompting them to begin plans to expand the program in the coming months.

"It's absolutely plausible to have 10,000 bikes in 10 years," Klein said.

Emily Hanawalt, 33, said she uses Capital Bikeshare to commute to work downtown from Bloomingdale and around town on the weekends.

"I love it. It makes the city smaller because everything is in reach," Hanawalt said. "Normally, getting from Columbia Heights to Dupont is a pain cause you have to change trains, but now I just hop on a bike, and you're in Dupont in seven minutes."


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