The Capital Bikeshare system provided more than 1,200 people a chance to get around D.C. easily and quickly, even when the Metro was packed and roads were nearly unpassable. Image: Flickr / rudiriet / CC-BY-SA

Bike sharing in the United States is still relatively new. In Washington D.C.,  bike sharing received a boon that was both unexpected and illustrative. Bike sharing programs, however, are facing strong opposition in some cities.

Earthquake means a spike in bike sharing

After natural disasters happen, roads and public transport are often the first things to shut down or become unpassable. In Washington, D.C., after the earthquake on Aug. 23, the Metro system slowed to a crawl, and roads were very tightly packed. The bike-sharing system known as Capital Bikeshare or CaBi clocked in 300 percent more rentals than it had at the same time the previous day. There were 1,236 rides between 2 and 4 p.m. that day on the 1,100 bikes in the system.

Bike-sharing expanding

Bike sharing is an idea that started in many bike-friendly European cities. In Paris and other population centers, free bike-sharing systems have proved very popular. In the United States, paid bike-sharing networks are popping up on college campuses, in New York City, Omaha, Nebraska and Spartanburg, South Carolina. Cities see bike-sharing as a way to encourage less vehicle traffic, fight obesity and fight traffic congestion. Bike-sharing systems charge by the ride, day, week, month or even year. Most systems use 24-hour, credit-card or membership-card operated swipe centers that record when a bike is checked out and checked back in.

The costs of bike-sharing

Bike infrastructure and bike-sharing systems are not free to operate, but they are comparatively inexpensive. Bike-sharing systems usually run about $4,500 per bicycle, though sponsors will often step in to put advertising on the bicycles or to support the systems. Dedicated bicycle and pedestrian funding accounts for about 1 percent of federal transportation funds, though 12 percent of all nationwide trips currently happen on bike or foot.

Bicycle infrastructure an inexpensive alternative

Bicycle usage tends to increase, especially with first-time riders, when there is dedicated bicycle infrastructure. Bicycle infrastructure is a good fiscal deal for governments; famously bike-friendly Portland spent $65 million on bicycle infrastructure in the last 20 years, which is the cost of one mile of urban freeways in that city. In Los Angeles, the $75 million spent repaving three miles of freeway could have been used to pay for more than 1,250 miles of bike lanes. Bike parking and infrastructure can increase local economic activity by more than 200 percent in some areas. Bike-sharing programs and bike infrastructure provide economic activity, lower transportation costs for cities and residents, and a safe alternative in heavy congestion situations such as the time after a natural disaster.


Washington Post:
YU Observer:
Bike Radar:
Washington Post:
Bike Portland:
New York Times:
Alta Planning (PDF):

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