Friday, May 15 marked National Bike to Work Day, part of a push across the nation to get people to sidestep their cars for a self-propelled ride to the office.
In Washington, the nation's first city-wide bike share program is now a year old and has seen great increase in numbers and ridership.
SmartBike D.C., a subscription bike sharing program in the capital, now boasts over 1,100 members and averages 60-103 rides per day on the 100 bike fleet, according to Mike Goodno a Bicycle Program Specialist with the District Department of Transportation, and participation is expected to grow.
According to the city agency, bike lanes have grown steadily since 2001 from only three miles to more than 40 miles of bike lanes now in 2009. In accordance with the District's Bike Master Plan there should be more than 60 miles of bike lanes by 2015, making D.C. a safer and more hospitable biking area.
After one successful year under their belts at SmartBike DC, the Department of Transportation is applying for money on transportation initiatives in the $787 economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year.
If the stimulus bid is successful, organizers expect to expand the program from the current 10 bike kiosks to a full convoy of 50 kiosks and 600 bikes in the next two years. Aside from growing the number of bikes by 400 percent, this would also allow the program to expand into neighborhoods not yet involved.
Eric Gilliland, Executive Director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), is wholeheartedly supportive of the planned expansion but cautions the city to take a step back. "We are urging people ... to take a look at the program, see what worked and what didn't. We really need to take a step back and try to see what the future of both SmartBike would be, not only in D.C., but in the Washington region," says Gilliland.
The SmartBike DC is a joint venture between the city and advertising giant Clear Channel -- a model originally pioneered in Rennes, France, with Vélo à la Carte.
Vélo à la Carte was the first system deployed for the general public in a metropolitan area utilizing a RFID (radio frequency identification) cards to access the bikes. With only 200 bicycles stationed at over 25 kiosks, Vélo à la Carte has now provided almost 1 million rides.
The largest bike-sharing program in North America was established this week in Montreal. BIXI (a contraction of bicycle and taxi) has 3,000 bikes and 300 stations -- 30 times larger than the current program in Washington, D.C.
San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom has promised a bike-share pilot program in 2009. Already, 2.7 percent of the northern California city commutes via bicycle, compared to a national average of 0.5 percent.
"Bike sharing will help connect thousands of residents and commuters to their workplaces and shopping destinations by providing bikes that they can easily borrow," said Newsom while visiting Paris in January of this year.
"This bike sharing pilot project will allow us to test and perfect the bikes and technology that will be used in our citywide network."
Like Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) will partner with Clear Channel to implement and manage the pilot program. The start-up costs, estimated between $400,000 and $500,000, will provide 50 bikes located at five stations, with each bike station housing either nine or 12 bikes. Clear Channel will also be responsible for maintenance of the program which is estimated at $450,000 annually.
Despite growing efforts across the U.S., many cities have not committed dedicated resources to create city-wide programs. Chicago Mayor Michel Daley, originally enthusiastic about a bike sharing program in Chicago after a visit to Paris, has no citywide plan in place because according to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Steele, the private proposals would have cost the city more than $5 million.
"Proposals required a larger financial contribution from the city than we were anticipating. We are looking to have the program be a low-cost or possibly even no-cost option for the city," Steele said.
According to Minnesota Public Radio, an alternative model is being put together in the Twin Cities. Using federal transportation funding to the tune of $4 million and a non-profit business plan, the city of Minneapolis will fund a bike-sharing program as well as projects that promote walking and a bike center on the University of Minnesota campus.
The program was initially planned for 2009 but will now launch next spring with about 1,000 bicycles at 75 kiosks around the downtown, uptown and university areas of the Twin Cities.
All of these bike programs are part of the third-generation programs of bike sharing, which rely heavily on technology: smart locks, RFID, cellphone and credit card registration.
In its first generation, bike sharing consisted of scattering bikes around Amsterdam to be shared by all; it failed within days as bikes went missing and unaccounted for. Second-generation programs improved and formalized the process accepting coins but still failed to properly care for bikes. Third generation bike sharing often employs the use of satellites and electronic bike locks on the bike racks. With these advances, cities around the globe have seen tremendous progress in bike sharing popularity and adoption.
"We've learned that the model works. That was where everyone was holding their breath since this was the first time that something like this was being done in the United States. It has been an amazingly successful system beyond our expectations," Gilliland concluded.
---- By Lizzy Berryman and Meaghan Wilson for the Online NewsHour