GW students looking to rent a ride around D.C. will have an alternative to Zipcars beginning this month: bikes.
SmartBike D.C., the District’s newest transportation initiative, is a self-service bike-sharing program that will launch later this May with about 100 bikes located across the city, including some near the GW Hospital.
The program, which is the first of its kind in the United States, is being sponsored by the D.C. city government.
“We encourage students to sign up,” said Jim Sebastian, transportation planner for the District Department of Transportation. “This is one of the cheapest transportation options in D.C. It is cheaper than Zipcar or Metro.”
Subscribers can rent three-speed bikes for three hours at 10 different locations in the city for $40 a year. Most kiosks are located near Metro stations – including Gallery Place/Chinatown, Metro Center, and Dupont Circle. Each spot has about a dozen bikes that can be checked out from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Like Zipcar, users receive a personalized SmartBike D.C. card after subscribing online. A user swipes his card at any of the kiosks to electronically unlock a bike at one of the numbered spots on the rack. A fee of $200 will be assessed for lost or damaged bikes.
Clear Channel Outdoor, which is partnering with DDOT on the program, started the first self-service bike program in France in 1998. Since then, they have established similar programs in Spain, Sweden and Norway.
“We are starting with a relatively small program compared to the European states and seeing what happens,” Sebastian said. “We will accept two to three thousand subscribers, see how it’s used and what people like and don’t like, and then expand it.”
D.C. has over 30 miles of bike lanes, with plans for new lanes on G, H, 21st and 22nd streets in Foggy Bottom. DDOT is also in talks to set up a bike dock in Georgetown.
Some Foggy Bottom residents said they are pleased with SmartBike’s environmentally friendly goals.
“Whatever we can all do to drive less and be more fit in the process sounds like a winner to me,” said Joy Howell, president of the Foggy Bottom Association.
Others expressed hesitation about an influx of casual riders.
“I have seen bikers use sidewalks putting pedestrians at risk,” said David Lehrman, a Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission member. “At least with Zipcar, a valid license and insurance is required. No skills test is involved with a bike rider.”
GW senior Maggie Desmond helped lead Green GW’s Crossbar 2-Mile challenge, which urged students to use a bike for traveling anywhere within two miles. She said she is excited for a convenient self-service bike rental program.
“This is a great idea for sustainability and turning D.C. into a bike-friendly city,” Desmond said. “It will cut down on the use of cabs and Zipcar.”