SmartBike bike-sharing program to add more stations

The District’s bike-sharing system could undergo a substantial expansion as soon as this summer with the addition of almost 100 new stations, a city official said this week.

SmartBike, the system that allows members to rent bikes for up to three hours at a time from 10 automated stations across the District, has grown in popularity since its creation last summer and now boasts more than 1,000 participants. A proposed expansion will add 90 new locations across D.C., placing new locations in Anacostia, Georgetown, Capitol Hill and Adams Morgan, among others. There is already a location in front of the GW Hospital.

Chris Holden, a bike program specialist for the District Department of Transportation, said that the expansion – which could begin as soon as this summer – is a direct result of the program’s initial success.

“It’s wildly successful, both with the 10 locations we have, but then also people are requesting them in other parts of the city,” he said, adding that the first 10 locations were built as something of a trial to gauge the success of the program. When it became clear that SmartBike was a hit after only a few months, Holden said expansion discussions began immediately.

Paul DeMaio, founder of Metrobike LLC, a company that specializes in consulting for bike-sharing systems, said that the SmartBike’s expansion will make the system more useful for more District residents.

“They’re not extremely useful unless you live or work near those locations,” DeMaio said of the current SmartBike stations. “Just like riding a bus or taking the subway, the more stations there are, the more destinations that the service is servicing, the more useful the program will be.”

The largest challenge officials will face is how to deal with the program’s popularity, Holden said. Users of similar systems in Europe often find stations without any bikes to rent, or stations with no parking spots available for drop off. Holden said that while the District’s relatively small service has not encountered this problem much, the new locations would be constructed close enough together that if one station was empty or full, another station would not be far away.

Holden said the DDOT hopes to begin construction on the stations this summer, but that it might take up to two years to install all 90 units.

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