Jorge Gadala-Maria: Be careful when using Bikeshare

As I walked down 19th Street last week, I noticed a fleet of people riding bikes courtesy of Capital Bikeshare, D.C.’s official bike-sharing program.

Four bikers were riding on the sidewalk side-by-side and showed no signs of slowing down, even as they approached a group of startled pedestrians. It was not until the pedestrians were just a few feet away and had shown their best efforts to move out of their way until the CaBis decided to slow down and ride single file on the edge of the sidewalk.

Capital Bikeshare “puts 1,100 bicycles at your fingertips,” but do you really want all these bikes so easily accessible to everyone over 16 years old? After my first encounter with CaBis, I started to wonder why the District Department of Transportation thought this was a good idea.

My principal concern with Capital Bikeshare is that it makes the bikes so easily accessible that it contributes to the prevalence of riding without helmets. Granted, D.C. law only mandates helmet use for those riders younger than 16 years old, but people in that age range can’t even ride bikes through Capital Bikeshare. I applaud CaBi for maintaining a nice list of bike shops in the area with stores that even offer helmet discounts for CaBi members, but in reality, this effort doesn’t suffice. In essence, by making these bikes so available and not requiring helmets at all, they are promoting riding without helmets.

After riding my bike from sea to shining sea – literally, from San Francisco to D.C. – I learned traffic patterns, like where it’s safe and not so safe to ride on the road, and other important skills to know for riding on the busy streets of D.C.

I spent 67 days riding my bike this summer and there have been times when I still don’t feel comfortable with D.C. drivers, so it flustered me how some CaBis feel so confident riding next to traffic. These skills don’t come with the simple click of the “Join” button on the Capital Bikeshare website, and unfortunately many never get that message.

It is also troublesome that at any given time, a customer can rent out a bike. I’ve heard stories of a group of friends who decided to rent bikes and go on a “drunken monument bike tour.” It may be unreasonable to limit the program’s operating hours, but ideas like that can spread like wildfire on campus.

What I would like to see from all CaBis is a simple awareness of others while bike-riding, and awareness of your personal safety. Capital Bikeshare is doing you and everyone with a hidden passion for biking a great favor by providing such great two-wheelers at a reasonable price, so repay them by being aware of your surroundings and practicing intelligent biking.

In the meantime, don’t be “that CaBi.”

Jorge Gadala-Maria is a junior majoring in political communication.

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