The Story Behind the Best Bike-Share Program in the U.S.
For the inspiration for Capital Bikeshare, Vanderbilt gives credit to Paul DeMaio, who as an urban planning student at the University of Virginia wrote his master’s thesis on ByCyklen, a “city bike” program launched by the city of Copenhagen. Many years later, DeMaio's research and advocacy led to Smart Bike DC - the first commercial bike-sharing program in a major U.S. city. The lessons learned when implementing that foundering system led to a larger regional bike-share system under the guidance of Gabe Klein, "a former VP at car-sharing pioneer ZipCar and political neophyte," who had been appointed head of D.C.'s DOT.
Now the envy of such bike-friendly cities as Portland, Seattle, New York, and San Francisco, Capital Bikeshare can boast of their 1670+ bicycles at 175+ stations across Washington, D.C., Arlington, VA, and Alexandria, VA.
"That D.C has been a leader in American bike sharing is somewhat surprising," says Vanderbilt. "But D.C. has some inherent qualities that helped make this success possible: A relatively healthy number of cyclists (and an active cycling advocacy scene), a young (and getting younger) population, and a robust tourist market. D.C., notes Klein, is also unique in terms of being a city that is not part of an overseeing state, giving it a certain autonomy."
"But all this kindling needed the continued sparking of progressive planners and policymakers having conversations—at conferences, in offhand remarks at the end of meetings—about this ephemeral, European idea."