(Image courtesy the Libary of Congress.)
Having found success throughout Europe, a sponsored bicycle-sharing program is now coming to Washington, DC. Previous attempts at launching bike-share programs in Portland and elsewhere have typically met with failure -- for one, in a good example of a tragedy of the commons, the bikes get stolen (in one attempt in Cambridge, UK in 1993, all 300 shared bikes were gone by the end of the first day). But this new project involves a public-private collaboration where Clear Channel fronts the expenses of creating a computerized system that tracks the bikes over a 3-hour rental period and assigns a $200 fee to users (paying a $40 annual fee for membership) who don't return their bikes, like the Zipcar model. (See this Post article for more details on the mechanics. I'm not terribly excited by the idea of trolling around on a "cross between a folding bike and a BMX," but at least they come with baskets!)
Sadly for bike commuters here, DC's certainly not the most bike-friendly city in the country; bikes are frequently stolen, and the useful bike lanes in some parts of town often stop abruptly when you get to busier roads. Biking from home to work, I have a lovely mile-and-a-half on bike lanes, then a spine-shattering 10 minutes of traffic-dodging mayhem. But local bike activists, including the DC government's Jim Sebastian, who is behind the bike-sharing program, and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) have done amazing work expanding the lanes system out to the suburbs, fighting for no-traffic days in Rock Creek Park, and so forth. I'm never too optimistic about these schemes taking off in America, where people are so attached to driving (and where sprawl makes biking to work an elusive goal for many), but the small city-wide changes happening in places like DC, Chicago, and New York (and of course the more obvious bike meccas like Portland, Seattle, Boulder, and so forth) show a lot of promise. Now it's just a question of motivating oneself to get back on ....