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The Phenomenal Success of Capital Bikeshare

Nearly three years ago Streetfilms took a day trip to Washington, D.C. to see their Smart Bike DC  in action.  We found the trial bike share system a fun ride with great potential, but with only 120 bikes there wasn't a great sense of widespread use.

Flashforward to 2011 and with over 1100 bicycles and 110 stations D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare's is amazing testament to having to "go big or go home" when deploying bike share programs.  Currently the largest bike share system in the United States, the District's 2.0 version gives users much more flexibility and options to accomplish short errands, commute to work, and to integrate other transit modes into their daily lives.

In fact, the next phase of expansion has just been announced, with 18 more stations and 265 more bikes coming this Fall.

The handsome red bikes are easy to ride, with one swipe of a keycard you're off and biking. During the am and pm commutes (and lunch hours) you'll see the bikes in very heavy rotation.  But what left Streetfilms most flabbergasted was how many people were riding them in full business attire in the hot & humid summers around the Capital. If that isn't a sign of success, what is?

Streetfilms would like to thank the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) for partnering with us on this project.



Speaker:  [00:04] Well it’s so easy to use.  You come up to a bike, you make your adjustments, you stick in your key card and you ride away.  It’s great. 


Speaker:  [00:11] Instead of taking the metro and then transferring to another metro line, I’ll take the bike share to the red line and eliminate the metro transfer.  It kind of makes the commute much easier. 


Speaker:  [00:21] It’s a good way to see DC instead of walking around. 


Speaker:  [00:24] And it saves your leg muscles and energy for the actual museum and stuff to see.


Josh Stevens:  [00:27] Once I got in the swing of it at about a month I just found that I was riding absolutely everywhere.



Chris Holben:  [00:40] Bike sharing seemed like a perfect match for DC.  It’s a dense urban area, a lot of people like to bike and we want to get more people out biking.  We have 114 stations with about 1100 bikes.  People join bike share for a year, a month or a day, and they receive a key in the mail for a year member or they’ll use their credit card to go up if you’re a tourist user.  You can take any of the bikes from any of the stations and return it to any other station. 


Matthew J Klein:  [01:07] We understood that the bike share programme was going to come to Washington in a big way and so we wanted to be an early adapter.  It’s been well executed in the way that D Dot has approached it, so we couldn’t be more happy with the programme. 


Matt Pearson:  [01:18] We like street life.  We like people out on the streets.  It’s great for business to have people in cafés, people riding bikes down the street, more people walking from place to place during the work hour, it just means that many more people circulating through the Downtown area in an easy, healthy and affordable way. 


Meleah Geertsma:  [01:35] DC is very much a professional biking city.  Everyone bikes around in their suits, in their work clothes.  And I’ve used it a number of times when I’m dressed up to go straight into work. 


Shin-Pei Tsay:  [01:46] I started to use it because I live in New York City and I come down to DC for work and because I can’t keep a bike in the office and I go straight to the office from the train station I actually use bike share to get around town.  I’ve been using it for meetings and getting around late at night.  It’s just been really convenient. 


Josh Stevens:  [02:02] I know at any given time I can get to pretty much anywhere I’m going which is in about a three/four mile radius in about 15 minutes. 


Chris Holben:  [02:07] It’s a simple, easy bike.  It’s three speeds, it’s got a basket and a bell, a built-in light so you can use it at night. 


Speaker:  [02:15] They’re safe, they’re solid, they’ve got a nice style to them, they’re safe for young people and old people, and they’re kind of cool too. 


Meleah Geertsma:  [02:22] It’s good to adjust the seat first, put your bag into the front, you know it’s very easy to just start out within a minute so of getting to the station.  It really doesn’t take much time at all. 


Speaker:  [02:32] I walk out my door I get on the bike, I drop it off here and then I go.  My favourite part is that I don’t have to worry about my bike getting stolen.


Speaker:  [02:41] After work I’ll take it to go to the gym or if I have to go pick up my son at school I’ll cycle.  There’s a bike share ride outside his school, so I’ll drop the bike off there and then we can metro it home on the bus. 


Chris Holben:  [02:50] Part of our system is to keep the system clean and operating whether it’s oil and change, fixing brake cables.  And then another major part of our contractor job is to redistribute bikes.  So if a station is full, like it typically is Downtown in the morning, the van comes by, picks up 10 or 15 bikes and takes them back uptown. 


Speaker:  [03:10] The spotcycle app is great because you can check and see how many bikes are there, you can see how many docks are there.  But sometimes it’s frustrating if you get to a bike station, you arrive at your destination and there are no bikes left, you can alleviate all that by just checking out the availability of the open docks. 


Matthew J Klein:  [03:24] Well any new tools, any new choices that we can bring into the transportation equation that people have is going to improve mobility for everybody in Washington so it’s a constructive thing for the economic health of Washington in general. 



Speaker:  [03:44] I kept seeing all of these red bikes zooming past me when I was walking to that, you know it just sort of hit me on the head, why haven’t I signed up for a bike share yet? 


Chris Holben:  [03:52] Right now we have about 14,000 annual members.  The majority of those live in DC and Arlington and then we’ve had about 40,000 day users since we’ve launched.  And those numbers are increasing.


Josh Stevens:  [04:03] Without really changing anything else in my lifestyle, since I started I’ve dropped about 25 pounds. 


Speaker:  [04:08] If you’re close to bike share now, you have access to a whole other group of people that you didn’t have access to before.  The Downtown business community and also the business communities all around our neighbourhoods in DC really believe in having sustainable forms of transportation in their areas improves their bottom line.   


Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • Anonymous


  • http://twitter.com/vabike VA Bicycling Fed.

    DC is setting a great example!

    Bike share systems are especially nice for visitors.  Check out the articles from Frank Peters, a bike advocate from southern California, about Boston's bike share, and riding Boston's bike share.

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Green_Idea_Factory

    Everyone shown is positive and I believe them, but normally a "...phenomenal success...". In 2010 there were over 340 million trips on D.C. Metro (rail and bus). Towards the end the guy mentions the number of members without saying how many trips were made, and also "about 40,000" day users who are not members. So you can see a bit about how this compares to collective PT use but not to private automobile use, or to walking (and one guy has perhaps apparently made the shift from walking to cycling which is nice but neutral as far as I am concerned.)

    Perhaps the best literal quantification is the guy who claims to have lost 25 pounds. Great for him, but how representative is he?

    Also - in the related area of demographics - we see no black people using the system. About 50% of D.C. residents are black.

    It's also very nice to have the flashing warning about sidewalk-riding, but why nothing about Capital Bikeshare's helmet compulsion policy?

    Clarence, I really like all the work that you do, but if the title for this was "People are excited about Capital Bikeshare" or similar, it would be accurate, though quantification would still be very helpful. Continual cheerleading is popular but it is not the best form of education, and as cities move forward (or not) with bike share and other intended improvements in sustainable mobility, a bit of salt along with the sweetness is needed. It helps with perspective.

    Finally, it's nice for people with smart phones that there is a smart phone app. to tell people when docks are empty or full -- this is of course the bane of these so-called "3rd generation" systems, one of which may be coming to NYC sometime soon...

  • Clarence Eckerson

    My Green Friend,

    As with all our videos, there is just so much you can cover in 3 to 4 minutes of a video.  I wouldn't even begin to call our video comprehensive, and this is why we provide lots of linkage when we can in every Streetfilm we do.

    Many people frequently why we don't do this or don't talk about that or why we focused on this or that aspect.  All of them might be right with their questions/queries but people also aren't going to watch a film on one bike share that is 20 minutes long.  Trust me.  We are trying to provide a nice current snapshot of what is going on.  Search for any news story on bike share done on Captial Bikeshare and you'll find a miniscule amount of the information.

    Of course the comments section is meant to be a place where people like yourself provide comments and linkages to aspects you want to talk about.  Thank you.  That's just great.  Discuss.  Do research.  Just as our video last year talking about Donald Appleyard's work focused on maybe 2% of what he did, many Streetfilms are just a jumping off point for one subject.

    And again, we have many Streetfilms lovers who are both very pro-helmet policies and many who are very angry about any kind of helmet regulation. As I have pointed out before, I'll leave that for others to discuss.  We are not taking a position either way and if you look at the video we shot over the parts of 2 days, we show both users because that is what we captured over that time period.

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Green_Idea_Factory

    Clarence, adding info - if just some text as segues over B-roll - about those statistics would have added much less than a minute.

    Also, you were not taking a position about sidewalk-riding and I was not asking you to take one on helmets.

    I also don't compare Streetfilms to typical corporate news outlets - and a formal problem with them is an addiction to showing everything as fast as possible.

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    Helmets.  Shmelmets!

    When I drive my car for transportation, I don't wear a helmet.  If I were to drive my car as fast as possible on a track, I'd wear a helmet.

    When I cruise to the deli on my 3-speed, I don't wear a helmet.  When I ride my road or mountain bike as fast I possibly can, I wear my helmet

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    Also, knowing total number of trips per day, month or year would have been a great stat to put out there so it could be compared to other forms of transport.  Number of users doesn't really tell us all that much.

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    Ughh!  Should have said this before.

    Great job Clarence! 

  • Paul Bikehike

    That's a nice one bike. And appreciating for Capital bikers too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=538974687 Morten Lange

    Nice film !
    I think it captures many interesting and valid points, especially to the "outsider", or someone needing a nudge to have a closer look at bikesahring systems and opportunities.

  • Anonymous

    This film aside, I actually think the tendency for environmentalists to fixate on statistics and wonky rational arguments is a bit counterproductive in the big picture.  Anecdotal evidence, "relate-able" narratives, and aspirational branding are much more powerful ways to persuade people on a mass scale.  People are concerned with their own interests first, and those of the community second, so it is more effective to frame things in those terms.  Progressives need to look at how corporations and the right are so effective at selling ideas that are total nonsense, and borrow some pages from their book to sell things that do make sense.  I was literally shouted out of a MoveOn meeting for saying that a few years back, but as someone who works in advertising I know it is true.

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Green_Idea_Factory

    @station44025 - You are right, but as tellers of truth - which is a notch above storytellers (advertising biz) - we need to back up the emotion with some facts, in order to strengthen it. No wonk or predominance or even large proportion of stats., certainly, just some straightforward facts. Back to the film: If the goal of Capitalbikeshare was indeed just to get people excited and increase numbers of cycling then perhaps they are successful, but once you start using numbers you need to put them in context. 


  • Eric McClure

    Sweet.  Can't wait for NYC bike share.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggieclarke Maggie Clarke

    I used the Bixi bikes in Montreal last week.  I felt like a Montrealer.  I liked using a credit card. The bikes were geared low (good for the hills) but the first one I took out had Horrible squealing on the brakes... it's important that the bikes get serviced frequently

  • Andrew

    We have bike share in Dublin Ire and it has being a insane success 55k members with over 2 million hires in under two years on 450 bikes. Cycling is the easiest way to do short journeys and most journeys are short. Plus with a sit upright type of bike it's a pleasure

  • JYW

    They forgot to mention how frequently stations are full and/or empty.  Its more of a lottery system.

  • Jonathan Gordon

    Once again, you hit it out of the park Clarence! I think you covered a lot of the bases and now I really want to try bikeshare some time.

  • Martin

    I am inclined to agree with Green Idea Factory's comments that the title "phenomenal success" should be tempered. Yes, bike sharing is the buzz. Everyone in Charlotte NC is hyped up to get it, especially by next year's DNC convention here. But fools can rush in where wise men fear to tread. Yes, upper end bike sharing at the level of cost and sophistication of D.C. or Paris or Montreal where the tourists and visiting businesspeople abound, where urban gentrification is taken for granted, where Metro subway lines crisscross, where street systems are wide and gridlike, where density is high, yes, these a reasonable criteria for success.

    But second tier American cities, especially in the Midwest or Southeast might call for more prudence or else face some pretty embarrassing consequences.

    Martin Zimmerman
    Charlotte Area Bicycle Alliance

  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    I recently visited DC and I got a 24 hour membership. What a joy! I might have just hung around the house watching TV for a couple of hours. Instead, I used my bikeshare membership to tool around town, and I saw so much of DC (the Capitol Building, the Mall, Downtown, Whitehouse, etc. etc.) in not much time.

    Here in NYC various vendors (like Bike N' Roll and many many bike shops) have seen for years how tourists like to bike here in NYC. I can't wait to  have thousands of daily bikeshare users from all over the world enjoying our system.

    Plus, I hope that the NYC system is friendly for a visitor (with a daily membership) as well as for an annual visitor.

    I think when more bikes are on the streets, the lanes fill up, and the will to further build out the cycling network grows steadily.

    Great film Clarence!

  • Rustik

    Amazing! I want a system like that in Guadalajara, México!
    Keep showing and changing this world.!


  • http://twitter.com/accav Atlantic Creative

    This is a great program - they seem to have satisfied all objections that people have to using bikes in DC.  Will definitely grab one the next time I'm there.

  • Dmfeelings

    so why aren't there more black people in this video?

  • http://heartworms.net/ Heartworms

    Nice, thank you very much

  • Tao

    You made a great film. I wouldn't have watched it if it was over 10 minutes. Throwing text on a video turns it into a lecture, which is not what i want to see; we have the talking heads to deliver some information.

  • susan

    I would like to see a video done in San Francisco