I bought a bike. For forty dollars. It came with a lifetime service contract.
I signed up for Smart Bike DC for a forty dollar annual fee. As my brother the economist says, it's grossly underpriced. With my access card, I can go to any of ten bike racks scattered about the core downtown DC area and take out a bike for free for up to three hours. I have to return it to any of the bike racks before its appointed time. And if I lose a bike, or it gets stolen from me, it's $550.
The hours of operation are 6 am to 10 pm. I can go here and check on the availability of bikes at any particular rack or, equally important, whether I can drop one off there. Sure there are lots of rules (the contract was eight pages, mostly liability stuff. I think it said I am gonna die on a bike and it's not the city's fault) but basically it's that simple.
The possibilities are boundless. I can go bike riding on a weekend on the C&O Canal with my girlfriend. She hates it that I don't have a bike. Well, now I do. For three hours anyway.
That 2.5 mile jog to and from my monthly noontime Tidal Basin 3K each way? I can pick up a Smart Bike on the way, bike there, run the race and bike back.
If I leave work at 9 pm and don't want to transfer from the Red Line to the Orange Line on the Metro (if I miss connections it can be a 35 minute wait), I can pick up a Smart Bike by walking to Judiciary Square on the Red Line (a 5 minute walk) and bike over to Metro Center (a 25 minute walk) on the Orange Line where I can drop the bike off.
That is, until I get killed. I had my first adventure yesterday. (The Program is one week old.) I walked to Judiciary Square at 6:30 pm, excited about the prospect of getting a bike to ride over to Metro Center. Hmm, no bikes, the rack was empty. Grumbling, I walked over to Gallery Place, still on the Red Line. There were six bikes there. Feeling like a child stealing a candy bar, I took a bike and rode the 3-speed contraption the eight further blocks to Metro Center.
It's illegal to ride on the sidewalks in the core downtown area. There were at least half a dozen idling double parked cars that I went by along the way, some with drivers on cell phones (they're as dangerous as drunk drivers) and some were taxis (they're deadly in this town). All waiting to do something impetuous as soon as I rode by like get underway suddenly or throw their door open or whip into a U-turn. With the ubiquitous downtown construction, there were little roadway bottlenecks all over the place for li'l ol' me to squeeze through on my bike. And me stop for red lights? Faghedaboudit.
I made it. It's a fabulous program, borrowed from a Paris model, and unique to this country so far. I love it already. But, we need more bikes, Mayor Fenty!