Thursday, August 28, 2008

A ride on the dark side

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!


ShirleyPerly said...

Welcome to cycling! I'd heard about the Paris bike program but had no idea it'd come to the states. With practice, I'm sure you'll get more comfortable riding with traffic. Happy riding!

Don said...

What a WONDERFUL program. Gosh, I hope it works out. If we lived in the city center, I'd sign up in a heartbeat. Here we have bike lanes, but you gotta bring your own bike.

Christie said...

I wish there were more bike programs around. I want a bike. I'm terrified to ride in the street though. I just don't see how people ride with traffic. At any time someone can run you off the road and you don't even see it coming.

Rainmaker said...

I'd consider it the grey side at this point. If you plop in the river or a pool and start swimming...then it's all over.

That said - I'm really excited about the new program. I do wish however they'd coordinate with the local cities such as Arlington/Alexandria/Bethesda/Roslyn, to allow folks to say ride from Old Town to Downtown and drop it off there.

jeanne said...

whooo hoooo!! i'm too scared to ride in city traffic. parked cars are terrifying, but double-parked cars are worse. of course you are wearing a HELMET each time, don't even tell me if you're not, I don't want to know.

I've been instructed to ride at least 4 feet out from parked cars. sometimes it's best to just take up a lot of room and force people to pass you, rather than try to stay by the side where you can get clipped easily.

SO EXCITING! now we just have to get you in a pool...and looking at your new profile pic, I'd say you're damn close.

Susan said...

Yikes! How cool!

Sunshine said...

Some sort of bike program started in the Twin Cities this weekend... for the Republicans. I heard that they had bikes in Denver for the Democrats.
How many Republicans want to ride a bike?
Happy riding.

Anonymous said...

BRRrrrr....back up, don't think I didn't see that....Girlfriend??? Man, we need to catch up. -A.

Dori said...

Yeah, I caught that too. Girlfriend? Good for you!

Since July 1, it's been illegal to hold a cell phone in your hand while driving. Near as I can tell, that hasn't stopped anybody 'cept me.

Enjoy the bike! But I'm with Jeanne--I do hope you're wearing a helmet.

CewTwo said...

I've been cross training with a bike. It is not so bad after you get used to it.

It is definitely not running, though...