Online Coupon Offer Nearly Doubles D.C. Bikeshare Membership Overnight

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(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) My colleague at WAMU, the esteemed J. Patrick Madden, reports that membership in Capital Bikeshare, D.C.'s nascent bikesharing program, "practically doubled overnight to 10,000" after the city partnered with the online coupon company Living Social.

Thousands of Living Social members took advantage of discounted membership rates and can now ride on one of the seemingly ubiquitous red and yellow Capital Bikeshare bikes.

The District is looking to build 25 new bike rental stations, Madden reports, in addition to the 100 that already exist. Currently, the stations are only in D.C. and neighboring Arlington County, Va. But other local jurisdictions, such as Alexandria, Va. and Montgomery County, Md., have expressed interest in joining Capital Bikeshare.

Capital Bikeshare was one of the cornerstone accomplishments of former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and his Transportation Director Gabe Klein, who was just hired by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to head that city's Department of Transportation.

Both the program's membership numbers and the sheer amount of chatter surrounding it--I've had the topic of Capital Bikeshare come up in conversation no less than five discrete times over the past two days--would indicate that Capital Bikeshare is an unmitigated success.

Well, if I may, please allow me to mitigate.

Washingtonians, have you ever seen anyone riding a Capital Bikeshare bike while wearing a helmet? I know I haven't.

The reasons for this are fairly obvious: renting a Capital Bikeshare bike (or, as the kids are calling it, a CaBi) is a spontaneous act for many. Bus taking too long to arrive? Get a CaBi. Car broke down? Don't worry, just pick up a CaBi.

Of course, most people don't prepare for these eventualities by carrying a bike helmet with them at all times. And while you can rent a bike through Capital Bikeshare, you can't rent a helmet. (That would be gross.) So, in that sense, the District is essentially subsidizing - if not outright encouraging - helmetless riding through its new publicly funded bikesharing program.

Is this a fatal flaw for Capital Bikeshare? No, definitely not. But it will be interesting to see how the District deals with this issue when and if media reports of disproportionately high head injury rates start appearing.