Bike Sharing - Not Just For The Tourists Anymore

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Courtesy Capital Bikeshare

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) Last year, D.C. unveiled its nifty new bike sharing service, Capital Bikeshare, which allows riders to swipe a credit card and rent a bike for a few hours from dozens of street corner bike-sharing stations across the city.

It was billed as one of the crowning achievements of former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and his prolific transportation guru Gabe Klein. (Ironically, the launch ceremony for Capital Bikeshare was held just days after Fenty's devastating primary election loss to the city's current mayor, Vincent Gray.)

At the time, one of the big questions that many people a few people I had was: who is Capital Bikeshare for? Is it really going to significantly improve transportation in Washington? Or is it going to be used only by committed cyclists and/or tourists looking for a quick way to museum hop?

Well, some early data is in and it looks like my skepticism may have been unfounded. As the map to the left shows, most of the trips taken by Capital Bikeshare have been within D.C.'s residential areas - not around the touristic mecca of the National Mall.

Admittedly, this map - while visually appealing - is a little tough to read, so some deciphering is probably in order. The lines on the map represent trips taken between Bikeshare stations from the program's launch in October until the end of the year. A darker line equals more trips.

After comparing this to another map of Bikeshare stations, it's clear the heaviest traffic has been in the Dupont Circle, U Street, Adams Morgan and Logan Circle neighborhoods of D.C. These are areas with lots of condos, rowhouses, bars, shops and restaurants - generally considered to be the hip parts of town. Meanwhile, Bikeshare activity is much quieter around the National Mall, just south of those neighborhoods.

There may be some mitigating factors at work here, however. One: there are no Capital Bikeshare stations located on the actual Mall itself, only around it. This is because of a contract dispute with the National Park Service, which owns the land. Two: the time period displayed on this map is not exactly prime tourist season in D.C.

Still, it's interesting that what is essentially a publicly-funded bicycle renting program is being used so heavily by locals, at least thus far. Once the cherry blossoms start blooming and D.C. is inundated with fanny pack enthusiasts, we'll see if this trend continues.