Capital BikeShare a Capital Idea for DC Visitors

I’ve finally experienced my first bike share! On my girlfriend and I’s recent visit to Washington DC for a few days, we decided to give DC’s Capital Bike Share a try. With countless stations placed across the downtown business and tourist areas of the city, the bike share offers an alternative to cabs that is much quicker than walking.

The tourist area is actually a lot more spread out than it looks like from a map, so we were immediately relieved to have a quicker way of getting around. Between 11am and 5pm, we were able to visit the White House, the National Mall, Smithsonian museums, Capital Building, Obelisk, Lincoln Memorial, and many other monuments – a journey that would have been near-impossible on foot.

For short-term users, the system costs $7 for a 24-hour membership, which gives users access to an unlimited number of 30-minute trips in that period. The memberships can be conveniently purchased with a credit card at any station, and for additional uses, you can simply swipe your credit card to get an unlock code. Users need to be wary of their time limits however; extra charges of $2 per 30 minutes apply after the initial 30 minutes if you do not return the bikes in time.

On the downside, we did find that the 30-minute trip period was very short for visitors. Whereas commuters know very clearly their start point, end point, and route to get there, tourists often need more time to plan their routes by looking at maps. A 30-minute time limit quickly becomes a 15-minute bike ride after you account for planning at the beginning and finding a station at the end. We learned quickly though that by finding stations along our route, we could return our bikes and then immediately borrow them again, thus resetting our time limit.

As it is a commuter bike share, another thing to watch out for is rack fluctuations throughout the day. In more business-oriented areas, we found it was very difficult to find empty racks midday, as commuters had filled them all up.

Washington’s bike infrastructure was also quite impressive, much of which has come in the last five years. Protected bike lanes on busy streets made it relatively calming to bike there, even with three lanes of cars zooming by in each direction. Pennsylvania Avenue, for example, has a remarkable bike line system running through the centre of the street. Certain areas do lack good infrastructure still, however; we found that in the west end we spent a lot of time slowly riding or walking our bikes on sidewalks, as there was no safe alternative.

In summary, the positives of Capital BikeShare include:

  • Very affordable for tourists: for the price of a cab ride, you get unlimited 30-minute trips for 24 hours
  • Great cycling infrastructure: the tourist areas especially feature lots of open park trails that are perfect for casual cycling

Some things that could be improved:

  • An option for longer bike trips for tourists: the 30-minute limit is a barrier to being able to explore larger distances and actually proved to be quite stressful when finding a station
  • More concentrated stations in tourist areas: stations become rather spread out in these areas, making it harder to get between stations in 30 minutes

Overall, our experience with Capital BikeShare was a positive and memorable one, and I look forward to using more bikeshares in the future (especially the Hamilton SoBi system opening this July!).

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