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Monday, April 28, 2008

It Can’t Happen Here…

posted by on April 28 at 9:15 AM

…because of our unique topography and we’ve got these large bodies of water and all those hills and someone else thought of it first and poor people need those plastic bags/the Viaduct/smokey bars and things are already perfect here in every possible way. Still, it’s a not a bad idea.

Starting next month, people [in Washington D.C.] will be able to rent a bicycle day and night with the swipe of a membership card.

A new public-private venture called SmartBike DC will make 120 bicycles available at 10 spots in central locations in the city. The automated program, which district officials say is the first of its kind in the nation, will operate in a similar fashion to car-sharing programs like Zipcar.

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When Seattle lacks what other cities have -- mass transit, bikeflex, bans on plastic bags, congestion pricing, tolls, and density -- why do Seattleites think Seattle is an "environmental" city ??

Just askin'.

Posted by Nonnative | April 28, 2008 9:25 AM

That's retarded. Those membership cards, made of plastic, of which you, Dan Savage, are terrified of, don't need to exist. It's much more efficient and effective to buy your own bike.

I guess I don't understand why anyone would need to rent a bike. What could you possibly all-of-the-sudden need a bike for? Public transportation isn't sufficient? You're just going to rent a bike for a "day and night" ride? Is $100-400 really going to set you back?

"SmartBike"? This is absurd. Where's SmartSkateboard? SmartRollerblades? DumbAss?

Posted by Mr. Poe | April 28, 2008 9:29 AM

The biggest problem here is mandatory helmet laws. I know Nickels and Metro were interested in doing something like this, but the liabilities for government would be too high if they encouraged people to ride without helmets. and really do we want to have rental helmets with all the hygiene issues that would come with that.

Posted by vooodooo84 | April 28, 2008 9:29 AM

Seriously, wouldn't anyone who desired a bike frequently enough to rent one on a regular basis be better off just buying a bike? Even a used one, perhaps?

Posted by tsm | April 28, 2008 9:32 AM

The article says you only get them for three hours at a time and have to provide your own helmet. OK, I get the own helmet thing, but what's with the three hour limit? And for not much more than a $40 annual membership, you can get a decent used bike.

Posted by Jason Josephes | April 28, 2008 9:33 AM

SmartHelmet? We need SmartHelmet, too. I don't think I always need my sport attire, so we need Nike to come up with some SmartWhatever for training shirts and shorts. Please do this for me. I'm greeeeeen.

Posted by Mr. Poe | April 28, 2008 9:33 AM

"But it's only $40 a year! Wow, after just two years, I could have my own bike! But it wouldn't be a nice bike, which I need, even though I only use a bike enough to warrant renting one!"

Posted by Mr. Poe | April 28, 2008 9:36 AM

@1, What kills me about Seattle being "green" is the number of single occupancy vehicles on the roads at any given time. (especially on Saturday/Sunday) Has anyone just took a look at University Village on a Saturday afternoon? We can easily go to $5.00 or $6.00 a gallon gas before driving patterns will seriously change.

I think Seattle's being "green" is much like McCain being a "straight talker". The Mayor says we are "green" and the media parrots that remark without anything to back up the claim. Much like the media agreeing that McCain is a "straight talker".

Posted by Andrew | April 28, 2008 9:43 AM

The key to making their bike sharing pencil out is that they sold exclusive advertising rights for their bus shelters to Clear Channel and used the proceeds to cover the real cost of the bikes. Note that the bus shelters exist whether or not you have bike sharing. And you can sell ad rights, exclusive or not, without throwing the money away subsidizing bike sharing.

Posted by elenchos | April 28, 2008 9:48 AM

The UW's going to be doing something similar soon.

Posted by Josh | April 28, 2008 9:51 AM

@10, at least you do not have to actually pedal those and lose some of those pounds of fat Americans are hauling around these days!

Posted by Oh Goodie | April 28, 2008 9:56 AM

I just used a rented bike today. For a mere 2 euros, I had the bike for the whole day. It's good for tourists and running errands at multiple stops. But I agree that the helmet law makes it not work so well in Seattle. I rode without a helmet--but so does everyone else here in France.

Posted by Mark at YVR | April 28, 2008 10:04 AM

As a DC resident... part of the appeal of bike sharing is that you don't need to store a bike. In my building you pay extra to store your bike in the basement bike room. I believe DC has rules that require new developments of certain sizes to have bike racks, but many old apartments don't have enough space. So a lot of people store their bikes in their apartmements (a real hassle if you have a small place or don't have an elevator). Leaving them outside doesn't really work well because of corrosion and theft issues.

This SmartBike will not be a savior, but is an addition to an overall system consisting of heavy rail and bus transit, commuter heavy rail, Amtrak, taxis, tons of car rental agencies, car sharing, designated bike lanes, and pedestrian-friendly city layout. As part of a total system, SmartBike will hopefully allow people to get around town without having to purchase their own cars.

Lastly I have been to Seattle a few times--the transportation options were a real turn off. The last thing you guys need is a closed mind to any form of non-car transit.

Posted by dan | April 28, 2008 10:13 AM

To everyone ranting about how you could just buy a bike for not much more than $40:

You are missing the whole point of bike sharing, which is flexibility. The goal is not to make bikes accessible to lower income groups. I used the Velib program in Paris for several months and the best thing about it is that you are not tethered to your bike once you get to your destination. If it's sunny in the morning, ride a bike to work. If it's raining at night, catch the bus or a ride with a friend (without all the hassle of hauling your bike around). You also don't need to worry about storage issues and all the locks and chains that go with it.

It's a liberating feeling to ride somewhere, park the bike, walk away, and not have to think about it (and not have to think about where your bus line is and how many transfers and hours it's going to take you to get back home).

Posted by john | April 28, 2008 10:14 AM

those bikes are hideous. if u ride those things in NE or SE you're just going to get runned over. nice idea, but i would say, even with the gentrification of dc in full swing, those bikes will sit just there.

funny thing, but despite having a great train/metro system, walkable city, at least in the NW/downtown part, and ok bus system, dc's traffic is still hideous. seattle's is nowhere near as bad.

Posted by SeMe | April 28, 2008 10:16 AM

Nah, I used to get posted to different locations around Canada (during my Army days), and it's just way easier to buy a used bike at a bike shop and then sell it back to them when the posting ended a few months later - way cheaper than renting.

Cities should provide dirt cheap rentals if they want us to use these, IMHO.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 28, 2008 10:16 AM
It's a liberating feeling to ride somewhere, park the bike, walk away, and not have to think about it (and not have to think about where your bus line is and how many transfers and hours it's going to take you to get back home).

Right. So what you're saying is it's liberating to be lazy and not have to worry about it. You're confusing convenience with laziness. If a bus schedule book is too confusing and bothersome for you, so will finding where your fucking SmartBike stops are.

Posted by Mr. Poe | April 28, 2008 10:27 AM


To be fair, it's a major pain in the ass to get to the U Village without a car.

Posted by keshmeshi | April 28, 2008 10:32 AM

If your rented bike gets stolen, it will cost you $200. So how do you walk away and not worry about what happens to the bike?

Posted by elenchos | April 28, 2008 10:33 AM

But will the bike be taxed the same as a rental car? ;-)

Posted by Reverse Polarity | April 28, 2008 10:41 AM

@18, I walk to U-Village or bike and have managed to survive...

Posted by Andrew | April 28, 2008 10:55 AM


You park your bike at one of the stations (of which there need to be as many as possible), and walk away. Is soon as it is locked up there, it is no longer you're concern and you are no longer held accountable if something happens to it. If someone manages to pry it from it's locking device, then that's the program operator's problem, not yours.

Mr. Poe,

I disagree. I think that YOU are confusing laziness with convenience. A lot of people normally don't ride the buses in this town not because they are lazy, but rather because the trips from A to B can often be extremely INCONVENIENT on a Metro. Let's have a bus system that has better service, more routes, and maps at every bus stop. That, my friend, would be convenient. Get off your high-horse with the accusations that everyone else is lazy if they don't choose to sacrifice hours of their day on the bus. Give me better options and I will gladly ride. So will a lot of other people.

Posted by john | April 28, 2008 11:03 AM

[i]To be fair, it's a major pain in the ass to get to the U Village without a car.[/i]

Uh, what? I ride my bike to the U Village all the time. 15 minutes from the office in Fremont via the Burke, 30 minutes from my Greenwood home.

Posted by Tiktok | April 28, 2008 11:10 AM


The trips that are from point A to point B are inconvenient how? Time? Oh, do tell me, what bus from point A to point B is going to take hours of your day, and once you've told me that, please detail how convenient it will be for your to ride a fucking bike from the same point A to point B.

In related news, you're retarded. Have fun with that.

Posted by Mr. Poe | April 28, 2008 11:14 AM


Posted by Mr. Poe | April 28, 2008 11:16 AM

This is coming to D.C., and hopefully other American cities, because it WORKS. People in Paris and Barcelona use the bikes, and save time and money by doing so. That's why the programs keep growing. Duh.

I'm a devoted bike rider AND a penny pincher, and let me tell you straight up that $40 a year doesn't buy you any piece of a functional bike. The lowest price for a ride that will survive on Seattle roads for a couple years of solid use is $400. Maintenance & repairs can add another $200 annually. Laziness is one thing that keeps people from riding, but prohibitive entry costs and lack of mechanical knowledge are just as prevalent. A $40 annual fee for a good bike when you want it and no repair costs is a hella deal.

How weird do you have to be to argue that something that is demonstrably successful can't work? Quite clearly Dan was right to start this post with a reference to the bizarre sense of Seattle exceptionalism.

Posted by Gurldoggie | April 28, 2008 11:42 AM

Oh the joys of debate via comment...

You're right. Metro service is magnificent and cannot be improved upon. It serves as a shining beacon if effective public transport and should be an example to the rest of the country, nay, the world.

So all we need to do now is convince the rest of seattle that they are lazy and selfish by not choosing to take advantage of this world-class transit system. Let forth a withering volley of guilt-tripping and name calling that will bring them to their senses. Once that is done, we can all jerk eachother off contentedly for having saved the planet.

So you are honestly trying to argue that depending on Metro to get you around the city in a reasonable amount of time in never inconvenient? Why don't you and the three other people who agree with that get together and form a coalition to prevent the addition of other transit options to Seattle. Meanwhile, I'll be trying to come up with solutions.

Posted by john | April 28, 2008 11:46 AM

Go ahead and shove a few more words in my mouth to semi-somewhat sustain your stance. Oh the joys of debate via comment...

Posted by Mr. Poe | April 28, 2008 11:58 AM

Has anyone heard of the yellow bike project? It refurbishes old bikes, paints them yellow, and leaves them around town for ANYBODY to use for FREE. They will also teach you how to build and fix your own bike, and if you volunteer, you can build your own from their parts, again, for free. This is an actual green solution, and a community enhancing one at that. All of these people trying to make a buck off environmentalism are completely missing the point.

Here's Austin's website.

Posted by Tara | April 28, 2008 12:01 PM

Oh, crap I was waiting for somebody to bring up the old free bike thing. That has been tried in many, many places. I think the first rule for solving every environmental problem should be "Don't ask a fucking hippie."

Posted by elenchos | April 28, 2008 12:09 PM
All of these people trying to make a buck off environmentalism are completely missing the point.

Pretty much.

Posted by Mr. Poe | April 28, 2008 12:10 PM

If they "operate in a similar fashion" to Zipcar...well that is no way to sell me on this program. Zipcar is such a rip-off. I miss Flexcar.
Anyway, I suppose a bike sharing program might make sense for people coming into the city form the burbs? It wouldn't work for tourists since it's a membership-based program. Actually it's kind of hard for me to imagine why people would use this. If you're a cyclist, you've already got a bike. I ride a bike every day and have never found owning a bike a hassle -- actually it's a joy. So how would a program like this benefit me? I just don't see why it's "not a bad idea" as the post claims, without explanation.

Posted by zip | April 28, 2008 12:53 PM


Who says Seattle isn't getting something exactly like this?

Posted by JohnCToddJr | April 29, 2008 5:42 AM

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