Many Western countries are encouraging their citizens to ride bicycles to work in an effort to reduce traffic congestion as well as to help save the environment. In Washington and some of its near-by suburbs, local governments are making the bicycle lifestyle easy.
This is one of the many Bikeshare locations in southeast Washington. Renting a bike is as easy as 1.2.3. All you have to do is put in your credit card. Once the card is accepted, select the type of membership. The system will print your receipt and a code to unlock the bicycle. Enter that code in this digital lock, the light turns green and you are ready to roll.
Annual members get a plastic key, which goes into this electronic lock. Returning the bicycle is also easy. You can go to any Bikeshare location and push the bike back into the rack.
Washington's local government started this program in September 2010. Today there are 134 stations with 1,100 bicycles in the nation's capital and the neighboring city of Arlington, Virginia.
Chris Holben is the project director of Washington's Capital Bikeshare program. The program offers a wide variety of membership options - for a single day, 3 days, one month, or a full year. Holben says the number of annual memberships is increasing.
"We have about 20,000 annual members who can walk up take a bike out," said Holben. "We also had about 90,000 visitors use our bikes. Those were tourists or people here for the day".
During the last year these bicycles have been used for one million rides.
Holben says a membership survey shows that 5 percent of those who use Bikeshare would have used cars if bikes were not available. He says this works out to 50,000 fewer automobile trips.
In the developing world, many people regard bicycles as the ride of the poor and see a car as a symbol of status. Holben says what he calls "national heroes" can help counter that image.
"I think one of the main things is you need some champions at either the high political level or a higher social level, who can promote cycling whether for health reasons or get people out of the car," added Holben. "You would also need somewhere safer for them to bike so whether that's the government or the municipalities providing trails or spaces just for cyclists."
Two other Washington suburbs, Montgomery County, Maryland, and the city of Alexandria, Virginia, have now approved plans to join the network, which is slated to grow to 288 stations and 2,800 bikes by the end of 2012.