Need to get from Federal Hill to Fells Point or Canton — too far to walk, too much traffic, on Pratt Street, expensive parking — soon a new option — bike share. Grab a bike in Federal Hill, drop it off in Canton. And with bike lanes, get there quicker than a car.

A full rack of rentable bicycles at a Capitol Bikeshare station in Washington, DC (credit: Kaid Benfield's Blog on NRDC Switchboard)

As Maryland communities move to enhance urban-style, walkable downtowns, local officials in parts of Maryland are now adding bikeshare programs adding a new transportation choice for residents and visitors. Rockville is joining Washington, DC’s popular and highly successful Capital Bikeshare program this summer. Very soon the distinctive red Capital Bikeshare bicycles may also be found in the inner beltway communities of Bethesda, Silver Spring, Friendship Heights, and Takoma Park. College Park, White Flint, Greenbelt, and Frederick are studying whether bike share programs could also be successful in their communities.

Not to be outdone by the national allure of Potomac River jurisdictions to the south, Baltimore City is currently planning to introduce its own “B-Cycle” bike share system very soon to the streets of Charm City.

Bike share along the Patapsco River? Where will it be coming next?

Columbia and Annapolis are also examining the feasibility of bike share to provide better and faster travel connections from downtown to nearby neighborhoods and businesses. Local governments are now realizing that local travel provided by a bike share system can be a faster mode of travel than personal auto, walking or transit.  How did this happen?

Bike Share provides “active transportation” — your legs and lungs are the engine propelling you down the road.

Looking at all of the activity to enhance local bicycle transportation through community sponsored bike share systems, what is a car-bound commuter mired in miles of “stop and go” traffic congestion to think?

What exactly is bike share and who other than Tour de France wannabes would use a bicycle for a bike commute across town anyway?

A commuter uses Capital Bikeshare (credit: The Georgetown Metropolitan blog)

Bike share systems are designed for use by the general public — those who ride a bike occasionally. Bike share bikes cannot be confused with uber-light road racing bicycles or supple “bomb the trails” mountain bikes one sees in city and state parks. Instead, bike share bikes are sturdy, urban-oriented bicycles that are better suited for a half hour of sightseeing, short distance commuting, and very local trips on moderate volume city streets. These are bikes that can be ridden by just about any adult on bike lanes along moderate speed city streets and/or on paved trail systems. Bike Share bikes have a covered chain guard so the grease does not get on clothes and a step-through design so can be ridden in a skirt. Therein lays the beauty of bike share. These systems increase local mobility by offering a fast and flexible transportation mode for short distance one-way trips.

How to use bike share

Users of bike share systems check out a bike by credit card, membership card or cell phone at docking stations located at or near activity centers throughout a city.

Modern bike share systems are convenient, with self service docking stations utilizing smart card technology. Making use of bike docking stations, bike share networks tend to be widely available within a defined geographic area of usage. You can pick up a bike at a docking station, ride one way to a location, drop off the bike at a docking station, and then pick up another bike at a nearby docking station if you desire for another trip.

To obtain a bike share bicycle, a user is usually required to become a member. Most bike share systems offer a one day, monthly or an annual membership. As a bike share member, a user can pick up

Charm City Bikeshare station in Baltimore's Inner Harbor (credit: City of Baltimore Department of Transportation)

and use a bicycle as needed from available docking stations. Usually the first 30 minutes of bicycle use are free of charge. A progressively higher charge is incurred by the member for bicycle use beyond 30 minutes.

Who uses bike share and why?

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “Capital Bikeshare commuters share why they ride — and its drawbacks (Feb. 1, 2012),” DC area commuters who use Capital Bikeshare on a daily basis frequently cite “money, time, exercise and convenience” are their main motivations.

The article sites several reasons to use Bike Share.

“Unless you walk to work, there is simply no cheaper way to go,” said Josh Stephens, 37, of Adams Morgan. “The cost savings have been ridiculous.”  “It’s really great to travel on my own terms,” said Michelle Terry, 23, “Eventually, I got tired of waiting for the bus. So, on a whim, I decided, I’m going to get that bike, and I’ve never gone back.”

The beauty of Bike Share – “The day we had the earthquake, GW (University) closed at 3, and everyone talked about how awful it was going to be to get home,” said Tyler Brown a Capitol Hill resident. “And all throughout my ride home, I didn’t see a car move, but it took me the same amount of time to get home… It doesn’t matter what is going on in the city: My commute is the same, and it’s great.”

Where and how did bike share systems evolve?

What began as a low tech idea has evolved over the past several decades into a sophisticated and highly complex, information-based bicycle user system.

First generation bike share: An approach first implemented in Amsterdam in the 1960’s consisting of reconditioned bikes, painted a common color, and placed for free throughout the city with no restrictions on use. These bikes were often stolen or damaged. It was difficult and often costly to replenish bicycle fleets.

Second generation bike share: A low tech design to deter theft which involved bike stations where individual bikes could be unlocked through a coin deposit system. These systems were used in Copenhagen and in Helsinki although there was no tracking system for bicycles and theft and damage remained a problem for bicycle fleets.

Third generation bike share: A higher tech design using smart card or cell phone technology at conveniently located docking stations allowing for improved access and better tracking of the bicycle fleet. Successful programs using smart card technology include Montreal, Washington, DC, Minneapolis and Paris. Cell phone systems tend to be used in German cities (aka “Call a Bike”).

For more information on current and proposed bike share systems visit:

Capital Bikeshare

Montreal’s Bixi Bike Share

Boston’s New Balance Hubway Bike Share

Baltimore’s proposed B-Cycle Bike Share

Capital Bikeshare – A Closer Look at Casual Users and Operations

See also: The rousing success of DC’s Capital Bikeshare, Kaid Benfield’s Blog on NRDC Switchboard