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Bicycle-sharing comes to the US

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Back in the spring of 2001, I looked at why more people don't use bikes to get around Providence.

WEATHER PERMITTING, [Ray] Alexander pedals the seven miles each weekday from his home in Cranston's Edgewood section to his teaching job at Goodwill Industries of Rhode Island in Wanskuck. With hazards ranging from hostile motorists to piles of accumulated sand and trash in the road, he says, "It's a short commute, but it's not a pleasant one. I've had motorists come up right behind me when I'm on Allens Avenue. They don't seem to believe that we have a right to the road."

Such is the plight of the humble bicyclist. Non-polluting. Human-powered. And an easy target for the hurried, narcissistic psyche that tends to envelop us when we step behind the wheel of an automobile. Although bicycling exploded in popularity with the introduction of mountain bikes in the '80s -- enough to since become the fifth most popular participatory sport, with some 42.5 million cycling enthusiasts, as measured by the National Sporting Goods Association -- bicyclists remain marginalized in our car-dependent culture.

Now, an officially sanctioned, advertiser-supported bike-sharing program, said to be the first of its kind in the US, is coming to Washington, DC.

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.

In the deal, Clear Channel will have exclusive advertising rights in the city’s bus shelters. The company has reached a similar deal with San Francisco. Chicago and Portland, Ore., are also considering proposals from advertisers. ....

For a $40 annual membership fee, SmartBike users can check out three-speed bicycles for three hours at a time. The program will not provide helmets but does encourage their use.

Similar programs have proved successful in Europe. The Vélib program in Paris and Bicing in Barcelona, Spain, both started around a year ago and already offer thousands of bicycles.

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