I've written about "Freewheelin'" the bike sharing program at the Democratic and Republican conventions before here and here. Basically, Bikes Belong teamed up with Humana, the health company, to bring 1000 bikes to each of the convention cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul and Denver), where they will set up a temporary bike-sharing program. Yesterday there was a press conference on the west lawn of the Capitol to kick the program off and open up pre-registration on their site (the mayors of the respective cities were the first to register). It's a pretty cool initiative and should end up as a frequently reported on story during the conventions.
They hope to have at least 10,000 rides that cover 25000 miles. This will burn 500,000 calories and avoid adding 12 metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. And it should help with traffic congestion - I was in Houston in 1992, it was a mess. In addition the program hopes to raise awareness about the value of cycling. Not sure you need to tell the bike-friendly people of Denver or the Twin Cities, but it'll be a good message for guests to the sites.
Here's how the program will work
Bikes will be available in Denver for the Democratic convention from Aug. 25-28; and in Minneapolis-St. Paul for the Republican convention from Sept. 1-4. Participants who register in advance via the Freewheelin Web site will be ready to check out a bike from one of the multiple bike stations throughout the convention cities. Online registration and use of the bikes during the conventions is free, with all related costs paid by Humana and Bikes Belong. Bikes will be available beginning at 7 a.m. each day of the conventions, and don't have to be returned to a bike station until 7 p.m. each day. The bikes can be returned to any station.
Freewheelin bike stations will be set up throughout the cities, near the convention centers and major hotel complexes. When users are finished with a bike, they can simply return their bike to any convenient Freewheelin bike station. Those interested in the program, but unable to register online, can also register in person at any Freewheelin station. Greeters will be on site at each bike station to assist with registration and route planning, and safety specialists will be available to answer questions and address concerns.
So, unlike Paris, the stations will be manned - and they'll be plenty of maps. You'll use your credit card to "check out" the bike - so no stealing and no vandalism. Additionally, each bike will have it's own odometer. The odometer is zeroed out when you start your ride and then the mileage attached to your account. So, when you get back, you can see how many miles you rode, how many calories you burned and how much pollution you didn't create. Neat, huh? On thing, you have to be 18 to ride. The bikes are more normal looking that the SmartBikes, but still have a distinctive look to thwart theft. They'll also have handbikes available for the handicapped. The whole system is going to cost about $1 million.
After the conventions, most of the bikes will go to charities, but each city will get a starter system of 30 bikes and three automated stations.
Humana is taking the lead on biking - something I expect to see more health companies follow. From the Humana rep there it sounds like their emphasis on cycling came up from the Gen X and Millenial employees who made them see that if you give them bikes, they will ride them. So in addition to this they have a wildly popular bike fleet program at their facility in Louisville, KY.
Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson likes the idea, and says he plans to meet with corporate leaders to encourage them to replicate the program. He wants to eventually expand the program so that city residents one day could check out a bike from a number of locations.
I expect to see more health care companies to get in on this, realizing that they have more to gain from bike sharing than even local governments do. Alina hospitals helped make the Minneapolis bike center happen for example.
Anyway I hope to hear from some DC area cyclists who head to the conventions on how the program is working - it's open to anyone. You may get to ride them before you get to ride DC's (which is not opening on Friday - I don't know when it will. They're Beta testing the cards though).
Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), James Oberstar (D-MN-8), Thomas Petri (R-WI-6), and Zach Wamp (R-TN-3) were all at the press conference. Blumenauer is, of course head of the bike caucus. Wamp, who's daughter is one of the Hill's 50 most beautiful people - sorry, she wasn't there, is head of the fitness caucus and he talked up the health benefits of an active lifestyle. "Democrats and Republicans agree on how we should burn energy - biking." Tell that to Patrick McHenry. Oberstar, recently had hip surgery, but that didn't stop him from take a short spin on one of the bikes - Blumenauer rode longer and I think his staff was worried he might not come back. Oberstar talked up all the things Congress has been doing for cycling, including Safe Routes to Schools and State Bike Coordinators in every state. He talked about other European cities we can emulate (Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Muenster). Blumenauer played insulted that Portland was left off. Oberstar mentioned Novo Nordisk's bike riding CEO and Netherland's bike-commuting crown prince.
The last thing I learned is that Wheels4Wellnes is up and running and they're planning a membership drive now that they have the kinks worked out. Very exciting times - except for SmartBike.
Photos by Washcycle