Slate has an extensive and detailed story of how DC ended up being the trailblazer for bikesharing in the United States. It starts with a master's thesis.
And then one day [Paul DeMaio] was talking with a local colleague—Jim Sebastian, the bicycle coordinator with D.C.’s Department of Transportation. The district’s contract for bus shelter advertising was coming up for renewal. “I said, ‘Hey Jim, this is what they’re doing in Europe—they’re offering bike-sharing services as part of an outdoor advertising contract.” The DDOT, then led by Dan Tangherlini, got behind the idea. And, so tucked into the many-page request for proposals was, he says, a “very short mention of bike sharing.” One hundred bikes, 10 stations.
I never knew how it ended up in the bus shelter deal, and I'd heard that Tangherlini pushed for it on his own, so it's interesting to find out that it started with Paul DeMaio. It's certainly not something he's ever mentioned to me.
I, of course, push back on the notion that SmartBike was a failure, but I realize most people see it that way, so I'll take the phrase "noble failure" I suppose.
It's a good article about how many people it takes to bring a good idea to fruition. If you take out any one of the players (A mayor, three transportation planners and two DDOT directors) we probably wouldn't have CaBi.
But all this kindling needed the continued sparking of progressive planners and policymakers having conversations—at conferences, in offhand remarks at the end of meetings—about this ephemeral, European idea. And it helped that the political climate was encouraging. “To be honest,” says Klein, “under another mayor, it wouldn’t have launched.” As it happened, Fenty lost his bid for re-election just as the system was getting off the ground. “That’s why it’s important to be aware of your time limits,” says Klein, adding that the system launched a little over a year after his fateful trip to Montreal.
I recommend reading the whole thing.