- Memorize these stations now, tourists. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Visit the D.C.-area hotels Monaco, Helix, and Rouge, and you can expect many of the typical amenities — you can hope for complimentary soap, breakfast, access to a pool, and all that, but there's one new offering that's likely unexpected: a complimentary 24-hour membership to D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare program as well as educational biking materials, bike maps, and helmets. The District department of transportation has just launched the new pilot program and partnership with the three Kimpton hotels this month, according to a DDOT press release from mid-July. All three of the hotels are near Capital Bikeshare stations.
And what does this mean for D.C. and Capital Bikeshare?
The District is hoping to capitalize and expand on the Brand of the Bike. Great cycling cities have a special cachet to them, a power that goes beyond the activity alone. Research suggests that biking cities might be happier in general and that a culture of biking can trigger other social benefits. Furthermore, D.C.'s bikeshare program has grown at a dramatic pace, opening only last fall and now offering more than 1,100 bikes throughout 115 stations. More are planned for D.C. and Arlington soon, and DDOT's bikesharing program manager Chris Holben hopes the service, already past 500,000 trips earlier this summer, will hit a million rides by its one-year anniversary.
The idea of biking is becoming inextricably linked with D.C.'s streets, as more and more conversation has begun to circulate around cycling lanes and other bike-friendly developments. The magic word describing those interests now is momentum.
What's especially interesting about this bikeshare-hotel partnership is the target audience of the complimentary benefits — out-of-towners, tourists, newcomers. To make the Capital Bikeshare such a visible part of D.C.'s identity to visitors has its own benefits and spreads the perception of D.C.'s bike-friendliness well beyond just the District.
Targeting visitors is smart for multiple reasons. One drawback to the Capital Bikeshare program, from my perspective, has always come down to the following question: Why wouldn't a serious bike commuter already own their own bike? Bicycles aren't prohibitively expensive, and most cyclists would, I imagine, want to have their own bike for simplicity's sake. Why rent when you can own? But visitors to D.C. will never bring bikes onto a planes, and the District is ultimately a small place, geographically, and very bikable. A visitor hoping to get around could do far worse than rent a bike from the Capital Bikeshare stations. By raising awareness of their services, via hotels and other materials, the bikeshare program is able to tap that new market of users in a dynamic new way. Say a visitor is here for a week. Even 24 hours of free use of Capital Bikeshare might inspire them to sign up for daily bikeshare rentals for the next six days, and perhaps more importantly in the long run, that person would carry news of the experience back to wherever they're from — a critical form of marketing, potentially, speaking to the novelty of the experience.
The only drawback is that the new users wouldn't easily know where other bikeshare stations are, away from the hotel. I interviewed the man who took the 500,000th trip on Capital Bikeshare a couple months ago, and even he, a D.C. resident, struggled to find bikeshare stations when he first signed up. Hence why DDOT stresses the bike maps also freely available at the Kimpton Hotels. All the players express full enthusiasm in the press release, unsurprisingly, and the hotel says they're hoping to roll this out to all seven of their D.C. locations if all goes well.
We'll see how the pilot program goes though. Might the perception of D.C.'s biking opportunities for a casual tourist become on par with a city like Amsterdam?