Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.
Capital Bikeshare has been gaining national attention as a pioneer in bringing bicycle sharing to the United States. It’s still the nation’s largest system, until New York and Chicago join, and being in the nation’s capital, forms a very visible symbol for national and international visitors.
On Monday, Slate delved into the history of DC’s bike sharing endeavors, from SmartBike to Capital Bikeshare. The story highlighted a few of the many people responsible for the program. This is a good opportunity to also give the nod to even more Greater Washingtonians who deserve significant credit for making these programs happen.
I spoke with a few of current and former DC officials who want to remain nameless, but who passed along some thoughts about who deserves the most credit. I’ve edited together their comments and kudos below.
Most often cited, and enormously deserving of credit, is Gabe Klein, former Director of Transportation for the District, Planning Director Harriet Tregoning, and then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, all cycling enthusiasts.
Dan Tangherlini and Mayor Anthony Williams catalyzed many of the transportation innovations we enjoy today, including SmartBike, our first foray into bike sharing that primed the pump for CaBi (and also the first hard investments in streetcar which will soon return to our streets).
But all these leaders, of course, stood on the shoulders those who worked under them and advocated to and for them. These work horses often go unnoticed, pleased just in the fruits of what they produced.
Among these are “Active Transportation Manager” Jim Sebastian and planner Chris Holben. When Jim joined DDOT over a decade ago, the city had scarcely a bike lane, let alone cycle tracks cutting through the downtown, a gorgeous glassy bike station, or the nation’s most successful bike sharing program. He and his team worked below the radar (some say a little too far below) and within the system to gently bring about the miles of bike lanes, segments of world class facilities on the Anacostia, Metropolitan Branch, and Rock Creek Trails, the award winning Bike Station at Union Station, and enviable cycle tracks on some of the nation’s most prominent corridors.
Jim and Chris literally spent sleepless nights fretting about bike station locations and public safety concerns. In the end they have succeeded in shifting bicycle travel in the District from a mode fit only for the spandex crowd to a general form of transportation for all ages.
And there wouldn’t be a Jim if there weren’t Ellen. That’s Ellen Jones, now Transportation Director for the Downtown BID, but way back when the Executive Director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. Ellen pushed to create a bicycle program within DDOT and the city’s first (and so far only) comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan — a literal roadmap for bicycle infrastructure projects, many of which have materialized over the past decade.
Many people aren’t aware of Arlington County’s role in Capital Bikeshare. In fact, the contract the region has to run Capital Bikeshare is not DC’s, but Arlington’s contract. It’s the Arlington County transportation Department (led by Dennis Leach), especially Commuter Services head Chris Hamilton and bicycle manager Chris Eatough, who put out the bike sharing contract, while the Transportation Planning Board’s Ron Kirby helped DDOT ride along on it. This accelerated the program by more than a year.
Arlington County Board members Chris Zimmerman and Jay Fisette worked closely with Gabe Klein to make Capital Bikeshare happen. Angie Fox at the Crystal City BID put up the money for the first Arlington stations.
There are scores of others who deserve more than just passing mention for their roles (but unfortunately will get just that here). DDOT’s Public Space Policy Manager Alice Kelly managed the bus shelter contract and held Clear Channel accountable for delivering SmartBike. Then-Associate Director Scott Kubly was then smart enough to kill that element of the contract to enable a new model of bike sharing for the city.
Let’s not forget then-Associate Director Karina Ricks who oversaw the bike program, providing staff and leadership support to push the program through; Councilmember Tommy Wells, who stewarded the program through the Council and has been a booster before and since; and Eric Gilliland, who led WABA at the time and has since joined Alta to deliver the system and service at the quality we enjoy today.
And then there are the army of front line transportation and planning staff who spent countless hours laying out the stations, permitting them, attending public meetings from Chevy Chase to Congress Heights, negotiating with federal agencies, and rapidly striping a bicycle network that could support the legions of new cyclists about to hit the streets.
Although the list is sure to be incomplete, honorable mentions should go to Mike Goodno, Heather Deutsch, George Branyan, Jenny Hefferan, Jeff Jennings, Allan Fye, Chris Ziemann, Anna Chamberlain, Anna McLaughlin, Gabe Oneador, Charles Thomas, Jamie Henson, Gabriela Vega, Colleen Hawkinson, Will Handsfield, John Lisle, Megan Kanagy, Karyn LeBlanc, James Cheeks, Juan Amaya, and Kevin Kovaleski at DDOT; Office of Planning staff Alex Block, Andrea Limauro, and Joyce Tsepas; Arlington’s Bruce Kimble, Maryam Zahory, Euan Fisk, Bobbi Greenberg, Jay Freschi, Lois DeMeester, John Durham, and Howard Jennings; and undoubtedly countless others.