City Desk

The Needle: Bike the Road to Socialism Edition

What Has Two Wheels and Likes Hourly Rentals?: In our nation's inexorable march to western European-style social democracy, Sept. 20, 2010, is a date that will live in infamy. For it was today that Capital Bikeshare, a regional bike sharing system vaguely modeled on Paris' wildly successful Vélib, officially launched, replacing the ClearChannel-run SmartBike program with one managed by District and Arlington transportation officials. (In related news, Wednesday is being pitched as the region's "Car-Free Day.") Look for bike rental kiosks at a street corner near you—and start learning "La Marseillaise." +5

Falafel for All: Back in the Dark Ages, there was only one option available for late-night sustenance for the drunken hordes pouring out of 18th Street NW bars around last call—enormous slices of pizza (from Pizza Mart and its jumbo slice-purveying imitators). Amsterdam Falafelshop changed all that, and these days, if you can make your way through the sidewalk crowds without getting punched, puked on, or otherwise perturbed, you can get a decent meal. (Or so we're told; being of relatively advanced age, we don't get out much in Adams Morgan on the weekends anymore.) Now comes word the Dutch-inspired Middle Eastern delicacies will be franchised. For $400,000 to $650,000, investors can get a Falafelshop of their very own. Importing the drunk bozos from the 18th Street bars? That might cost a little extra. +2

Green Line to Baltimore: Ever since Metro launched SmarTrip cards a while back, we've thought transit passes should work nationwide; how easy would traveling be if you could use your Metro-issued card to board the St. Charles streetcar in New Orleans, ride the El in Chicago, or take the BART into downtown San Francisco from your flight into SFO? Apparently Maryland transit officials have the same dream. The new CharmCard, on sale tomorrow, will work on mass transit in Baltimore and Washington. Might this pave the way for a special bonus 6th season of The Wire, set right here in D.C.? +3

What's in a Name?: Forget the buses running people over, the broken-down escalators, the increasing fares. The real problem with Metro is the station names are too short. At least, that seems to be what the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District thinks, as the BID is lobbying WMATA to change the name of the Navy Yard station on the Green Line to "Capitol Riverfront/Navy Yard/Ballpark." This would come on the heels of "U Street/Cardozo/African-American Civil War Museum," "Grosvenor-Strathmore," "Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan," and others. In the original 1976 map, the Woodley Park station was just called "Zoological Park," and other station names were equally simplified. Ah, those were the days. -2

Houston, We Have a Problem: Cruising along to a 2-0 start to the season with a 27-10 lead on the Houston Texans in the third quarter Sunday, the Redskins give up the next 17 points, have one field goal blocked, miss another, and lose in overtime, 30-27. On the bright side: Last year, this is the kind of game the team would have lost 9-3. Can't say this wasn't an exciting way to go out. -2

Friday's Needle rating: 52 Today's score: +6 Today's Needle rating: 58

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  • d Greenberg

    This guy?

  • J

    Capital Bikeshare actually uses the same equipment as Montreal's wildly popular system, Bixi, which also is used by Minneapolisès bike share system.

  • J

    Also, I'm not sure how paying money to rent a bike = socialism. Thoughts?

  • Cassie

    "But this latest French utopia has met a prosaic reality: Many of the specially designed bikes, which, when the system’s startup and maintenance expenses are included, cost $3,500 each*, are showing up on black markets in Eastern Europe and northern Africa. Many others are being spirited away for urban joy rides, then ditched by roadsides, their wheels bent and tires stripped.

    With 80 percent of the initial 20,600 bicycles stolen or damaged, the program’s organizers have had to hire several hundred people just to fix them. And along with the dent in the city-subsidized budget has been a blow to the Parisian psyche.

    “The symbol of a fixed-up, eco-friendly city has become a new source for criminality,” Le Monde mourned in an editorial over the summer. “The Vélib’ was aimed at civilizing city travel. It has increased incivilities.”"

    NYT 31 Oct 2009 *figure subsequently corrected -- $1050 to manufacture bike; cost of $3500 per bike included start-up and maintenance.

  • Typical DC BS

    Oh yeah, bikeshare is a great idea for tourists. But I wonder why someone locally would rent one. If the program is carefully analyzed after a year and the results publicized, I'd be interested to see how successful it is.

  • Another David

    Alternatively, we could take the New York approach to naming stations: name them for their cross street. It really helps alleviate that "Where the hell am I?" feeling when you come out of a station for the first time.

  • Ross

    Chicago's rail rapid transit system is more accurately nicknamed the "L", not the El. Yes, "El" makes sense in light of its plethora of elevated tracks, but see Wikipedia "'L' or El?" section for explanation.

  • Mike Madden


    I was joking, I don't think Bikeshare is putting us on the road to socialism. Though if socialism involves plentiful urban bikes, I'm all for it.

  • Rick Mangus

    Ah yes comrades welcome to your utopia of the mind, being feed to you on a daily bases by the liberals in this town!