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Many unsung heroes made Capital Bikeshare a reality

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.

Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

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.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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If there's one problem with Capital Bikeshare, it's just how easy we made it look to the other cities who were looking to set up a similar program.

CaBi opened on time, and has basically operated continuously without a single hitch (except perhaps that the expansions seem to take longer than we'd like them to). Despite numerous tweaks, the system's original network of stations was also thoughtfully planned out. We had a completely usable year-round system from Day 1.

Contrast to NYC and Chicago, who still can't get their systems off of the ground, or Boston, which struggles with low ridership. It's the one transportation project that DC got 100% right from the start.

....which is naturally why Mayor Gray fired everybody responsible for it as soon as he took office.

by andrew on Jan 9, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

Jim Sebastian is one of the unsung heroes of DC transportation. He has done amazing work within DDOT. I worked on regional bike issues in the early 90s and the things that Jim has done were just unimaginable then. He is also modest and self-effacing, so he doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves.
And Ellen is fabulous too.

by Urbanette on Jan 9, 2013 5:33 pm • linkreport

I think the problem with NYC and Chicago is the new software system that Alta/BIXI are using now. Capital Bikeshare is using a different system, which doesn't appear to have all the problems that the new system does.

by Cyclist on Jan 9, 2013 7:17 pm • linkreport

David, thanks for honoring the many people who made CaBi possible, both inside and outside government. We don't often remember to give credit, especially to our dedicated public employees. Thanks all for such a wonderful gift to the city, Arlington, Alexandria and the region.

by Stewart Schwartz (CSG) on Jan 9, 2013 7:35 pm • linkreport

Jim and Ellen, definite thumbs up for those two. The've the the back bone of the whole process. Too litle credit was given by the Fenty administration to the real workers behind creativity and success.

by Some Ideas on Jan 9, 2013 10:23 pm • linkreport

Let's also not forget about all the folks that properly assembled the bikes upon their final delivery here in DC, and those who do the day-to-day, hands on work of maintaining the bikes and servicing the stations.

by Critical Chris on Jan 9, 2013 11:23 pm • linkreport

Great article - it's good to be able to pass the praise around.

As someone who works for a designated driving service, our drivers have really appreciated CaBi, as well as the progressive biking laws in DC. Our drivers take clients home in their own cars, which means the driver is often in a difficult spot of getting home (or to another client). While we do have interceptors to pick them up, most drivers prefer to be independent. CaBi has helped many of us get home and get to our clients quickly and safely. Thanks to all who have made it possible.

by Aries Indenbaum on Jan 10, 2013 10:01 am • linkreport

And it also was immensely necessary to have a large cadre of bicycle enthusiasts who became early adopters of the system, helped lead group rides for the launch event, and have put CaBi's ridership and cost recovery higher than all initial estimates.

This has been a triumph of the bureaucracy and the community which it serves. It's rare that everything comes together so well.

by Will on Jan 10, 2013 3:18 pm • linkreport

I was surprised not to see Paul DeMaio's name. Paul worked with Arlington's transportation program as a consultant to help get the bike-sharing program started and was the program's biggest champion within WABA as it was being rolled out.

by Douglas Stewart on Jan 10, 2013 9:39 pm • linkreport

Douglas: Paul and his work was the main focus of the Slate article. The goal here was to be sure the other folks involved got attention. I don't want to ignore Paul's contribution; it just had been covered.

by David Alpert on Jan 10, 2013 10:38 pm • linkreport

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