Monday, April 8, 2013

History of D.C.

President Obama starts his day getting dressed like everyone else, one pant leg at a time. So it goes with the history of transportation in Washington D.C. With few notable exceptions, our nation’s Capital has followed similar growth trends throughout history as several other cities in the US.

Washington D.C. was established by congress in 1790 and designed from scratch by architect Charles L’Enfant. L’Enfant laid the groundwork for the grand vision of an egalitarian metropolis rising out of the rural landscape. All city streets were separated into four quadrants and were oriented around, and progress from the Capitol building.

D.C.’s first electric streetcar was introduced 1862 and lasted until 1962. Like many other cities during the 60’s D.C. switched from streetcars to buses. Streetcars have been reintroduced to the transit system in later this year with lines along H Street NE and through Anacostia.

The majority of transit in D.C. is now supported by Metrobus and Metrorail providing over 341 million annual trips. D.C.'s first transit subway system was introduced in 1969 and opened in 1976.

The Capital Beltway began construction in 1957 after the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. The Beltway consists of 63.8 miles and has grown in capacity from 80,000 to over 200,000 vehicles per day.

The nation’s Capital is one of the first cities to introduce bike sharing with the launch of Capital Bike Share in September of 2010. Three months later, it has proven it’s success with over 48,000 trips in the cold of winter.


  1. Interesting article! I clicked on your Capital Bike Share link detailing the 48,000 trips and read their article about the "near record ridership" during February. The article also mentioned their Winter Weather Warrior Contest. In addition to the thrill of competition, this contest included incentives like gift cards, membership deals, photo contests, and awards for participants.

    I'm just curious whether you, or anyone else in the class, thinks that Capital Bike Share's success will continue over the long term, in the absence of contests or other incentives. The winner described in the article averaged 13 trips a day. As someone who commutes by bike, 13 trips a day blows my mind. I don't even think I have enough free time in each day to average 13 trips! Do you think that this contest and the Bike Share are actually encouraging people to bike more on a regular basis? Or, are people just "in it to win it?"

  2. I think a large part of the success for Capital Bike Share is in its pricing structure. While many other bike share programs have steep usage fees and focus on monthly membership, Capital Bike Share has an annual membership fee of $75, plus free rides up to 30 minutes a day. Given the size of DC, it only takes about 30 minutes on bike to get from one of the farthest areas served by Capital Bike Share to another according to google maps. To do this trip roundtrip, it would only cost you a $1.50 a day. I believe this pricing scheme makes using Capital Bike Share most cost effective than purchasing/maintaining a bike for many who don't want to deal with the hassle.

  3. Kelly and others interested in Capital Bike Share,

    The last annual report has a lot of interesting detail that answers some questions:

    29% of members have a bike of their own (53% have a car)
    44% made at least one trip they would not have taken (by any mode)
    80% reported biking more often than before

    Most trips replaced transit or walking, and as support for Darwin's point above, the average member reported $819 saving per year from using bikeshare. I would say the data mostly point toward the current use level being sustainable so long as the pricing model doesn't change. I've heard (but haven't seen the data) that regular users in DC are subsidized by tourists (who don't mind keeping the bikes longer at higher rates).



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