Technological rider to happen upon. No locks,

Technological trends/issuesTHE PEDAL PUSHERS ARE WISING UP. IN the mid-1990s, when public bike-sharing programs were heralded as a way to curb parking shortages as well as greenhouse-gas emissions, dozens of U.S. cities decided to give them a shot. Nonprofits in places like Boulder, Colo.; Charlottesville, Va.; and Gainesville, Fla., launched fleets of communal bikes that people could borrow for free and leave around town for the next rider to happen upon. No locks, no deposits and, pretty soon, no bikes. Theft and vandalism quickly wiped out many of these freewheeling initiatives. This month, however, Washington is rolling out America’s first high-tech bike-sharing program. The so-called SmartBikes come with key-card locking systems and tracking devices to prevent theft. And officials are hoping the only problem this time around will be having enough supply to meet demand. With gas prices skyrocketing and carbon-footprint consciousness going mainstream, more and more cities are betting that Americans are finally ready to make biking part of their daily commute. Denver and Minneapolis will also kick off bike-sharing programs this summer, and Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Seattle, and Arlington, Va., are in talks to launch their versions within the next year or so. Why the renewed interest? One word: Vélib. Paris launched the Vélib program a year ago, and while très cheap (its name is French shorthand for “free bike”), it’s actually not free. Although places like Copenhagen, Lyons and Barcelona are big on bike-sharing, the City of Lights boasts the crème de la crème, with 20,600 bikes and about 1,450 stations–four times the number of Parisian metro stops. It’s hard to walk more than two blocks without running into a bike rack, which helps explain why the program has already yielded a 5% drop in car traffic. Paris has also removed lots of parking spots to make way for bike stations.

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