Washington D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare started small in 2010, and with little fanfare. It wasn't as large as Paris' Vélib bike share system, or as immediately popular as Barcelona's Bici. It didn't have especially bells-and-whistles bikes like Denver's B-cycle program, nor was it as comprehensive as the Chinese city of Hangzhou's bike sharing scheme.
Never mind. Capital Bikeshare has become copy editor Bill Walsh's (and a lot of other DC commuters') gateway cycling drug of choice anyway.
Walsh, who lives and works in the nation's capitol, has over the last eight months become a dedicated cycle commuter, using Capital Bikeshare for more than 90% of his commutes - causing him to christen the service a "gateway" transportation drug.
In other words, once you use it, you are hooked on city cycling.
And that's good for cities. Bike sharing systems are an investment, and frequently one that is hard to find the money for in cash-strapped cities (such as Portland, Oregon), but bike sharing is far cheaper than building subways, paving new freeways, or adding bus services, and it pays off not only in reducing car traffic but also in making citizens just a bit more conditioned.
The next wave in bike sharing is to make systems friendlier - making it easier for users (tourists and city dwellers) to get on other forms of public transport when they are done cycling. In Berlin and Paris, passes can be used for different transport, and in the case of Berlin, for car parking and taxis, too. In another experiment in Munich, Mo! combines car sharing and bike sharing in a single system.
In Denver, B-Cycle is making its system accessible to members of Boulder's B-Cycle and vice versa.
And Wuhan, China (with the largest bike sharing system in the world, according to the Bike Sharing Blog), plans to open its system to users of the Haikou city system hundreds of miles south.
Over 450 bike sharing systems exist or in the planning stages around the world, clustered most intensively in southern Asia, Europe, and the United States. Wouldn't it be nice if one card and one membership would give you access to any city around the globe? Now that would boost the concept of a global community of city cyclists tremendously.