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Can Dockless Bikeshare Pump Up Cycling's Diversity?

In Washington, D.C., a slew of private companies are shaking up the bike scene’s status quo and drawing riders from the city's African-American community.
In predominantly black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., dockless bikesharing companies like LimeBike are making inroads.
In predominantly black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., dockless bikesharing companies like LimeBike are making inroads.LimeBike/Madison McVeigh/CityLab

On a Monday afternoon in November, I spotted a teenage couple on the Georgetown waterfront in Washington, D.C., sitting on a bench overlooking the Potomac River. Chris and Anna (who declined to give me their last names), were 19 and 18 years old respectively. They were scarfing down Chipotle burritos beside a pair of dockless bikes from one of the several private companies that have sprouted up across D.C. in the last few months.

The colorful new models—from Mobike, Spin, Ofo, LimeBike, and JUMP—don’t have to be rented and returned to fixed docking stations, like those of the city’s 8-year-old Capital Bikeshare program; they’re just scattered around the city. The D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) is currently running a seven month-long demonstration period for dockless bikes, which ends in April. In October, these companies logged a total of 56,477 trips, compared to 338,152 Capital Bikeshare trips, according to DDOT data. But among those thousands of riders, Chris and Anna stood out to me—because they’re young and black.