This idea could go places.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that sometime in mid-May, SmartBike DC, a bicycle-sharing program, is going to get moving.
Metal racks are appearing throughout the city, enough for 120 red three-speed bicycles. For $40 bucks a year, bikes can be rented as many times as a person wants--though each rental can last no longer than three hours, and the hours are restricted from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (If you don't bring it back within three hours, you're charged $200.)
The idea is that you get a magnetic card to swipe at a bike rack downtown, enabling you to remove the bike. Take it for a spin. Get your exercise. Go to the store. Commute to the office, if it's convenient. (Park it at another bicycle rack near your place of employment and then hope that a bicycle is there when you get off work.)
It's a public and private partnership between Washington D.C. and the advertising conglomerate Clear Channel Outdoor, which has automated bike rental systems in France, Norway, Sweden and Spain.
The Post's article says that SmartBike DC is still working out some kinks: like will it be possible to park the bicycle outside of a store, go into the store, return with your purchases and not find yourself squinting into the sun and watching a teenage kid making off with your bike.
Still, it sounds like a great idea, and as I said, one that could catch on. Especially if gas prices keep going up.
Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
SmartBike: One way to combat the rising cost of fuel prices