Capital Bikeshare
James Schwartz/Flickr

Seven days a week Larry Taylor’s watch goes off at 5 a.m. The first thing he grabs is his tennis shoes. He lays them on the ground, rests his knees atop of them and prays.

Then, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Taylor heads out for a run.

Taylor is a member of Clean and Sober Streets’ running team, one of five in the District created by Back on My Feet (BoMF), a nonprofit that aims to provide independence, confidence, and self-sufficiency to those experiencing homelessness and overcoming addiction through running.

Besides running, Taylor recently added another form of exercise to his routine: bicycling. He is one of 10 runners selected to participate in a pilot program that offers bike sharing to the homeless, through a partnership formed by BoMF and Capital Bikeshare.

“As soon as I get to the bike I start feeling better because of the fact that the bike is so convenient,” said Taylor, who recently celebrated one year of sobriety. “And it teaches me to be responsible. Having those bikes you have to be responsible because bikes are very important tools.”

Taylor is not alone in his appreciation of bikes. Capital Bikeshare, a regional bikesharing system launched two years ago through a collaboration between Washington, D.C. and Arlington County, Va. is run according to a model that is growing in popularity across the country and the world. Such programs promote bicycle transit as a sensible alternative to buses, trains and private vehicles. helping to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution in urban areas. And bikes are low cost. That’s an added bonus for budget-minded commuters. In October, 2011, BoMF approached Bikeshare with the idea that the bikes might be a boon for the homeless as well.

“It just seemed like a natural fit,” said Gretchen Gates, the Director of Communications and Corporate Relations for BoMF.

Officials at Bikeshare agreed.

“It’s our primary objective to get more people biking in the city,” said Josh Moskowitz, a project manager with Bikeshare. “That is part of our mission.”

An annual membership with Bikeshare costs $75, but the pilot program allows the participants to obtain discounted memberships at $50 with the use of financial aid, aid that must be earned.

BoMF does not provide food nor shelter, but a community among the runners, which allows them to develop values such as leadership, teamwork, and disciple. The four-to-six month program is organized like a staircase; members must progress through certain steps to advance.

If a runner maintains a 90 percent attendance rate for morning runs after 30 days, he or she will move on to a new phase of the program that offers job training, education, housing opportunities and perhaps, even the use of a cheerful, bright red bike.

The pilot program began on March 22, 2012 and the future looks promising.

According to Gates the ten riders have embraced their memberships and have been using the bikes avidly. Taylor said he uses the bikes every day and has tallied 97.53 miles. Dave Withers, 53 , is the program’s top rider with 136.55 miles and owns the distinction of haveing rented a bike 246 times in one month.

“I didn’t know it was 246,” said Withers with surprise.“But you know what, I’m kind of proud of that.”
Gates is also very pleased.

“People are super excited to use the Bikeshare so we do have plans to expand to an additional ten member in our program,” said Gates. Members use the bikes to reach a variety of destinations such as stores, 12-step recovery meetings, potential job interviews, appointments and school classes. Wherever they go, there is an added bonus, notes Taylor.

“The most important reason I use those bikes is for health,” said Taylor, 54, after an early Friday morning run.

And much like those morning runs have helped Taylor reclaim his life, so has the use of the Bikeshare bikes.

“It’s all about the bikes,” said Taylor with a smile. “It’s all about the bikes.”