A Watch App That Finds Open Bikeshare Stations

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

If you live in the Washington, D.C., area, you’re probably familiar with Capital Bikeshare. And if you don’t, I bet the nearest American city might have something like it: A system of public bicycles available for rent, strategically placed throughout town for point-to-point trips. If you have a membership or a credit card, you can check out a bike at a kiosk, ride it to your destination and re-dock it at the nearest Bikeshare station. It’s one of my favorite things about the D.C. area.

But! There are few things more annoying than wrapping up a satisfying ride and pulling into bikeshare dock ... that is completely full.

It’s also a bummer to walk up to a station and discover that all the bikes have been taken.

There are phone apps out there, like Spotcycle, that publish bike station statuses. But pulling out a smartphone in the middle of a ride doesn’t sound particularly safe. This is a perfect app for a smartwatch, however—a quick glance at your wrist could tell you if you’re headed for an empty station or a wall of docked bicycles.

I’m a big fan of Pebble, a Kickstarter-funded smartwatch that runs an e-ink display (great for battery life!) and features an easy-to-program operating system. You can actually code apps for the watch in Javascript, the common web programming language.

Using data from Capital Bikeshare, I put together a quick app that pulls the user’s location, finds nearby bike stations and lists how many open slots they have. (Technical explanation here, code here.)

Here’s a GIF of the app in action:

I haven’t yet published the app to the Pebble store, but I’ll do that once I add a few more improvements. Nothing in the works for Apple Watches or Android products at this point, but who knows!