Big City Biking!

I seem to remember that Amsterdam had an idea to distribute 'free' bicycles some years ago. They would be painted white and the idea behind them was that you could find one of these bikes in the city and borrow it - then, when you were finished you'd leave it for someone else to take from there. I can't seem to find if this idea was ever started properly - and if it was started, what happened to it. I would like to think I remember that there was a story about all the bikes being stolen and repainted or something like that! But, like I said - I can't remember.

I thought of this because I was just reading something about Paris and the system which the city introduced about a year and a half ago called Velib. If you haven't heard of Velib, then the idea goes something like this: Thousands of bikes are displayed at specific Kiosks/Stations around the center of Paris, you can swipe a travel card and take one - the first half an hour is basically free and any time after that is charged at a very reasonable rate - something like 1 Euro. I loved the idea that cities around the world are trying to come up with clever ideas to get people away from cars. I was intrigued mostly because, of course, I always equate anything super stylish with the Parisian sensibility. But, like most people initially, I thought this fun and super-eco idea was doomed to failure because, humans being generally humans, the bikes would start to be stolen, or trashed, or sold off... etc. But, Velib seemed different - the people behind the idea looked as though they thought of all of these potential problems beforehand. Hence, the sleek dual-gender
design with its destinctive shape, the system of returning the bikes to established stations, and the swiping of cards, to name a few.

When the bikes first came into use in the Summer of 2007 it was a huge success. Estimates are now that millions of people have used the bikes which supposedly number about 20,000. The system was user friendly and efficient, people thought they were cool, and availability was easy. Furthermore, many other cities around the globe started toying with idea - places as diverse as Chicago, Seoul, Washington DC, San Francisco, London, and Singapore. I even read that Paris, and a city in Australia (can't remember which one!), were considering the idea of offering electric vehicles in the same sort of structure - borrow and pay a small fee, return the car to a station and leave it. Slowly but sure, our major cities would be awash with bicyclists instead of cars !!! The air would be cleaner, and people would be healthier for it. I am such an optimist!

Even in our neck of the woods, where riding a bike is not something you see every day, considering everything is so spread out, the local council converted an old railway line used at the turn of the 19th/20th Century into a very nice bike path. It isn't very convenient for daily errands, unless you live on it or near it (which we don't) - but at least it is an invitation to get out there and get some exercise. The kids love it, and it is very convenient for teaching our oldest how to ride a bike in safety.

But, I digress! So, following up on the latest news from Velib (or the BBC rather) - the system has hit some snags... or the most obvious snag: people have been stealing the bikes or just plain trashing them, so much so that the company that started the idea is suggesting it can not continue with that much vandalism and loss. I am pretty hopeful that somebody will come up with an idea for better keeping track of the bikes, since that seems like the biggest problem. I'd hate to see such a wonderful idea go bust!

But, there you go - a BIG salute to people who are trying to find ideas to make our lives more accessible - better for the environment and simpler! So, I just thought I'd share the idea with you, in case you might not have heard of it..... and perhaps it will give you ammunition to think of something that might help your community in much the same way. You never know, right? Next thing you know, every US city could soon be like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or Beijing! Bikes everywhere.......!!! Fingers Crossed.


lesley said...

I love the idea of the bike share... or even electric cars! Hopefully they will figure out the vandalism problem.

Anonymous said...

" het witte fietsen plan" was from just several years ago : ) "the seventies" and yes it got abandonned while bikes where stolen , dumped in the canals or just repainted.. how creative we are the dutch : )

Now paris , Velib is fantastic, it is funny to see people who hardly ever biked climb on these bikes.. but OOOHHH soo dangerous , last year already 5 people died , most of them unluckily cause they stood at the wrong angle of a big bus or trucK .. something which the trucks and busses should have mirrors for and as a frequent biker you just know that you must position yourself visible for any busses or truck actually for anybody..

anyhow driving your bike in Paris is a bit scary while cars wont not watch out for you , you are just a mere nuissance to them and there as a concurrent so they will push you whenever you can .. the only thing to survive the concrete jungle of paris is to be utterly kind and elegant.. bike in a dress and a pair of heels : ) and just keep breathing, smiling and relax..

Than again you have the people who rent their velibs and you have the people who own a bike : ) BIG diffference.. yep even on bikes there are snobs.. this is still France ..

I got "dress"ed and ready to ride my bike to " le marrais" to do some shoe shopping!! x manon

sylvie said...

We have recently launch our own bike network in montreal called bixi http://www.bixi.ca/fr/accueil/.
I am very proud....and hope it works!!! It will soon pour into other big cities I`m sure.

Anonymous said...

Wow, how beautiful Montreal would be to ride around in! We live near LA and biking is a BIG thing for exercising - but you rarely ride your bike on the streets! I can relate to the problem of the average Parisian driver - but imagine in Rome! Katy in Santa Monica,CA

karen said...

I love this post! The idea of biking through a big city is quite wonderful, but as mentioned above there is a difference with an experienced biker.

While living in London I was going to get a bike but my friends dissuaded me saying I would get hit by a bus... a few weeks later I got hit by a bus standing at a bus stop! So, really, anything can be dangerous!!

The Derby's said...

Hey there...

recently moved from Copenhagen and the borrow a bike idea has been blooming there for quite some time now. The bikes have been made so that it is only comfortable to bike on it for a certain distance, ie not proper air pumped wheels but some rubber construction that works really well for a good 30 min trip, but if you get the idea of stealing one and use it for getting to work...not so comfy... I love this idea and I am hoping it is still doing well over in wonderful Copenhagen.