So, has anyone who reads the blog used the new Velib system in Paris yet? A new layer of public transport has been rolled out (yes, I know) onto the streets of Paris, as of last Sunday (July 15th). The Bicycle. A publicly funded scheme (familiar to some from elsewhere, such as Lyon and Amsterdam (?), if memory serves) called “Velib” where there are special bike racks all over the city. One of the (charmingly European-looking) bikes is pictured on the right. From a BBC story by Emma-Jane Kirby:
The local authority in Paris has deposited 20,000 heavy-duty bicycles in 750 or so special racks around the city and anyone who wants one simply swipes his or her ordinary travel card and pedals off wherever they want to go.
The bike does not have to be returned to the same pick-up point – you can take a bike from a rack near the Eiffel Tower, cycle to the Pantheon and leave it in the nearest Velib stand there.
This sounds great, from my point of view, you’ll not be surprised to learn! I’m finding it hard to see a downside here at all. A bit more:
The Velib scheme is aimed at people who are making short journeys.
The first half hour of pedalling time is absolutely free but, if you fail to return the bike after 30 minutes, you get charged an extra euro and the penalties go up the later you are.
(So European… penalties. They could not find another, more positive word?)
The Velib website is here. And of course it is only in French. What did you expect? (Actually, it is rather entertaining to read, all the same, since it is mostly easy-to-guess French, and knowing the context helps.)
I can’t see what’s stopping such a system from being introduced in cities in America. I think that we should start with….. Los Angeles, of course! It is one of the cities that needs it most, and it is one of the easiest places to cycle. At this point, the usual things will be pointed out:
“Cycling in traffic is a bad, dangerous thing.” Not necessarily. There’s so much to say about this, and much has been said. See an earlier post (or two) with links, here here. Most of the claims of danger are made out of ignorance, and over-simplification, frankly. In some of the stories about the Velib system, people are pointing to all their favourite stories about people getting killed by lorries, and the like. All terrible, sure, but where are all the stories about people who were killed in cars that same day, or all the people who cycled that day for whom there were no accidents at all? On a more personal level, another advantage of LA is how easy it is to find a route to where you are going by using side streets that there are few or no cars on at all. The people I know who say things about how dangerous it is to cycle in LA are always thinking of cycling along the same streets they drive on. This is due to lack of local knowledge. Most drivers just don’t know the streets. For short journeys especially, people will be able to get around on these bikes without much contact with traffic, if they choose carefully. The few times you might have to go on a major bit of road you’re not confident of – just get off the bike and walk it for a stretch (or cycle on the sidewalk – hardly anybody’s using them anyway!)
“The bikes will all be stolen.” Not necessarily. It seems that the racks have some security (I don’t know how much though), and also the bike is tied to your travel card’s id, so I presume it gives you an incentive to make sure it is returned and locked into a rack at your destination. Frankly. it’s not clear to me how bad it would be if some were stolen anyway. It is not that they are being stolen and hidden away. People will steal them and ride them… instead of driving. This is the point, right?
Now let’s see. I would start with Downtown LA, Hollywood, and West Hollywood, and the Miracle Mile and Fairfax areas, with my eye on combined use for tourists and locals alike. High visibility combined with high density to get the scheme going, so that people can see how useful a service it can be when combined with the numerous buses and the subway. After a year or so, extend it out, going South, East, and so forth.
So, who’s coming with me to the Mayor’s office to suggest the idea?
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):