Tuesday, July 31, 2007

a better way of life for urban citizens?

I've observed an enormous increase in traffic during the three decades I've lived in the near suburbs of Washington DC. Studies, such as this one, show that we who live around here suffer greatly from this problem, more so that people in many other metro areas. Local jurisdictions have tried to make our lives a bit easier by promoting mass transportation alternatives and car pooling. And also through construction projects which encourage yet more congestion. Though I see increasing numbers of mopeds and other alternative means of transport, the efforts of our local advocacy groups have done little to dent the American love affair with the automobile. I wonder whether we should consider what Europeans are doing:

I read today that Paris has joined other major European cities in an innovative bike rental program that seems actually to work. Though still new, it gives promise of improving the urban environment by reducing noise, congestion, air pollution, and production of greenhouse gasses. It's a simple idea. A stub entry in Wikipedia explains:
Vélib’ (“vélo libre”, English: free bicycle) is a public bicycle rental programme in Paris, France. Starting from July 15, 2007, 20,000 bicycles are available for rental from 1,450 automated stations distributed across Paris.

The system is owned and operated by the city authorities and co-financed by the JCDecaux advertising corporation. Bike rental is free for the first half hour, then costs one to four euros for each subsequent 30-minute period. The increasing price scale is intended to keep the bikes in circulation. A credit card is required to sign up for the programme and to rent bikes.

As of 2007, similar schemes are also in effect in other European cities, including Barcelona, Brussels, Copenhagen, Lyon, Stockholm and Vienna.
A French blog called Ma ville à vélo says that Parisians used the bikes 440,000 times during the first two weeks of operation and that the system will be expanded to cover nearby suburbs.

Vélib' is the French homepage for the program. There are many news accounts, including the LA Times (Paris, the city of bikes?) and AP (Paris on two wheels).

Ma ville à vélo has this video showing the introduction of Vélib' in Paris --
Inauguration de Vélib' envoyé par mairiedeparis

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