Wednesday, November 14, 2007


So we have returned from our 2-week Normandy/Paris/NYC sojourn (with a brief stop in Cleveland to eat bad airport food). My first post is about the new public bike system we got to see in action in Paris.

They're calling it Velib', a bad french mashup pun, kind of like calling it "bikereedom." Or maybe "cycliberty" In true public transportation style, the logo is hideous:

... and the bikes themselves not too stunning either:

The bikes are, in my opinion, both ugly and slow, but this is probably a plus, as it keeps them from being stolen, and as nobody in Paris wears a helmet, a low maximum speed is pretty necessary. And they work! Each bike has an integral stand, lock, light, and basket. To check one out, you must either have a year Metro pass, or get a special card from the transportation service. Either option requires both a bank account and a physical address in Paris, which makes it difficult for anyone but commuters to get a hold of one. This is irritating if you're a tourist, but with the popularity of these things it's a necessary evil. You get your first half hour for free, with incremental charges afterwards (ramping up such that you probably wouldn't want to have one for longer than an hour and a half). You can return the bike to any stand in the city, which are easily found due to an entirely new street sign system that points the way to the nearest one. The Paris bike lane system has also been massively upgraded and expanded, many of the lanes dedicated with their own curbs.

Did I mention that these things are popular? I would estimate that more than half of the bikes I saw in Paris (and there are many) were Velib bikes. I never saw one visibly broken, never saw one being obviously misused, and 99% of the time there was at least one available bike and one available extra parking spot. While a longer term is certainly needed to give a final verdict on the success of this system, it seems to be working fantastically right now. It's making the Metro less crowded, while adding visual interest to the city and reducing carbon emissions (maybe). Oh, and bikes cannot strike. Why don't these exist anywhere else?


Anonymous said...

Die Bahn operates a similar public bike system in several cities including Berlin. Lyon has also had a public bike system for a couple of years. I believe there are other similar systems elsewhere.

It is interesting to hear about the popularity of these bikes in Paris.

Anonymous said...

It would be great to see something like this in the US to replace failed free bike programs. Maybe JC Decaux North America could be convinced to start up one in bike-theft afflicted San Francisco.