Saturday, September 22, 2007

French Bikerevolution coming to America soon.

In case you’re planning a visit to Paris, you should know about this other Revolution which has taken the city by storm: the Velorution (‘bikerevolution’) and it might export.

In the last five years, the city of Paris has been building bike paths all over town, widening sidewalks and replacing car lanes with bike and bus corridors. That almost caused a revolution of its own with angry drivers (although most of them were from out of Paris).

Then last July, the mayor launched an ambitious program called “Velib’” (a blending of the words blending together "vélo" (bike) and "liberté" (liberty). The best part is that city doesn’t give a penny to build them or for its maintenance.

It is also really cheap to use as long as you don’t do it for long which is why they have built many stations across the city (the idea being to keep the bikes in rotation):

The first half-hour is free, with a charge of about $1.50 for each 30 minutes thereafter, a one-day pass for Vélib' costs €1 ($1.40) a weekly pass costs €5 ($7.00) and an annual subscription costs €29 with no additional charge as long as each ride lasts less than 30 minutes (with a €150 - $211 – as security deposit).

10,000 bikes have been installed at 750 docking stations all over the city and the number of stations is supposed to double within the next year – so that there should be a station every 300 meters (330 yards)

It has been a tremendous success: 4 million people have been using the bikes, that’s more than 100,000 rides a day and Paris' streets are swarming with bikers now, from tourists who are enjoying the city on two wheels, to businessmen and businesswomen in suits who are commuting.

Interestingly, two weeks ago, the mayor of Chicago came to Paris for a visit and he expressed interest in importing Vélib' during a recent visit to Paris. A similar cycling scheme is supposed to be launched in Washington D.C. next month.

[Chicago Mayor Richard Daley tests out a Velib bicycle after leaving Paris Town Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 11]

Velib’ has surpassed all expectations and the scheme might even run the risk of being a victim of its own success: in some stations, it is sometimes hard to find a place to dock your bike or find one to ride. The system probably needs to be broken in.

But really, it’s been great! Paris is much more green and bike-friendly even if a lot remains to be done. I have been a biker myself for years and life for us has greatly improved in the last few years. Most Parisians are very happy about the changes, even if people who live outside the city may be annoyed. There’s little doubt that the current mayor, Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe will be re-elected next year.

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