Cycling? Tres chic!

October 13, 2008

By now, you may have heard that French people — Parisians in particular — are pretty much the chicest people on Earth. (Sorry, Italians and New Yorkers. Don’t worry, though; you’re awesome in your own special way.)

Thus, it may not surprise you to hear that the Parisians have spared no expense implementing a city-wide bike sharing program, which launched in summer 2007 and sufficiently upped the City of Lights’ green ante.

Inspired by the success of a similar program in Lyon, France, Paris city officials devised a plan through which cyclists can purchase riding credits at any of the 1,450 self-service rental stations, grab a bike, and go. Users then can return their wheels to any station, making one-way trips a breeze (and, incidentally, these short bike jaunts outpace any other form of transport in Paris, according to a city-commissioned study).

The signature bikes, complete with bells and baskets (de rigeur en Paris!), are called Vélib’, a portmanteau of velo and liberte (liberty). The cost? About $1.30 USD/day. The first 30 minutes are free; after that, cyclists pay by the hour. In the first year alone, Parisians made 27.5 million Vélib’ trips.

With motor traffic congestion and pollution on the rise, a bike sharing program sounds positively brilliante! While approximately 3,000 of the 20,600 bikes have gone missing, the program is nonetheless a good investment in the health of both the city’s inhabitants and air quality.

I remember that my former town of Olympia, Wash., once played host to a fleet of shared bikes, which were free to use. And which were hot pink and designed for eight-year-olds. But they were shared, up until they all disappeared. (Likely suspects: a rabid pack of wheel-less eight-year-olds.)

Could a program like this work in your city? Seattle is kinda hilly, so maybe we’d need 21-speeds. Would your hometown people get out and ride, do you think?