I just spent a full week in Paris, with little if any time to get some good exercise, let alone walk around the city as I was attending an exceptional musculoskeletal ultrasound course (more on that some other day), notwithstanding the fact that I recently felt a little twinge in my calf muscle… Yet there are so many things to see. What a shame, not?
This is the part where Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë (until April 5th 2014) comes in and saves the day. Thank you Bertrand! In 2007, the city is fighting pollution, the overgrowth of cars and the rise of the angry-traffic-attitude. In a typically “un-parisian” move, he looks beyond the city to the peripheral city of Lyon and their strange idea to promote cycling in 2005: the vélo’v (vélo is French for bike) program was the first bike sharing program in France, inspired by models in Denmark and The Netherlands and had been finally accepted in the city streets after a rough start (destruction, theft, car rage, etc.). Paris was to replicate and bring it to another level. The Vélib’ (vélo, and liberté for freedom) was born and set in motion in July 2007. Today, in its 7th year, and its 4th turning a profit, it provides 14’000 bike in 1200+ stations spread across the city and its surroundings.
Here we go! I finally probably did the most physical activity in a while. Exploring Paris from La Bastille to Le Louvres and La Tour Eiffel, or from Montmartre to Notre Dame de Paris, navigating through the tiny streets of Le Marais or
Le Quartier Latin to the squeaking sound of the biggest bike sharing system west of China! Sure enough, the bikes may be grey ugly, heavy though tiny for me, but they got me to wherever I wanted to be in a flash. Ok, I did have to look for stations or a free spot to rack my bike sometimes, due to busy stations near main squares, but it was never really a problem, and one quickly knows where to find free stations.
The system works flawlessly, bike lanes are omnipresent, and even cars seem to acknowledge the right of cyclists to be on the street. A taxi driver even pulled next to me at a traffic light, as I was in his lane, kindly showing me where the bike lane was. Absolutely shocking un-cab driver attitude. The cost is very reasonable, 8 Euros for the week, with each trip free for the first 30 minutes, before additional charges come up (a feature which I realized only a few days later, unfortunately…), way cheaper than the metro, and faster.
There’s more to it, though, as the numbers show the following:
- More cyclists in the streets equal less injuries and fatalities. This is called the “safety in numbers” concept.
- More cycling in cities equals better health, reduced overall and cardiovascular mortality, as it produces more physical activity and better fitness levels.
- Active commuting helps with alertness and productivity at work, not only with reduced absenteeism.
- local shops/economies benefit from more walkers and cyclists.
Why don’t more cities have such systems? Well, there are those who believe it is only a matter of time and would agree with Lyon mayor who says: “there are two types of mayor, those who have bike sharing, and those who want it”. Then there are those, hopefully not too numerous, who would agree with Toronto mayor Rob Ford (how can anyone agree with him is another debate), when he says…hmm, which quote do I pick? Maybe better to see for yourself, he says it better. Proving Mr. Ford wrong is a good enough reason to get on our bikes and ride in our cities.