Share and share a bike

New York City is putting training wheels on a new bicycle-sharing program to demonstrate to city-dwellers that two-wheelers can be a viable form of alternative transportation. Sponsored by the Forum for Urban Design, a group of architects, designers, and planners, the five-day trial run has made 20 bikes available for free from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. for 30 minutes at a time.

Bicycle-sharing programs are already thriving in European cities like Barcelona, Spain, and Lyon, France. A program in Paris will soon make 10,000 bicyclettes available for public use.

"A ride-share program would reduce the dependency on automobiles," says David Haskell of the Forum for Urban Design. "It would be a great alternative to subways and bus services -- and a lot cheaper for the city."

Also, less smelly.

Ken looks at radical new plans for cycling in London

Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, announced today that he has asked Transport for London to examine the feasibility of bicycle hire scheme to promoting cycling in London. The Mayor recently saw at first hand the successful 'Velib' - Freedom bike - hire scheme introduced by the Mayor of Paris, which has enjoyed great success since its launch a few weeks ago.

The Mayor and Peter Hendy, the Commissioner of Transport for London, witnessed the Paris Velib scheme at first hand during the recent Tour de France.

Transport for London have been asked to look at international best practice in promoting cycling, including hire schemes like that of Paris, with a view to introducing a scheme which meets the specific needs of London. Cycling groups and other stakeholders will be consulted on the options.

A London scheme would require the support of London Boroughs, as well as the Mayor, as most London roads are controlled by the boroughs.

The Paris scheme offers 10,000 bicycles sited at 750 dedicated hire-points every 300 metres around Paris, with plans for 20,000 bikes at 1,400 hire points by the end of the year. The bikes are available at any time of the day or night and cost just about 70 pence to hire for half an hour. Theft is minimal because of the unique design of the bicycles, their highly secure parking facilities and because payment is via credit or debit card. If a bicycle is not returned the hirer is charged around £100.

The Paris scheme has been an instant success, with the distinctive Freedom Bikes now seen all around the centre of Paris.

Transport for London officials have been working with the Clearzones Partnership and central London boroughs to examine the potential for a similar scheme for some months and will be meet their opposite numbers in Paris, and other European cities, to discuss the practicalities of such schemes. Other cities with a strong record on cycling or with public cycle hire scheme include Barcelona, Lyon, Brussels, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Oslo and Copenhagen.

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, said:

‘Cycling is a clean, fast and cheap way to get around London and we have seen an 83 per cent increase in cycling since I became Mayor. I have seen the Paris Freedom Bike scheme, and discussed it with the Mayor of Paris. It clearly works and is highly popular. I have asked transport officials in London to study the Parisian and similar schemes in order to draw up proposals for a scheme which would meet the needs of London. I am sure that we can learn from the success of the Parisian and similar schemes to expand access to cycling in London.'

The Bicycle as Means of Personal Transport

The bicycle was the first affordable private transport for the masses. It was the poor man's horse and it is more valuable today, in the this era of climate change and the need to reduce our environmental footprint than ever.

The invention of the bicycle proper and especially the “mass production” of them made personal transport for the poor affordable and enabled them to get further afield for word and leisure than ever before. In fact the bike itself also became a leisure activity and many a person went on bicycle tours around the countryside on Sundays and during vacations, once they had actually arrived for the masses.

The bicycle still has a place as a means of personal private transport and not just for children. It is a viable alternative to the motor car, at least and especially around town and village. But it also has a place in the countryside for personal transportation over shorter distances. The bike also gets through were a car often cannot. This was shown by the Viet-Cong on the Ho Chi Min Path during the Viet-Nam war.

While the bicycle may not be the best means for long distance transportation this could be solved with a proper cycle policy on mass transit systems, such as trains, underground, and similar, and here ideally a carriage or two dedicated to those with cycles. This would, probably, have to mean longer trains, but so be it.

For this to be getting anywhere, however, we need to take the public transportation systems back into public ownership and the fare set at an affordable level; affordable to the poorest and not the richest.

In addition and especially we need, everywhere, networks of cycle lanes. While in some countries of Europe cycle path nigh on cover the entire country, in the UK, alas there are very few proper ones of them. This needs to change if the use of the bicycle is to become more widespread in the UK as a means of personal transportation. The current type of “cycle lanes” - now there is a joke – is entirely inappropriate as it doe not give the cyclist any safety from the traffic and all too often vehicles are parked in said cycle lanes and the cyclist has to move into the fast flowing traffic. This is especially dangerous for children and it is therefore not surprising that in the UK very few children, compared to other EU countries, actually go to school by bicycle. In addition to that the so-called cycle lanes in the UK are often just little strips here and there that end as abruptly as they started.

© M V Smith, August 2007