I went to Paul DeMaio's bike-sharing presentation about what Arlington is looking into. In addition there has been a lot of press, and local talk about bike sharing so this is going to be a long post. You might want to fill your coffee mug now.
Twelve weeks after the introduction of the Vélib, 15,000 bikes have been put into service at more than 1,000 stations. In that time Vélibiens (or Vélibeurs or perhaps Vélibistes) have checked out bicycles almost six million times and ridden them an estimated 7.5 million miles.
The article talks about how easy it is for tourists to use the system.
Anyone, even fresh-off-the-plane Americans, can stroll over, swipe a credit card and ride away on a sturdy, well-maintained three-speed bike, a “vélo” in French.
You swipe a credit card in a kiosk that is located beside a row of parked bikes and purchase a one-day, one-week or one-year subscription. (The system also takes a 150-euro deposit authorization to ensure the bike's safe return.) The machine prints out a card with your code number and you enter a personal password. You tap in this code and password to unlock a bike and ride off.
When you've reached your destination, you look for the nearest Vélib station, click your bike into an empty dock, watch a light change from yellow to green to acknowledge that you've returned your bike, and you're done. The first half-hour is free, after that the cost is 1 euro, or about $1.45, for the second half-hour, 2 euros for the third half-hour and 4 euros for each half hour after that.
It would be nice if our regional systems(more on that later) were as easy for tourists to use, but it's more important that it be easy for residents to use. Tourists may be better served by Bike the Sites.
The article is mostly a glowing review of the system, saying it's created a cult, ensured political victory for the city's mayor and, in short, changed a city.
Patrick Allin, 38, an enthusiastic Parisian who was picking up a bike in Saint Germain, said the bikes are a great way to get people talking. "We are no longer all alone in our cars -- we are sharing," he said. "It's really changed the atmosphere here; people chat at the stations and even at traffic lights."
A sentiment backed up by another article I linked to before about how people are sharing more than bikes.
“It’s the perfect pickup,” said Florian, a 23-year-old graduate student who was pedalling on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. “You exchange glances waiting at a light, you help her dock the bike back on to its stand and one thing leads to another.”
Stickers have begun appearing on rear mudguards saying “Love begins here”.
The same article does point to an anti-velib crowd.
Frustrated 4x4 drivers and other resistants are fighting them in anti-Vélib’ blogs and internet sites. The best known, a Facebook group with more than 400 members, is called “I ran over a Vélib” (J’ai écrasé un Vélib’). Vélib’-haters record their exploits there. “The other day, I drove over the foot of a guy on a bike,” wrote Camille Sastre on September 18. “It did me a world of good. He crossed on a red light without looking, pulling out from in front of a bus.”
The Post followed up the Times article with it's own "How does Velib work for tourists?" story. [Methinks a lot of travel writers saw Velib as a way to finagle a trip to France. Très intelligent]
Paris is surprisingly cycle-friendly, and bicycling is statistically the second-least-dangerous way to get around the city (after riding a bus). Most large roads have bike lanes, and since the introduction of the Velibs, many cyclists have noted that drivers have become more conscious of their presence.
That would be a nice side effect for D.C. The Post article makes Velib seem confusing to use, but I don't get that feel from what I've read. Nonetheless, they think it's worth it, even if Americans have trouble.
A major drawback for U.S. visitors is that you can sign up only with a smart-chip Visa card or an American Express card, a limitation that will leave a lot of Americans out in the cold. However, one card can be used to sign up several individuals. JCDecaux, the company running the system, says it hopes this problem will be resolved in the near future.
It appears red light running is not a uniquely American behavior...
when in Paris, do not cycle as the Parisians do: Don't run red lights, and stay off the sidewalks.
The Paris system recently emerged as a hero during the city's transit strike (Rail Strike? Just Bike.)
strike-hardened Parisians can adjust to alternative forms of transportation with lightning speed. There was the citywide Velib bike-sharing program, for instance, although all 20,000 bikes were gone within hours on Thursday.
[I'm writing this post before Halloween, so I'm not sure if the D.C. taxi strike will make for a lot of two wheeled Trick of Treating].
Paris is getting all of the attention but they weren't the first to introduce what Paul calls "third generation bike sharing". That was Copenhagen.
Copenhagen is often cited as a climate pioneer among European cities.
In 1995, the city became one of the first European capitals to introduce a public bicycle service that lets people pick up and return bikes at dozens of stations citywide for a small fee. Similar initiatives have since taken root in Paris and several other European cities.
Next, Copenhagen plans to spend about $38 million on various initiatives to get more residents to use bicycles instead of cars.
All of this leads us back home to the D.C. area where D.C., Arlington and Alexandria are all hoping to add bike sharing. D.C., which is actually an American pioneer on this, will go first very soon.
"We hope to have it fully up and running by spring," says Jim Sebastian, who manages the District's bike and pedestrian programs. D.C. will start with 100 bikes in four kiosks; Paris has 15,000 bikes. "We hope to expand to the Paris level."
The level of political momentum in making Washington more safe and accommodating to bikes is at an all-time high. We have a mayor who races around on two wheels at lunchtime to practice for triathlons; City Administrator Dan Tangherlini is a regular bike rider; Planning Director Harriet Tregoning traded in her official parking spot to stash bikes; and Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells' Bike Parking Bill is making its way through City Council.
"The stars are lining up for us," says Eric Gilliland, executive director with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
The first four kiosks will go up in a few weeks in Shaw, Chinatown, Foggy Bottom and U Street. Eastern Market and Adams Morgan will be next. [Update: I've been told these locations are not correct, but I don't know what the correct locations are]. DDOT hopes to have 10 bike rental kiosks up and running in the near future. I had thought it would be ten kiosks to start with (and in downtown), but then I also thought it would start sooner since it was first announced over two years ago.
It will be a little harder to use than Paris' since you can't sign up at the kiosk and you have to have a special card.
"You go to a Web site, sign up, get a card, swipe it at the kiosk, rent a bike and ride across town for about $1. At this point it's not for commuters but for utilitarian trips around town."
I have been told that the first half hour will be free, which is very important for success in my mind (so is more kiosks, but we'll have to see how it goes). In Paris by the way, you can check out a bike, return it within 30 minutes, wait 2 minutes and then check out another bike for a new free half hour. Chain biking. That makes it free transit.
Unfortunately, D.C. and Arlington are not planning to use the same system. D.C. will use a system like Velib, utilizing kiosks. Arlington is investigating Call a Bike - but hasn't made any final decisions yet. D.C. and Arlington plan to meet to discuss a common system and Alexandria would like to do whatever Arlington decides on.
With Call-a-bike (pictured at left), bikes can be left anywhere. You lock it up to a street sign or bike rack, text that you're done and you're on your way. The bike's have GPS so the city knows where they are. You can even call to find one. To unlock it you call the number on the side and you're given the unlock code.The advantages of Call-A-Bike are that the bikes are $400 a piece (as opposed to D.C.'s which cost $2000 each) and you can park bikes anywhere - even maybe in D.C. The down side is you can't count on a bike being where you need it when you need it.
Arlington doesn't allow advertising in the public space so they can't pay for it with ads the way D.C. and Paris do. [Personally, I don't like combining the two deals. Selling the ad space for the most money should be one deal. Hire the best bike sharing company using public money should be the other. But why let an advertising company run your bike sharing program? Are they really interested in making the program work?] Barcelona bought it's system, so Arlington might do the same.
Neither program will provide helmets (none of the European systems do) and they'll be limited to people over 18. Frankly, sharing helmets would be a little gross and possibly a public health issue.
The final issue to deal with is "bike pooling", the tendency of bikes to pool at the bottom of hills due to people wanting to bike down hill more than they want to bike uphill. In some cities, employees drive around gathering bikes from popular drop spots, throwing them in a truck and driving them to popular pick up spots. A better method would be to use economic incentives. Charge people extra to drop at certain popular drop spots and less to park at others. Possibly even giving people a credit for parking their bike up hill (if needed).