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Saturday, February 09, 2008

France shows the way for transport sanity

From Web in France Magazine, 02.08.08:

France’s innovative transport concepts fight traffic and strikes, making Paris a heaven on wheels
Americans as a whole have not traditionally looked to France as a country of innovation. But transport has been an exception to this rule, with the TGV high speed train and the Paris metro, long seen as models in their industries, as well as the Smart Car, the squat ultra-compact that debuted in France and can now be seen on American streets.

But now in France, where traffic is a national headaches and transport and taxi strikes seem to hit as regularly as the seasons, people have taken innovation into their own hands. As a result, there is no country in the world where there are more unorthodox ways of getting around than in France, and in particular, Paris.

Just last summer, the city of Paris debuted a new self-service bicycle transit system called Velib’. The name is a combination of the French slang word for bicycle ("velo") and "liberte". As the name suggests, Velib’ gives people in Paris more freedom to help themselves get around the city.

Parisians and visitors alike can now pick up and drop off comfortable, well-maintained bicycles throughout the city. In Paris a 10,648 bikes were made available at 750 locations at the operation’s inception. By the end of 2007, Velib’ stations dotted Paris approximately every 900 feet for a total of 1,451 locations and 20,600 bikes. (Read more.)
As an avowed francophile, I take delight in the transport innovation percolating in France, especially the world's fastest rail trains and the hugely successful community bike program Vélib'. I was initially skeptical about Vélib' when it launched last summer.

Similar bike-sharing programs have often failed, mostly because of an incremental approach: "We'll put out 500 bikes...and if that succeeds, we'll add more." Such gradualism doesn't offer the density and convenience needed to make bike-sharing truly effective. To its great credit, Paris made a full-bore commitment to Vélib', creating a dense system of stations that has now made bike-sharing a popular part of the city's transportation fabric.

In the SUV-dependent U.S. we suffer for lack of such innovative leadership, which claims lack of resources as an excuse for maintenance of the status quo. Meanwhile we are approaching the fifth anniversary of a wasteful war that has squandered billions that might otherwise have funded real social and environmental improvement. The problem isn't scarcity of resources; it's a scarcity of vision.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Rethinking streets in Paris, Streetfilms
Visit: More love for Paris Vélib, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: YouTube: video en français
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

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