The Other Kind of Critical Mass

As of right now (Tuesday morning), the most e-mailed story on the NY Times website is “A New French Revolution’s Creed: Let Them Ride Bikes.”

The gist of the story is that Paris is rolling out Vélib (for “vélo,” bicycle, and “liberté,” freedom), a rental bike program similar to others that have appeared recently in European cities such as Stockholm, Vienna, Lyon, Barcelona, Brussels and Copenhagen.

Actually, my home town of Portland experimented with a free bike program about 12 years ago, but I think the program’s been more or less dormant ever since.

Anyhow, the things I find interesting about these initiatives are both that cities are finally waking up to how much better a bicycle is than a car in a dense urban area, but that if you build a system intelligently, the system will work. From the Times:

Jean-Luc Dumesnil, who is an adviser in [Paris] City Hall on cycling policy, said that while the number of bicycles on the streets increased by 50 percent in the last six years, the number of cycling accidents remained stable.

“It’s the cycling paths, but it’s also a question of critical mass,” Mr. Dumesnil said. “The more bikes there are, the more car drivers get used to them and the more care they take.”

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3 thoughts on “The Other Kind of Critical Mass

  1. Please tell me this kind of thinking/urban planning will catch on in the States!

    After the intital adjustment to weaving in and out of the madness that is urban Chinese traffic – busses, three-wheeler vans (that were cobbled together on somebody’s farm), donkey-drawn fruit carts, and more taxis than Manhattan (in a small, isolated city in Inner Mongolia, go figure) – I have fallen completely in love with biking as daily transport.

    My primary goal when I come back to the States is to find some kind of magazine gig in a city where I can keep riding instead of driving…maybe I’ll move to Paris…you don’t need to speak French there, right?

  2. The sober, long-winded answer to that one would drag in Big Oil, the auto industry, and the small fact that most American cities were designed for cars (this being a new country and all). But there are signs of hope: Michael Bloomberg wants drivers to pay a congestion fee to drive in Manhattan, the mayors of Chicago and Toronto are in some sort of race to be north america’s greenest city, etc. Then again, Toronto can’t even paint bike lanes in many place–despite having approved the project and having the money in the budget!!

    As for Paris: everyone knows that if you speak Inner Mongolese, you can learn French in, like, a month. Bonne chance!

  3. Pingback: Bikes on a Train « First Person Irregular

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