When I was a kid, riding a bike meant circling the block or riding a couple miles to my grandmother’s house. No one in my small Midwestern community traveled by bike. Despite a lack of cycling commuter models, there are days when the idea of biking to and from the MU campus seems like it would be a delight.
A commuter's bike in Paris.
I see many Columbians make the trek to campus on bike each day — some on the MKT trail and others on the roadways. For some it’s an effort to be more environmentally conscious; others like the exercise. In France and much of Europe, cycling has been a part of the culture for years.
Part of the reason for my unease with cycling is that there aren’t ideal routes for cyclists in this Midwestern city. Granted, Columbia has done plenty right when it comes to helping cyclists negotiate the roadways with their peers in motor vehicles. Thanks to the folks at GetAbout Columbia, there are 125 miles of bikeways, pedways and new sidewalks in the city. Twenty-three miles of city streets are marked with bike lanes; and there are 900 new bicycle parking spots downtown.
Another city that loves its bicycles is Paris, at least that’s what Parisian Olivier Magny writes on his blog. Not only does riding a bike provide a faster means of transportation than driving, it’s also green.
And green is good. Good for the environment and good for you.
Paris has more than 230 miles or 371 kilometers of cycling lanes. But, apparently there are some tensions between the cyclists and motorists. The same is true in Columbia since the City Council passed a bike harassment ordinance earlier this summer.
There is a clear hierarchy in Parisian bicycle riders. Riding a mountain bike is pitiful (do you think this is a sport?). Riding a Velib is ok (yet uncomfortable). Riding a ˜vélo hollandais’ takes you to the pantheon of Parisian bicycle riding.
The public-bike rental system, called Velib, has gained popularity among Parisians. The self-service system debuted in 2007, with the idea that residents could pick up or drop off a bike from the locations that best suit their needs. There were more than 750 locations in the city – and each Velib station offers a meter for purchasing the passes, which are sold by the hour, day or week.
A Velib bike rental station in Paris.
However, there have been problems with the Velib system. Vandals are stealing the bikes, or returning them damaged. NPR reporter Eleanor Beardsley reported on the problem in early August.
Other European cities from Germany to Spain also have public bike rental systems. And so does Montreal. Some American cities are thinking about giving the bike rental system a try.
I think a public bike rental system could be an interesting concept to adopt here. Cyclists: Would it work in Columbia? Could we initiate a public bike rental system for our community? What would make it a success?
Since I don’t even own a bike, I can’t say what riding the streets of Columbia is like. Frankly, the motorists scare me when I’m in my car, so I’m likely to be even more afraid on a bike.
And, since I’ve never been to France, I can’t say how well the Velib program is working there. But here’s how Velib works from people who use it.
I like the rental system idea for a couple of reasons:
1. It’s supposed to reduce congestion in public transit and follow the city’s traffic cycles.
2. It encourages people to get outdoors and to get exercise, even if they don’t think that’s what they’re doing.
3. It’s simple and not really bureaucratic.
I don’t have the answers for whether this might work in America — the nation where we seem fairly dependent on our automobiles — but I’d certainly give it a try. Maybe it would take a younger generation of cyclists to make it popular here. What do you think?