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On July 15, 2007 Paris debuted the world's largest self-service "bicycle transit system" called Vélib outdoing previously designed bike share programs. Vélib is a balance of scale and functionality, clocking in with more than 20,000 bikes, and 1,451 docking stations, which are never more than 1,000 feet apart. As a result, Vélib is effectively a new form of public transportation that has generated more than 25 million new bicycle trips in its first year, 10% of which substitute former car trips.Today the program celebrates its first anniversary. And, throughout the year cities across the globe have kept a close eye on the progress of this environmentally-friendly public transportation mode. Overall, bike-share programs have proven to increase public transportation options at a relatively low cost to the city. Any registered user can "borrow" a bike from a station for a nominal fee and return it to any other station in the system. In Paris, Vélib has saved the city 10 million km in car trips, roughly equal to $10 million in savings. With 200,000 Parisians paying the city $50 each for an annual Velib pass, this has yielded an additional $10 million in revenues. Beyond economics, Paris has seen tremendous traffic calming and air quality benefits from this public bicycle system. Here in the States, a bike share program is about to kick off in Washington DC, and Chicago and San Francisco are in the process of implementation as well. Last week The New York City Department of Transportation announced its plans to examine the possibility of creating a bike share program. In April, I had the chance to visit Paris with Transportation Alternatives' Caroline Samponaro to learn about Vélib. Check out this video to get a picture of it yourself. Oh, and Happy Birthday Vélib!

<blockquote class="_text"> [music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Speaker:</cite> [0:19] Velib is part of Paris now. It's part of the city now. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Eric Britton:</cite> [0:22] What's interesting about the public bicycle systems is that they have started to have a renaissance in the last three or four years which corresponds exactly to our interest and our commitment to doing something about global warming and they are something that can be realized in a city in a very short period of time. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_3_text"> <cite class="speaker_3" >Sky Orndoff:</cite> [0:38] You get half an hour of free bike usage per time you check out a bike. That's unlimited per day so you can have as many free half hours as you want. You just have to go check your bike back in. [musical interlude] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_3_text"> <cite class="speaker_3" >Thomas Valeau:</cite> [1:07] Here you are in the heart of the biggest system in the world, with 1,451 stations, 20,600 bicycles, more than 3,000,000 subscribers. [musical interlude] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_4_text"> <cite class="speaker_4" >Eric Britton:</cite> [1:27] I want a Velib ticket. Insert my card. And we find ourselves a bike. We first of all, we make sure that the tires are OK. See if the seat works. Bring it up, and we take our Velib card, we just flash it over, one, two, three, and off we go. [musical interlude] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_5_text"> <cite class="speaker_5" >Didier Couval:</cite> [1:57] In Paris we had around 200 kilometers of cycle network in 2001 and in 2007 we have already 400 kilometers so that we doubled the length of the network. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_6_text"> <cite class="speaker_6" >Celine Lepault:</cite> [speaking French] [2:16] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_5_text"> <cite class="speaker_5" >Didier Couval:</cite> [2:28] Around 30 percent of the traffic of bicycle is made by Velib. It was a good way to demonstrate that it could be possible to ride on bicycle in a big a city like Paris. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_6_text"> <cite class="speaker_6" >Celine Lepault:</cite> [speaking French] [2:45] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_7_text"> <cite class="speaker_7" >Norma Mashaal:</cite> [2:52] Velib has convinced a lot of people that cycling in Paris is not that dangerous. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_8_text"> <cite class="speaker_8" >Speaker:</cite> [2:59] I'm a new bike rider. I didn't. I just took the subway. It's very practical. I guess a car is not an option in Paris because there's literally no space to park. Velib, it's easier than having a bike yourself because having the bike at home means that I have to keep it inside the apartment. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_9_text"> <cite class="speaker_9" >Speaker:</cite> [3:16] We have to go to Republic. It's 10 minutes by bike but if you have to take the metro you have to take a bus, then take another metro and then it's maybe half an hour. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_10_text"> <cite class="speaker_10" >Speaker:</cite> [3:26] What happens now is you have a day, you have your Velib card. You say, "Oh, I have to get an errand there and then there are two stations that I have to go through to go to another place." You don't do it anymore. You've just got Velib. You take it. Do your errands. It's very, very easy. [musical interlude] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_3_text"> <cite class="speaker_3" >Eric Britton:</cite> [3:52] You cannot start a system with 20 stations in such a big city like New York. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_11_text"> <cite class="speaker_11" >Sky Orndoff:</cite> [3:59] You have to go big enough to where it's at least one bike per 200 residents. I think that's a bare minimum for the good function of the system. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_5_text"> <cite class="speaker_5" >Didier Couval:</cite> [4:08] Cities who made too small organization and too small network don't have real success. For example, in France in Rhine, the metric of public bicycle is not really efficient because when you have nothing after a station, nothing after bicycle, the people don't use it. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_12_text"> <cite class="speaker_12" >Pierre Eric Spitz:</cite> [4:30] If you want to borrow a bike and go somewhere, you have to put it back in a place very near where you go. If you have to walk very far to put your bike back in a station, that won't work. Thomas Valeau: [4:44] The network of Velib stations is built according to the model chain with another transportation means.</p><p>Caroline Samponaro: [4:54] The best part about Velib is really a combination of things. One is the number of bikes, the number of stations, and the way that it interacts with public transit that already exists in Paris. So effectively it becomes just another form of public transportation.</p><p>[5:10] You can see at this station you can ride along the protected bike lane. You see a Velib stop. You park your bike. You get on the metro and go to your next destination. Seamless. It's easy. It's fun. What's better than having a public bike be a part of your public transportation system?</p><p>[traffic noise] </p><p>Speaker: [5:33] We take the metro, I think, because I think it's very convenient, but it's very pleasant to ride when the sun is shining.</p><p>Speaker: [speaking French] [5:44]</p><p>Speaker: [speaking French] [5:45]</p><p>Celine Lepault: [speaking French] [5:50]</p><p>Speaker: [6:18] After a year or so people know how to use the stations. But if you have tourists or stuff like that, they don't know. I always notice that people, you know, stop and help them.</p><p>Eric Britton: [6:30] There was only four months of time to build the actual system itself in order to have it online by the 15th of July, 2007. What's wrong with it? Well, again, everybody says the same thing. First of all they say, "There are bicycles that are not working in the system, that there are problems with the tires, there are problems with the chains, the brakes are not always perfectly adjusted." Yes. Yes. But this is the exception and not the rule. But there are people by nature of their very personalities only see the things that don't work.</p><p>Celine Lepault: [speaking French] [7:05]</p><p>Eric Britton: [7:26] We calculate that for every kilometer of car traffic they're able to remove from the city, you save a dollar. So if you take a look at the fact that 5, or 10 percent of all Velib trips replace what were formerly car trips, I think the latest number is around 3,000,000 trips over the course of the last eight and a half months. That's 300,000 car trips, average trip length of five kilometers. Multiply that by a dollar per kilometer and you've got a big number there. So we're already saving millions of dollars through the introduction of this system, and we're just starting.</p><p>[musical interlude] </p><p>Eric Britton: [8:10] Just about everybody loves it.</p><p>[music] </p><p>[8:11] </blockquote> <br/><br/>
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  • lrask

    what about helmets? how many ghost bikes are there in paris?

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/trorb Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Call me a dope, but now I know the origin of the word Velib.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/grenavitar Fritz

    No helmets with the bikes--bring your own if you want. But, I can say that riding Velib in Prais I felt far safer than riding in Philly or Baltimore... except for when I decided to circle the Place de la Concorde with the cars (imagine Philly City Hall without traffic lanes). I lived in the far north of Paris and there was a protected bike lane all the way to the center of Paris where there is good protected bike coverage too. I rode during the day and at night. Even in Montmartre where there weren't many bike lanes I felt safe because traffic was relatively low. I think Paris has done a good job of putting in separated lanes where there is traffic making the 'need' for helmets much less. But, I fall firmly on the side of "wear a helmet if you want to, but a mass biking system will only happen when people don't feel they need to wear helmets." Also, for statistics, I know that France as a whole has far fewer bike accidents per ride than the U.S. Not sure I can compare Paris to any other city. I know John Pucher (http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/) had some statistics about it.

  • http://anal0g.org Jared Burke

    Great video. I'm a huge fan of the helmet cam. I think you should produce a bicycle version of C'était un Rendez-vous next time you're in Paris. :)

  • Eric Mankin

    What a great video! I tried bike sharing in Vienna, which is a much smaller system, but it seems great. Looking forward to using it in the USA!

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Elizabeth Press

    Well Clarence, velib comes directly from the words velo (Bicycle) + liberte (Freedom). I tried to show this in the intro of the video. As for the helmet question lrask - maybe this is just something you want to work on inventing? Self-service bikes might work well with self-service helmets...whatever it is, I really hope those cities who are considering public bike programs get creative with the helmet question instead of using it as an easy excuse.

  • http://www.dft.gov.uk/itwmc Richard Evans

    Great video, will circulate. As for helmets, just take a look at http://www.cyclehelmets.org/ then make your own mind up!

  • http://amsterdamize.wordpress.com amsterdamize

    I'm sure people will take offense, but I'm getting extremely tired of the helmet issue. Stop mirroring the US situation to bicycle friendly countries and cities elsewhere, educate yourself (thanks Elizabeth, now I don't have to post that link) and try to liberate yourself from the 'cycling is dangerous' mindset.

    It's really remarkable what the Velib' program has accomplished in just one year. And really, Parisiens were hardly overall friendly to the idea of giving up space to the bicycle. Anything is possible if there's will and sustained policy/planning. I'd know, I'm from Amsterdam.


  • Adam

    While I feel a bit safer wearing a helmet I know it won't save me if a truck runs me over. Helmets provide minimal protection in minor incidents. Most cyclist ending up in ERs have broken spines, necks, crushed bones, burst internal organs. The problem in USA is not "not wearing a helmet" but it's "not having safe space for cycling" and "not enough punishment for drivers for hurting cyclists and pedestrians".


  • Karl

    So I saw this video while waiting for the final senate vote on healthcare here in teh USA last week! I missed most of the vote!

    These racks deserve greater variety including electric augmentation of the drive train that the rack could recharge. Additional cargo, comfort suspensions, are all the result of a few hundred bucks extra per bike. If your nto having to take the bike upstairs, on board transit etc., it iwaying more doesn't matter.

    AS to how much muscling a user must provide trhat is up to the owner of the bike. Unless you have a dr. say you can't pedal at all you can require justu as much peddle energy from users. But lower pressure tires that have less maintenance etc. drawbacks and travel at least as fast with no more effort could have this project having grown far more in now It's fourth Calendars Eve!

    The point o fsharing is that it iallows greater capital investment for a lower user cost/contribution! Instead we see these program getting real dogs insuering there marginalityu and largely amusement value despite the "big number" claimed.

    Of course I love the video. It's a project that needs no subsidy if it gets improved for other cities.

    As to the helmet issue the link is appreciated and if you appreciate the truth regarding them then recognise a little more discipline in respectin gthe facts concerning power at least assisted ultralight (no more about approaching body weight of passenger at most!) vehicles for cities!

    Imagine for example what bike only boulevards would cost if nto subsidised by cars compared to faster bike roads- yes this means accepting the premise that greater adoption would require more then two, GASP!, lanes devoted soley to nonpedestrian/car use! At that point additional lanes are very costly and can be avoided entirely by speeding up the 'bikes' a bit. 20 something MPH with very consistent acceleration depaves accomidations for noncars more then free breakfast bars several times a week can hope to.

    Adam, some 15 months ago, seeks safe space- I say yeah, but an affordable, sustainable amount should be sought- that means openin gour minds to modern amenities like sharing the chain with a computer brain and maybe even some compressed methane out of a fiber tank if batteries are not ready yet.

    So to recap- bikes need not be speed segregrated, maximum speeds can be lowered, and minimums imposed to make for less congestion and greater sharing of paths. It is the helmet or not issue generalised. The car is a cancerous helmet. More green lights allows lower peek speeds to shorten times spent commuting. Maintaing peek cruising speeds requires most commuters either ride tandem bikes or share there two wheels with a nonhuman form robot within the frame. Doing so allows for tolerance of greater turbulence, safer riding positions.

    Our present day bikes use the same wheel to stop with that they use to coast on! Like cars do. Bikes can be so much safer then cars given there lower mass. Adding additional features to them is so much more possible then with cars. It is cars that are largely all the same because of there budget busting scale.

    With bikes we can share, we can invest and maximise life cycle costs instead of just getting by as cheaply as possible up front.

    Shared bikes should b eotherwise unaffordable to own privately. They should represent the very best modern science has to offer not throwback to fantasy and tourist fascination.

    Confronted with the choice of a car, ones own bike, or an ongoing contribution to ashared system incorporating these narrow miracles most of us would escape the war lubricating addiction and believe it or not most of us need not have the imagination to know what would be the result- just to recognise what we want of the offered alternatives.

    As the 'papercut' film maker liked to note, Henry mocked those who sought better carriages for there horses. Don't we continue to beg for such mockery of ourselves? The car followed the high skill and support needs of the horse drawn solution. NOwadays we have better tools that allow us to move alone, freely, without even havin gto pay much attention nor sweat to navigation.

    A good bike is seen as too expensive by most who get hustled into using cars. Yes it's cheaper if you don't have to provide parking for the bike you use- but .... don't ignore the cars still being used!

    Reducing the amount that must be spent on the road to accomidate a human powered bike frees up thousands of dollars to improve that bike so as to enable it to gobble up far less ashpault! Providing public museum era bikes is a disgrace premised on further decades of marginalising non car solutions.

    One could even say a reason to not motorise these bikes is then NOBODY would pay as everyon ewould be done in under half an hour. Taxes gthough, would still come down. Depaving budgets would increase. Much oil would be left in the sand for the next milleniums planning.

  • Karl


    It turns out that Paris gets it's bikes from a company whose city rental page is under construction but one that believes in motors especially for 'b2b' (like mailman truck to bike infrastructure)


  • Eneko

    Sorry but I thought this was a post about public bike share programs, not about the helmet issue. Please.

    I want to pose a question:
    How does Eric Britton calculate that 10% of modal shift from car drivers to bike share users?

    I think is too much. Experience in Spain tells that bike share users were before public transport customers, pedestrian or private bike riders. Only a very few were car drivers.

    A second question for the book keeping:
    Calculate the annual budget of the scheme simply multiplying that amount of bicycles by barely 4.000 US Dollars per bike per year. And now try to calculate the savings of it.

    Is so easy to make estimations and statistics when you are trying to advocate something...

  • Glen

    Of course, in order to get JC Decaux to administer the bike-share programme, the taxpayers of Paris give away a staggering $34 million per year in combined free advertising space and revenue sharing. That makes it by far the most expensive bike-sharing plan in the world, hardly something to brag about.

  • Papiya Sarkar


  • Ines Alveano

    It would be eassier to subtitle the video, if it already had ones in english...