Bicycle sharing takes off in Europe

When I was in Barcelona back in July, I was amazed by the quantity of bicycle traffic and the many miles of marked, traffic-separated bike lanes. At least nine out of every ten bikes I saw was a red Bicing-branded model, part of a city-wide program of several hundred pick-up/drop-off points. Meant for locals, not tourists, the program costs about $30 per year and lets participants use a smart card to “check out” a bike from any stand and return it to any other. First half hour is free, a penny a minute thereafter (in 30 minute increments), reservations not to exceed two hours.

In a dense city like Barcelona, recently decked out with tons of new bike lanes and home to narrow alleys that are generally off-limits to cars, the program is such a success that the company that runs it has trouble keeping up with demand and maintaing its fleet. The program, similar to many that are thriving in warm-climate, dense cities through Europe, cuts down on car traffic, results in better physical fitness, and, perhaps best of all, improves the life of the city.

Take this quote from a New York Times article about the programs:

“The critical mass of bikes on the road has pacified traffic,” said Gilles Vesco, vice mayor in charge of the program in Lyon. “Now, the street belongs to everybody and needs to be better shared. It has become a more convivial public space.”

A lesson that many American cities could do well to take to heart.

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