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Posts from the "Paris" Category

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Dispatch from Paris: The Delights of Vélib

Editor’s note: This is the second part in an occasional series of dispatches from Europe from Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, who is on sabbatical there.

I’ve visited Paris four times in the past 25 years, but it was not until a recent trip a few weeks ago that I really saw this fabled city the way I wanted to. For that, I credit bicycling and Paris’ much-publicized Vélib’ bikeshare program. On two wheels, I was able to move beyond the total tourist track to explore neighborhoods and find nooks and crannies filled with local cafes and funky shops that were not listed in my guidebook.

Much has been written about Paris Vélib’. Started in 2007, it is now the second-largest bikesharing system in the world with about 25,000 bikes spread among 1,800 stations. (It is second in size to the 50,000-bike program in Hangzou, China.) Since Vélib’ began just three years ago, it has provided about 80 million bicycle trips in Paris.

While Vélib’ has incited some criticism over vandalism and theft problems, the overwhelming story so far seems to be one of success. The system has helped coax more Parisians back onto bikes and has convinced local leaders to build out an impressive and growing bicycling infrastructure that, in turn, has encouraged even more Parisians to try bicycling for transportation. Not to mention that it has launched a worldwide race by other cities eager to replicate its success.

When I arrived in Paris a few weeks ago, I had not done much homework about the actual mechanics of using the Vélib’ system. While I wanted to check it out, frankly, I was skeptical that this media-darling system would work as well as advertised.

My Vélib’ experience wildly exceeded my expectations and has helped me realize that politicians’ fervor for bikesharing can transcend the flash to achieve substance. I believe it is worth the time and energy for San Francisco and other North American cities to invest in similar systems.

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Should California Enact an “Idaho Stop” Law for Cyclists?

Bike_stop_sign.jpg
Oregon lawmakers have been engaged in a heated debate about enacting an "Idaho Stop" law, which would codify what most cyclists already do: treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs.  The issue has come up before in Sacramento, but has never been so close to adoption.

SFBC Program Director Andy Thornley notes that the organizing hurdles would be enormous, that it would require a statewide campaign that few bicycle organizations are willing to waste political capital on, and that opponents like the California Highway Patrol would make passage of the law particularly difficult.

Locally SFBC would rather focus on enforcing laws that endanger the most vulnerable users, including when the violator is a cyclist.  In a letter (PDF) to SFPD Chief Fong, Thornley called these violations "right-of-way theft":

Not only do many bicyclist and pedestrian injuries and fatalities result from failure to yield right-of-way, but rampant uncited "right-of-way theft" by all road users (including bicyclists) nurtures a perception of anarchy and permissiveness, that "anything goes" on the streets, which in turn gives license to further misbehavior, ranging from simply discourteous to gravely dangerous. Motorists must take their turn and give way to bicyclists and pedestrians at intersections before turning, instead of bullying their way (consciously or distractedly) through the turn. Likewise, bicyclists must take their turn and yield the right-of-way to all users as appropriate, stopping for pedestrians and motorists and other cyclists alike.

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How Many Bikes Would Make a Proper Bike Share Program in San Francisco?

Paris_station_inventory_window.pngVelib Google-Map mashup tells you how many bikes and how many vacant spaces are at each station

5328 bikes, to be exact. 

After excoriating Mayor Gavin Newsom a few weeks ago for his bike share media stunt, a lot of commenters weighed in with advice for making bike share work well in San Francisco.  There were some who thought that a small system is a good start, better than nothing, and could be improved upon when the injunction is lifted and the budget crisis lessened, while others weren't concerned with size at all but with having a large advertising company control a public transit system.

Colin Hughes, a graduate student at UC Berkeley's Department of City and Regional Planning, wrote Streetsblog SF with some general parameters for public-use bike systems (PUB) based on his studies and worked up a rough calculation of the number of bikes and station spacing for San Francisco, relative to three of the world's biggest and most successful systems 

Colin suggested that PUB systems should be thought of as a mode of public transit, just like the bus or the BART:

The Paris Metro is the densest subway network in the world, with 300 stations within the city.  The trains run from about 5 am to midnight, and users might have to wait about 20 minutes for a train in off-peak hours. In comparison, the city also has 1451 bicycle stations - a transit network almost 5 times denser than its subway system.  Users can access these bicycle stations 24/7, they can ride them wherever they like, and the cost is free for the first 30 minutes.

Paul DeMaio, the founder of the consultancy Metro Bike LLC who also writes the Bike Sharing Blog, said a good bike share program ought to have one bicycle for every 150 residents and should place five stations every square kilometer.  For San Francisco, that would equate to 5328 bicycles at 605 stations.  Even if San Francisco were to be more modest that DeMaio's suggestion, adopting Barcelona's metrics, we should have 2960 bicycles at 484 stations.

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The Impending Failure of San Francisco’s Pilot Bike Share Program

Flat_tire_velib.jpgWhich will San Francisco's bike-share program resemble?
Lest it appear that Streetsblog doesn’t support bike-sharing in San Francisco, I should say from the outset that I love the successful bike-sharing programs that I’ve used, believe they are one of the more innovative new transit models available, and know that San Francisco is ripe for the roll-out of a large-scale program of its own.  But I am also among the large majority of Americans that Republican Pollster Frank Luntz found support infrastructure improvements and believe getting the job done right is more important than ribbon cutting and shovel readying.

Consider that a bicycle sharing program’s greatest assets are ubiquity and ease of use.  In Paris, Velib started with 10,000 bicycles at 750 stations, shortly thereafter jumped to 20,000 bicycles at 1450 stations, and is poised to add an additional 3,300 bikes at 300 new stations in the Parisian suburbs.  The city of Paris keeps all the revenue from the small annual fees for membership to the program and daily use fees paid by tourists and those who don’t join annually and the advertising firm JC Decaux operates the system and pays out an additional $4.3 million.

When I rode Velib for the first time in Paris shortly after its launch in 2007, the system was intuitive and the bicycle stations were everywhere (approximately 300 meters between each).  As a tourist with minimal French, I had no problem activating the system with my credit card and pedaling my way through the lovely streets of that fair city.  Over the course of three days I never went underground, never took a taxi and got some good exercise in the process.

My hopes were high when Mayor Newsom announced that San Francisco would join the nearly 100 cities around the world that have started bike sharing.  But now they are dashed. 

How grand a system will San Francisco have?  50 bikes.  To the tune of $1 million for start up and $500,000 annually for upkeep!

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