Apparently Paris has the right idea. In the great French tradition of the bicycle, the city of Paris is installing 750 bike rental stops with 10,684 bikes that any pedestrian can rent for an hour, or an afternoon. Gone are the days of “but I don’t have a bike” as an excuse for getting a bit of exercise out of the daily trek to the boulangerie. Now, getting a bike to ride to work is just a matter of hoping down to the closest rental station. And, to make the opportunity even more tantalizing, the first half hour is free.
In an article yesterday (French Revolution: Rentable bikes every 900 feet) from the Christian Science Monitor, the new program (entitled Velib for velo-bicycle and liberte-freedom) is described as “freedom from too many cars and carbon fumes.”
The article emphasizes the green aspect of the program. By installing bikes all over the city, officials hope to overcome some of the problems of modern city living, like smog, congestion, and unbelievable traffic jams. However, the article doesn’t seem to mention another important aspect and beneficial side effect of the program: public health.
Even France, a country known for rich foods and thin denizen, has increasing problems with diabetes and obesity. According to the World Health Organization, the prevalence of diabetes in France in 2000 was 1,710,000. That number is expected to jump to 2,645,000 by the year 2030. Still, France is ahead of the game in terms of numbers, countries like the US, India and China are currently faring far worse. Maybe we should take a hard look at France, and copy programs like bicycle rental with abandon.
When I visited Copenhagen, Denmark a few summers ago, I noticed a similar program in effect. All around the city, massive bike parking lots highlighted the Danish dedication to healthy, green living. Although I didn’t have the chance to rent and ride while I was there, I certainly hope to during some future trip.
I would absolutely love to see programs like Velib here in the States, but I can’t help but think that it’s not very likely or possible in most places around the US. Yes, we do have some urban hot spots (New York or DC, anyone?) that could do with a bit more of a get-up-and-go-exercise-in-a-green-way approach to the daily commute, but it somehow doesn’t fit into the American vision of wide open spaces and big cars to travel them in. Outside of a few select urban hotspots, much of America could fit into either suburban sprawl or rural. Neither of which are highly conducive to a jaunty bike ride to the store. Even I am wary of biking the 10 miles to the grocery store when I all I need is milk and eggs. Maybe by redesigning our urban centers to be more bike and pedestrian friendly, and less car-centric, we can cultivate the bicycle culture.