Bike lanes in Paris make way for bicycles!!

Thousands of car-crazy Parisians upbraided their mayor when he announced a plan to take away car lanes and replace them with space for bicycles. Now the City of Light has bought 10,000 new “public” bicycles, with an eye to about 16,500 more by the end of 2007, and many of the same people who vilified the mayor are riding the bikes instead.

American cities and towns, including traffic-swamped Pocono communities, should take a look at how the system works. Users pay a modest annual membership fee, $38 a year in Paris. Plenty of sturdy bicycles, designed to deter vandalism (lesson learned from failed experiments in the United States and elsewhere), are available for free for up to a half-hour, and then for a small but rising fee after that. Riders leave a credit card or deposit, another anti-theft measure. The city locates bicycle “stations” throughout the community, enabling cyclists to drop off one bike, conduct their business and then pick up another, often avoiding any use fee.

In Paris, the advantages are obvious a scant two months after the program’s launch. Vehicular traffic is down. Noise is down. Pollution is down. Parking is easier. In a surprise to most, commuting time is down. Bicycling, it turns out, beats both cars and the Metro. Paris is growing greener and quieter.

Paris made a deal with advertising giant JCDecaux, which bought the bikes, contributed millions in start-up funds and employs a full-time staff to operate the system and maintain the bicycles for the next decade. The city gets the revenues; JCDecaux gets exclusive control over 1,600 city-owned billboards.

Lyon, France’s third-largest city, launched its bicycle program more than two years ago. Using 3,000 rental bicycles, cyclists have spun close to 10 million miles; 95 percent of the rides are free, because they’re short. Private bike use has also risen and vehicular traffic is down 4 percent. And by some estimates, the bikes have saved about 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Obviously bicycling isn’t feasible for the thousands of Monroe County residents who travel long distances to work daily. But picture New York City, Allentown, Bethlehem, with more bicycles and fewer honking horns. Imagine how much quieter and more manageable even Monroe’s smaller communities would be with a public bicycle program. The densely populated, heavily developed communities of Stroud Township, Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg could reduce traffic and link shopping, residential areas, schools and medical offices with a bicycle system, returning many daily transactions to a human scale.

In an age when scientists and elected officials are wracking their brains for ways to become less dependent on fossil fuels, Americans ought to think back to their childhood. Why should only the French be re-living the joy they experienced the day they mastered two wheels? The ordinary bicycle deserves to make a welcome comeback.

-Here’s a link to the Parisian velib program. Oh how I would love it!

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