Paris Looks to Bicycles to Cut Congestion

Paris is embarking on a bike-sharing plan, Velib (free bike in French), to cut congestion. The city plans to park over 10,000 bicycles at 750 stations by July 15, and plans to double that by 2008. Riders will be able to take bikes from one station and drop them off at another.

The concept is being revived after a failed run in various European cities in the 1960s. The best known case was Amsterdam, which stopped the program because bikes were stolen or too beaten-up to ride.

To solve those problems, many cities are partnering with advertising firms which, in exchange for city-wide advertising, will equip bikes with anti-theft systems.

Bikes will have a lock and an alarm which will go off if the bike isn’t returned to a station. Riders will also have to pay a security deposit.

To rent a bike, people will isert a credit card or pre-paid card into a terminal and then unlock it from the station. When they’re done they can return it to any station. If the bike is used for less than a half hour, it’s free. After that, it costs 1 euro ($1.33) for every 1/2 hour. It costs five euros for a week and just 29 euros for a year.

The progam is meant for short city rides. Paris has 371 km (230 miles) of bicycle paths.

There’s some concern that a flood of bicycles on city streets could result in accidents, especially because helmets aren’t required.

Velib is being sponsored by JCDecaux, Europe’s largest outdoor advertising firm.

Lyon, France’s second largest city, is also doubling the number of bikes it has available to 4,000.

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