Bikes Paris

Paris Unveils Four-Year Cycling Plan With Aim to Reinforce Velib’ Bike Share

» Two major axes will service 65 “biking neighborhoods” throughout the city. Dedicated bike lanes will increase from 273 miles today to 435 miles by 2014.

If Velib’ has changed the face of Paris by providing it the largest bike sharing system in the world with 1,800 stations and more than 20,000 bikes, there’s still plenty of work to be done in the French capital. After nine years of slow but steady improvements originating from an environmentally minded city hall, Paris is about to hit the accelerator pedal.

The new plan, to be presented in early June to the city council, where it is virtually guaranteed passage, will increase the number of bike lanes within this 40.7 square mile city from 273 miles today (most built since 2001) to 435 miles in 2014. Two major axes — one running east-west from the Bois de Vincennes to the Bois de Boulogne and the other north-south, will be designed for heavy traffic. One thousand new bike parking spaces will be added to the city’s streets every year, and bike boxes, allowing cyclists to get priority treatment at intersections, will be painted in across the city. Connections to the suburbs will be reinforced through the reconstruction of ten city “gates.” And starting this July, 65 neighborhoods, making up about half the city’s land area, will be converted to prioritize biking, with two-way travel allowed even on streets reserved for one-way car traffic.

By 2020, most of the city’s major streets will have dedicated bike lanes and the network will begin to extend out into the near suburbs.

Paris’ project, led by Mayor Bertrand Delanöe, is not revolutionary in concept — most of what is being done has been done in parts of the city before — but rather in scale. The sheer size of the city’s investments, which will bring bike infrastructure within feet of all of the city’s residents, is likely to continue the increase in the mode share of alternative transportation.

And the city is developing a social strategy to encourage cycling even more. A “maison du vélo” will welcome inhabitants who have questions specifically about getting around by bike; kids in elementary school will be exposed to cycling in tours and classes; the city’s employees will be encouraged to make their trips by bike, with 400 vehicles already dedicated for the purpose; and a new Villes Velib’ cooperative will encourage a dialogue between Paris and its suburban peers in an attempt to integrate the region by bike.

Paris’ Sunday street program, which has already resulted in the closing of several neighborhoods to motorized traffic on Sundays and holidays, is planned to be generalized throughout the “biking neighborhoods,” where maximum travel speeds of 19 mph will be enforced. Parks, some of which had been closed to cyclists, are now all open to bike travel.

There is no guaranteed way to increase the number of people using bicycles and other low-impact transportation modes in a city. But the wholehearted embrace of the mode through a dedicated plan for infrastructure that prioritizes bicycles, funded and guaranteed by a focused city council, is sure to encourage it. Now that American cities have begun to follow Paris with similar bike sharing programs, we need to see similar initiatives here.

Image above: Paris Bike Plan, from Ville de Paris

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Integrating the Transportation Network Through Energy Credits

» Commuters on bikes could aid in filling up the electricity grid, and get free transport tickets in exchange.

As bike sharing becomes more and more popular in cities around the world, innovations in technology may make the systems a vital element of the urban landscape. Indeed, rather than simply a mobility tool, biking could become a power source — at least according to industrial designer Chi-Yu Chen, working at the Royal College of Art.

Mr. Chen’s bike design is innovative even as it uses standard technologies. By adding batteries to bikes and incorporating a dynamo in the wheel, the vehicles become mobile power stations, with electricity being created as commuters turn the wheels and apply power to the brakes. When cyclists return bikes to a station as part of a public rental scheme, the batteries would empty out their charge, moving the power into the general grid. That electricity, in turn, could be used to power sustainable transportation systems like electric hybrid buses and third rail-powered subways. Bikers would get a transit ticket price reduction immediately added to their fare smart cards based on how much electricity they contribute.

The end result? Human power for clean-running public transportation.

There are two reasons why such a system is unlikely to be implemented in the next few years: batteries are valuable, and would likely be stolen from bikes; and the amount of power generated would make a tiny dent in the power used by heavy-duty transit, making fare reductions tiny.

Yet with a well-designed system, created to be vandal-proof, such electricity-creating bikes could well serve a purpose. MIT researchers have created a “Copenhagen Wheel” that adds a motor powered by braking to bikes; with such a system, bikes become semi-electric and therefore more simple to use for people who aren’t able-bodied enough to use a normal bike at all times.

Just as important, the idea that everyday activities can aid in producing electricity doesn’t seem that far off. Already, plenty of trams and metros push electricity back into the grid when they brake through regenerative systems. Up-and-down escalators and elevators could be weighed against one another to power one another and save electricity. Short-distance transit links could use cable-car technologies to circulate energy flow in a closed-loop system, such as is already planned for the Oakland Airport Connector. These technologies would reinforce the concept that the energy system is an interconnected web, reducing electricity usage and cleaning the planet through sustainable transport.

Image above: Hybrid Squared, from Yanko Design

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Bixi Close to Launching First Ambitious North American Bike-Share in Montréal

Montreal Bixi Bike Station3,000 bikes, 300 stations will grace the streets of Canada’s second biggest city

Montréal, eager to promote itself as one of the continent’s most important cities, looked to Paris rather than modesty when developing its Bixi bike-sharing plan, which it will launch early in May. The service, which will begin with stations in the core of the city and close during winter months, will offer 3,000 bikes and 300 stations, putting it at a similar scale as Barcelona’s Bicing program, though still far smaller than Paris’ enormous 20,000-bike Vélib’. Like the latter project, though, Montréal has plans to expand into the neighboring areas, eventually much of the city. Check out the service’s stations page to note the number and density of stations in the system’s core area.

No U.S. city has yet to make such an ambitious commitment to bike sharing, a concept that has proven quite successful in the European cities that have undertaken it. Each program includes stations located throughout the central city, usually with at least 10 bikes apiece. Users can rent bikes by the day, month, or year, at quite reasonable prices, and then return the bikes to any other station in the city within 30 minutes free of charge and then at increasing rates over time. These services provide an ideal alternative to automobiles and traditional mass transit and allow people to take short commutes without waiting on buses or riding their cars; they also promote exercise. Quality of service is ensured by remote monitoring, service crews; users are unlikely to steal because the service is connected to one’s credit card.

Programs that have over 1,000 bikes each in service – usually subsidized by urban advertising – include Lyon, Montpellier, Toulouse, Copenhagen, and Stockholm, as well as Paris and Barcelona. Dozens of other, smaller cities have hundreds of bikes in operation, and Germany has several “Call-a-Bike” operation in major cities that differ slightly from the aforementioned model but offer via phone the same easy, immediately accessible, rental model.

The U.S.’s only examples of bike-share progress are in Washington and San Francisco, but it would be difficult to put either program in the same league as what’s about to open in Montréal. D.C.’s program – currently in operation – has 120 bikes distributed among 10 stations; San Francisco’s proposal will include an embarrassingly small number of bikes: 50.

What’s disappointing about both programs is that they’re designed to fail. Bike-share can only work when there are stations located every few blocks all over a dense city; otherwise, bikers aren’t provided ease of use that encourages cycling between multiple and sometimes unplanned locations, just as private automobiles allow. The fact is that systems like D.C.’s and San Francisco’s can serve only a tiny percentage of total commutes within the urban core because of those limits, while Paris’ and Montréal’s programs can be game-changers and completely replace auto commuting over short distances within proscribed service zones.

We would do well to emulate Montréal’s example in the U.S., and perhaps we’re on the way there. On Wednesday, New York City’s Department of City Planning released a proposal for a massive bike-share program in the country’s biggest city (via Streetsblog). The project would – if approved – encompass a 50,000-bike roll-out, phased and beginning with 10,000 bikes in Lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn, and thereafter expanding into the other dense areas of the city, including Queens and the Bronx. New York’s got it right in asserting that the only way to make bike-share work is to work ambitiously from the start, rather than assuming that a 50 or 100 bike program will “be successful” when it simply cannot. In major cities, only projects with thousands of bikes placed every few blocks in dense urban cores will be effective in allowing bikes to acquire a significant market share. New York’s proposal would be such a project – it’s just got to be funded first…


Images above: Bixi station, from Bixi; proposed New York City bike-share roll-out, from DCP


Serving the Bike/Transit Commuter

How can we best facilitate transit service for those who arrive or depart on bikes?Bike Station

Portland’s Tri-Met transit agency announced yesterday that it would spend $1 million of its stimulus funds on improving the region’s bike facilities near transit stations. The agency will invest in two major bike garages, such as that pictured here, as well as improving the existing bike stations throughout the system. Tri-Met will also apply for $1.7 million of funds from the Oregon Department of Transportation for another five bike garages.

Portland isn’t alone in attempting to find ways to improve the commute for bike enthusiasts: Salt Lake City will build a new bike station downtown; last year, Washington announced its intention to create a large bike center just outside of Union Station.

These improved bike storage locations go beyond the rudimentary street bulb-outs and u-rack parking that New York City, for instance, has emphasized in recent years. They offer bikers the same parking conveniences that are usually provided only to automobile commuters; in some cases, such as the station in Chicago’s Millenium Park, they offer more, such as showers, toilets, and cafes.

And indeed, improving the services provided to bike commuters fulfills an important mission of transit agencies: getting people from home to work without using an automobile. Unfortunately, the construction of car park-and-ride lots that make it all too easy to drive to transit stations encourages automobility and sprawl; diverting some funds to bike stations can reverse the equation and expand the 1/2-mile radius that is typically considered the maximum walk distance for people to transit station.

Why shouldn’t bikes be allowed onto trains and buses? That would make the construction of such bike lockers unnecessary, as commuters could keep their bikes with them either at home or at work. Tri-Met makes the argument that only four bikes can fit on a train (8 when the train is twice as long), and only two on the front of a bus. Caltrain, which runs between San Francisco and San Jose, can carry between 16 and 32 bikes on its trains, making them ideal movers for that area’s bike commuters, but the result is complete madness during rush hour. When there’s room left for bikes, they’re difficult to get through doorways, and non-bikers are often blocked by them. Delays ensue. It’s not an ideal situation.

It probably makes sense, then, to encourage the use of biking – but only on one end of a commute. Taking bikes on trains or buses simply causes too much of a headache. For the most part, employment locations should be close enough to transit stations that biking from an arrival station to work shouldn’t be necessary.

But there’s another solution, of course: bikeshare. Paris and Barcelona have placed thousands of public rental bikes at stations throughout the city that are freely accessible to subscribers to their respective services with the touch of a card. Such systems, in connection with efficient mass transit programs, make commuting around a dense city quite convenient. They also make the idea of taking a bike along on a bus or train absurd – because there will be a bike waiting at either end.

By implementing bike share systems, American cities have the potential to increase the use of biking while also discouraging the nasty habit of bringing bikes onto transit vehicles.

Image above: Future Beaverton Transit Center bike locker, from Tri-Met