What could possibly be so charming about a clunky, gray, 50-pound bicycle?
The Vélib’ — a bicycle named for a combination of the French words for bike and freedom — has become an immensely popular mode of transportation throughout Paris. In its first year, the company saw 27.5 million trips taken by Parisian riders, with an average 120,000 trips each day.
Those who wish to rent the bikes can pay for individual rides at the self-service rental stations by credit card or buy a $46-per-year subscription if they wish to use the bikes more frequently — to replace their car in their daily commute, for example. Vélib’s can be returned to any rental station in the city. If unreturned, the user’s credit card will be charged 150 euros, or about $239. Each bike carries an advertisement placed by public relations firm JCDecaux, keeping the cost of rentals low and giving exposure to the companies that sponsor the bikes.
So what if the Vélib’, or its American counterpart, wound up in the city of East Lansing or on MSU’s campus?
In a city like East Lansing, it’s easy to imagine that such a project could be successful. In fact, cities with a lot of foot traffic would benefit the most from a Vélib’-like rental system.
Students and local residents might save a lot of money. With a yearly subscription as low as $46, that’s cheaper than a Capital Area Transportation Authority semester bus pass or a tank of gas, neither of which last for an entire year. If gas prices continue to increase, a cheap bike rental program would become exceptionally appealing to people who’d rather pay less to ride a bike than drive their car.
Theft of these rented bikes would probably be low — since the deposit is so high, few people would be willing to sacrifice more than $200 for a used rental bike when they could just buy their own.
The biggest problem facing the system is the lack of mutual respect between bikers, pedestrians and motorists. While Paris has seen a 24 percent increase in overall bicycle use, they’ve also seen a 7 percent increase in bicycle-related accidents.
On campus especially, there’s enough congestion in some areas with the combination of people walking, biking and driving. If sidewalks, bike lanes and streets were all being used to their full capacity, it’s hard to imagine we wouldn’t see an increase in traffic accidents.
For a rental program to be successful, it would take a total re-education of the population on bike safety and the laws that apply not only to bikers, but to motorists and pedestrians as well. France has already attempted to tackle this challenge in a very French way. Their newest bike safety campaign features Karl Lagerfeld, a fashion icon and current artistic director of Chanel, in a yellow safety vest, accompanied by the words, “It’s yellow, it’s ugly, it doesn’t go with anything, but it could save your life.”
It would take a little motivation and a lot of education to get a bike rental program off the ground here, but, if successful, a Vélib’-inspired biking revolution could be a huge benefit to East Lansing and other American cities.
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