|A typical Velib station. Image courtesy of Streetsblog.org|
I just watched a great, albeit short, PBS documentary about Velib, the wildly successful bike sharing program in Paris. (You can check out the video here.) The designers have managed to create a program that makes the bike a ubiquitous, cheap, and genuinely convenient feature of urban life in Paris. Part of me wishes that this could happen in a city in the US, and the other part of me thinks that it would never work here.
The bikes are obviously built for a life spent outside (and a city that's mostly flat), and all feature dyno-powered head and taillights, front baskets, chaincases, and all sorts of other uber-practical touches that many cyclists in the US will probably never experience.
Having worked at a car-sharing company for a while (Flexcar, R.I.P.), I found it really interesting to see how the Velib administrators tackled common problems like bike distribution and maintenance. For example, people frequently check out the bikes at the top of a hill, and return them at the bottom of those same hills. In particular, I thought their solution to bike maintenance was brilliant. They outfitted a giant barge to serve as the central repair shop, and they float it up and down the Seine all day, picking up bikes in need of repair, and dropping off fixed bikes in their place. For a city so centered around a major river, it's head-slappingly brilliant.
One of my cycling goals for 2011 is to travel to Paris in August for Paris-Brest-Paris, and even though I'll have my bike with me, I'll be traveling with people who might just need to pick up a Velib.