Bicycle sharing coming to the U.S.

The New York Times today had an article on the “SmartBike DC” program coming to Washington DC:

Bicycle-Sharing Program to Be First of Kind in U.S.

Great news! Glad to see America re-coming around to the bicycle (I just hope they’ll be compatible with all the Hummers).

It’s a good thing.

It’s a great thing.

But the New York Times left out something important: This type of bicycle sharing financed by advertising was first introduced popularized here in Lyon! (EDIT: Clear Channel claims (correctly it seems) the first of this type of system in the French city of Rennes.) It’s called Vélo’v here in Lyon.

Of COURSE, they mention the program in Paris, Vélib’, but let it be officially on the record that this type of rental bike was a innovation springboarded by Lyon, who’s and then the success grew to other major European cities and is now headed for the States. Who would’a thunk it?

Except for the occasional vandalism to the bikes themselves, the system works great. I’ve been using it for close to three years now. It’s a really handy way of getting around town, especially for those in-between distances, too far for walking but too close to take your car. More interestingly, the introduction of the system here in Lyon had a me-too effect with everybody pulling out their own bicycles from the basement to join all the people velo’ving through town. Lyon’s starting to look like Amsterdam. Well, at least when it’s sunny out.

The system works with bike-stand stations that are installed all over town. You take a bike out of a stand at one station and return it to another when you get to where you’re going. In theory, the bikes self-distribute throughout the town with the ebb and flow of people moving about. But one somewhat funny aspect of this is the “hill effect”: If you live in a town with hills, the stations on the top of the hills empty out but never get refilled, because of course, everybody is perfectly happy to take a bike and go down the hill, but nobody wants to pedal back up it. In Lyon, there are special Vélo’v trucks that refill the hilltop stations from time to time. This is human nature 101; the same problem has happened in all the cities with hills where a vélo’v like system has been installed.

But overall the system has been a real success, at least here in Europe. It will be interesting to see if the for-the-car, by-the-car and of-the-car Americans will embrace this system à la lyonnaise française.

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