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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

City cycling: beyond the obvious benefits

Cycling sounds an attractive approach to better personal health, reduced carbon footprint and therefore a generally healthier urban environment. Rojas-Rueda and colleagues in a British Medical Journal paper have recently modeled the health risks and benefits of the Barcelona bike sharing scheme (Bicing), based on the over 180,000 Barcelona residents using the Bicing scheme.  They conclude there are greater health benefits than risks in Barcelona, and a large reduction in annual carbon dioxide emissions.
For Barcelona and elsewhere, bike-sharing appears to offer the opportunity to introduce regular cycling as a way for many in the population to return to, or increase exercise, on a sufficient scale for both public health and environmental benefits.
After Milan's earlier efforts to provide affordable and enjoyable city centre cycling - yellow bikes disappearing around Europe to Geneva and beyond - Paris (launched 2007) and London (launched July 2010) are also addressing the challenge of encouraging exercise and reducing car travel on city centre streets - with some extra effects on healthy mind and body. This includes 'water-cooler' bonding as initiates explain how to use the cycle pay columns or how to free a tricky bike. And more than intended exercise in several forms. Cyclists often need to return for a fresh hire after realising too late that their chosen cycle is faulty - punctured, chain off, saddle collapse syndrome, sticky wheels and so on (a Paris code is to reverse the saddle and or collapse the saddle support on a faulty bike); or moving from full cycle rack to next cycle station looking for a post at which to return a cycle at busier city locations. For the less pressed, this is another opportunity to meet fellow cyclists while waiting, and to compare notes on nearby velib station options. A peak time problem at busier sites is of course there being no bike available; more exercise, locating then walking to the next available station. Paris is trying hard - from the velib website at the end of August, 1233 locations were declared - enough hire and return capacity for this to be more than a tourist or freetime gimmick. The Paris website includes a colour-coded webmap: green for stations with available spaces, red for full cycle stations. The Paris Velib system leads the way globally in number of sites and available cycles. Paris also has the advantage of many wide pavements, and, in some areas, proper cycle lanes - although partnering these with buses and taxis is a source of recurrent adrenaline surge.
A reporting option on the booking terminal at cycle stations would be a good addition, so that the next hirer does not have the same problem; also helpful would be a less sticky webmap for locating alternative Velib stations: not a very mobile phone friendly website. And a review in Paris is planned of the economics of the scheme, with 80-90% of cycles reported in need of repair or replacement due to damage or theft; much less respected than the earlier  Lyon scheme (established May 2005, now with around 340 bike stations, and as for Paris, run as a partnership with advertising company JCDecaux).

© DRJ Singer

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