When in Rome, Share Bikes


The competition is heating up between Eurpoean cities seeking to build the best bicycling infrastructure. As we noted this morning, Amsterdam is mimicking Copenhagen‘s "green wave" for cyclists. And now Rome is bringing a Paris-style bike sharing project to the Italian capital by 2008.

Modeled after the Parisian Vélib program, users will ride free for the first half hour with costs increasing every half hour after that. The system will be maintained at no cost to the city by Cemusa, the same company that has New York City’s street furniture contract. Rome’s plan is to have 20,000 bikes in place by the end of 2008 with the first 250 test bikes installed by January.

Meanwhile, here in New York City Mayor Bloomberg seems to feel that bike-sharing won’t work because we don’t have a safe enough streets for large-scale cycling and he doesn’t know how you’d deal with the fact that "we have bicycle laws where people have to wear helmets." This, of course, is completely incorrect. New York City law does not require adult, non-commercial cyclists to wear helmets.

ArchInGeo files this report (in Italian) via Velo Mondial blog.

Photo: nmckay/Flickr

  • Just to, you know, give credit where it’s due, don’t forget that Barcelona also has a program called Bicing that’s similar to the Paris plan. In their case, you sign up and pay either 24 euros/year or 1 euro a week. After that you pay 30 euro cents for every 30 minutes, and then 3 euros/hour if you’ve got it for more than 2 hours.

    I was there for 2 months in April-May 2007, and it had just opened with 200 bikes and 14 stations. As of July 1, 2007, they were up to 1500 bikes and 100 stations.

  • (Forgot to mention that the first 30 minutes is free with membership.)

  • Hi, I’m Rags

    Bloomberg’s comment seems typical of non-cyclists.

    There is a gap of the imagination where people who use a bike to get around see it as no big deal and people who don’t will say things like, “I can’t bike to work – it’s almost 60 blocks”, or “I’ll be covered in sweat if I bike to work”.

    This is not to bash Bloomberg, but just to maybe wonder how that gap in imagination can be bridged.

  • Law or no law, I would much prefer to wear a helmet while bicycling in NY. Isn’t there any way for the loaner bikes to include loaner helmets?

  • emerson

    Livable streets guru Jan Gehl told an Upper West Side audience last week that NYC may not be ready for Velibe style bike rental. There are pros and cons to the program for NYC. One thing to consider is Manhattan may not be where it would do the most good. NYC, especially Manhattan south of 60th street is a much denser place than Paris or Barcelona.

  • Swobo

    Hard to imagine a large scale U.S. bike-share program that doesn’t deal w the helmet issue. I’m not religious about helmet-wearing but I have a feeling city lawyers, politicians and bike share industry people would be.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Uhhhh…. Ummmm….

    The solution is simple. A rider could be required to wear his or her own helmet in an NYC bike-share program. Get caught not wearing one while riding and you get a warning. Do it again, your barred from the system.

    Admittedly this might be difficult with tourists.

    A note about helmet use: When I was out in Davis CA for the big APBP conference in September, bike helmets were considered optional for adults. It was (dare I say) even socially acceptable by those in authority. Davis has done such a good job of making their streets safe for cyclists they don’t worry so much about helmets anymore. Don’t forget the real cause of head injury while on a bike is from getting hit by a car. Admittedly, Davis is just a little college town and NYC is much much bigger, nastier beast to tame.

  • Jonathan

    I think that helmet rental would be an aesthetic failure, unless there was some kind of disposable sanitary do-rag that came with it, and a plan to give each bucket a daily disinfecting bath for good measure. I really would not like someone else’s lice on my head.

    I’m not a big fan of bike share here in our archipelago, either. I don’t think NYC has enough dedicated cycling lanes and tracks to make it a reasonable option (getting from Union Square to Essex & Delancey, for instance, in less time than a cab) for anyone who is not already a skilled city cyclist. Paris has tons of bike and bike/bus lanes for Velibistes to use to get around.

  • Hilary

    Maybe more practical than a city-operated rental would be to get buildings to lend bikes out to members of their gyms (or any of their tenants, for that matter). Seems so eminently reasonable, in fact, I think I’ll take it up with the Solaire management tomorrow… (still waiting for the promised Zip car, of course.)

  • Larry Littlefield

    In NYC, if you give a bike to just anyone, they will all disappear.

    One thing that might work is to use bicycles for commuter rail riders who do not want to switch the subway. There have been proposals to extend the commuter railroads to Lower Manhattan, but these are inconceivably expensive. The subway ride from Grand Central or Atlantic Ave is unpleasant because the subways are already jammed before the suburbanites get on.

    LIRR and MetroNorth could loan bikes, helmets, and (if needed) raingear to their monthly riders who live beyond a walk from the terminal. The alternative, now that I’m thinking more broadly about bikes — like walking, but three-plus times the distance in the same time — is for riders to bring folding bikes on the train. But lending bikes would be easier and not congest the train. And it would be cheaper than a new tunnel from Altantic Terminal to Lower Manhattan.

  • Benjamin Bigfield

    Public bikes won’t be stolen if some form of collateral system is in place.

    Credit cards seem like a good idea but this is probably unfairly biased against those without credit cards.

  • Chris in Sacramento

    “Don’t forget the real cause of head injury while on a bike is from getting hit by a car.”

    Close, but not quite, Andy. The vast majority of bike-related injuries result from falls that do not involve autos. Indeed, helmets are much more effective in these mundane, low-speed falls than they are in collisions with faster moving vehicles, in which helmets offer only limited protection.

    Yet, even that misses the larger point. While individuals are clearly better off wearing than not wearing helmets, society benefits from more bicycling, period, helmeted or not. Then, safety-in-numbers kicks in, as you saw in Davis. So, as a matter of public policy, governments should take a laissez faire approach to helmet regulation.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Yeah, I over simplified my helmet argument. European governments ditch the idea for bike helmet laws for adults once statistics started showing their negative effects on bicycle use (I’m still over simplifying). They realized that it is more effective to make the streets safer for cyclists in the first place and to avoid the accident in the first place. I’ve heard (in passing) some statistics out of Europe that says something to the effect that more head injuries happen to people while walking than cycling (probably raw numbers) but no one is suggesting helmet laws for pedestrians. It was in this 2000 article from the British Medical Journal (
    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/321/7276/1582 )

  • mork

    Andy B.

    Not to mention what must be a vastly larger number of head injuries while inside of motor vehicles.

    (Ever hear of someone suggesting a helmet law for cars? Maybe those bike helmet law proponents really do have something else in mind besides safety.)


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