Over three million cars enter and depart Paris each day, which has contributed in part to the city having some of the highest pollution levels in the European Union. To address the problem, a decision was made in 2001 to reduce automobile traffic and prioritize other forms of transportation in Paris. In the video, Denis Baupin, the Deputy Mayor of Paris, describes the way the city reallocated some public space to build a tramway that transports three times as many people as cars previously did. They also made an effort to encourage Parisians to bicycle more with major improvements to the city including 400 km of bike paths. Despite their efforts, by 2005, cyclists still only accounted for about 1% of all transportation in Paris, well below what they had hoped for.
The Mayor’s office had a strong belief that biking would not only counter some of the city’s traffic and pollution problems but also improve the lives of Parisians on a personal level. But in order to accomplish their goal, the city government had to change the way that Parisians thought about biking. They wanted the public to see it not as an old-fashioned form of transportation used after World War II when people were struggling, but a fashionable and enjoyable way to experience the city while also getting to their destination.
They had already decided to implement a bicycle-sharing system but found very few successful models to work from. They decided to break Paris up into 400 square meter sections and conduct a significant amount of research and analysis on population density, job density, and the number of businesses in each section. They were then able to determine the potential demand for bikes. They knew that if they introduced an inadequate system and people had trouble finding bikes or were otherwise inconvenienced, it would be very hard to repair the damage to public opinion, so they only had one chance to get it right. After careful planning and an innovative approach to funding, they introduced Vélib’, the largest bicycle sharing system in the world, which boasts 20,000 bikes and 1,450 stations, one approximately every 300 meters. The name is a combination of the French words for bicycle (vélo) and free (libre) to suggest the freedom and fun of riding a bike.
In order to fund and implement such a large-scale system quickly, the city of Paris created a partnership with JCDecaux, one of the largest advertising agencies in France. The city of Paris allowed JCDecaux to install roughly 1,400 large advertising displays throughout the city, an approximate 60 million dollar value per year in outdoor media space. In exchange, JCDecaux agreed to pay for the initial construction and all the costs associated with running the Vélib’ system for the first ten years. So essentially JCDecaux paid for the entire system in exchange for a significant amount of outdoor advertising space that they can use for their clients.
With sturdy bike construction, a software system to help manage flow, a repair barge on the river Seine and 20 clean-fuel trucks to replenish stations when needed, Vélib’ has been even more successful than its creators had imagined. Not only do 50,000 to 100,000 people use Vélib’ bikes on an average day, but the number of trips that people take using their own bikes has also doubled. Cycling has become a major part of Parisian culture, which has had some quantitative effects on traffic and pollution. Yet, perhaps more important are the qualitative effects on the citizens of Paris. People are socializing at the stations, enjoying the weather, seeing parts of the city that they may have missed before and getting some exercise, while also arriving at their destination.
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