The phenomenon that is Paris’ much-lauded bicycle-share scheme has arrived – but are there enough bikes to create change, wonders Anthony Tan?
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

In December last year, I wrote a blog titled 'The
Vélib in Oz? Why not?' and discussed the notion of whether Paris'
successful bike-share program would work in Australia.

"But," I
cautioned, "with cycling-related accidents and fatalities also on the
rise in countries like Australia and the US, we must first build the
appropriate infrastructure to accommodate the Vélib or cycle-friendly
pathways, particularly in Sydney."

For those lucky Melbournians,
as of a fortnight ago, infrastructure and initiative have melded.


So far in cycle-friendly Melbourne, there are 10 Vélib-style stations in the city
centre and 100 bicycles available for short-term hire, designed for
trips lasting no longer than 30 minutes. A paltry $50 will allow you to
rent the bikes for a year.

By August 500 more bikes will be
available and in September, Brisbane will kick off its scheme.


Sydneysiders will have to wait a little longer. Said Lord Mayor Clover
Moore rather pragmatically (and sensibly): "We are committed to a
cycle-hire system for Sydney following construction of our 200-kilometre
cycle network, which is under construction."

The ABC
this week aired a documentary on the Vélib, which, for those of you who
are unaware, stems from the French words vélo – meaning bike –
and libert̩ Рfreedom.

Paris' bicycle-hire scheme was by
no means the first of its kind but notably, before the Vélib program was
introduced, town planners studied the mistakes of previous systems and
tailored theirs for the still vehicle-ridden city.

The Vélib
planners said a minimum 10,000 bicycles was required to achieve
cut-through to begin with (that figure has now more than doubled), which
makes me question whether the Melbourne program, with relatively far
fewer bikes, will be as successful – or a success at all.

"The
primary effect of the Vélib is to acknowledge the place of the bicycle
in the city," said one of its founders.

100 – or even 600 –
extra bikes in a major capital are unlikely to do that.


Interestingly, one of the unexpected benefits of the Vélib in Paris is
that since its introduction, the largest increase in cycle trips to work
has come not from the hire bikes themselves, but people using their own
bikes.

And among the rather cold Parisian crowd, the Vélib has
encouraged communication with blogs and people using the stations as
pick-up joints. No harm in that. Far healthier than going to a pub,
getting plastered and beer-goggled and foul of breath, trying to hit on
some unsuspecting stranger.

Realistically, the Vélib, even if
adopted in every major city around the world, will do little to curb
global warming.

But as its chief architect said, it is an
awareness-raising instrument for ecology, and over time, may just change
the intransigent mind of the motorist.