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Voulez-vous un vélo?

If CO2 emissions from transport cause climate change, why not encourage more cycling? This is precisely what places like Brussels, Copenhagen, Vienna and Berlin are starting to do. One much talked about initiative is in Paris. As the home of cycling’s greatest race, the Tour de France, you would be forgiven for thinking the French always loved cycling. Yet until last year, cyclists and bicycle lanes were a rarity in the capital.

Now a revolution is in the air and a major catalyst is Vélib’. Composed from two French words, vélo meaning bike and liberté meaning freedom, this computer-based, 24/7 self-service rental service has doubled in size since its launch by the city of Paris and advertising company JCDecaux in July 2007. The 20,000 French-built bikes are safe and sturdy, and are cheap and easy to use too.

Parisians and visitors like Vélib’ because it is practical, says Ágoston Fáber, who tested it for a current affairs weekly in Hungary: “You no longer have to worry about having your bike pinched, you can switch to other transport if it rains, it is far cheaper than buying a new bike if you stick to the rules, and there is no repair needed, as this is the responsibility of JCDecaux.”

However, despite almost 400 km of cycle lanes, traffic junctions are not designed for cyclists, and getting motorists and cyclists to live together is difficult.

Still, cycling is back in Paris. One bike shop even says business has boomed since Vélib’s launch! But whether Vélib has helped cut Paris’s CO2 emissions is far less certain.  RJC

©OECD Observer No 267 May-June 2008