Paris to launch bike system

It should decrease the city's traffic, parking, noise and air pollution.

Published March 25, 2007

PARIS - Paris is for lovers - lovers of food and art and wine, lovers of romance and, starting this summer, lovers of bicycles.

On July 15, the day after Bastille Day, Parisians will wake up to discover thousands of low-cost rental bikes at hundreds of high-tech bicycle stations scattered throughout the city, an ambitious program to cut traffic, reduce pollution, improve parking and enhance the city's image as a greener, quieter, more relaxed place.

Based on experience elsewhere - particularly in Lyon, France's third-largest city, which launched a similar system two years ago - regular users of the bikes will ride them almost for free.

"It has completely transformed the landscape of Lyon - everywhere you see people on the bikes," said Jean-Louis Touraine, the city's deputy mayor.

The program was meant "not just to modify the equilibrium between the modes of transportation and reduce air pollution, but also to modify the image of the city and to have a city where humans occupy a larger space."

The Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanok, has the same aim, said his aide, Jean-Luc Dumesnil.

But there is a practical side, too, Dumesnil said. A recent study analyzed different trips in the city "with a car, bike, taxi and walking, and the bikes were always the fastest."

The main complaint voiced by riders is that at certain times in certain places - such as mornings at local universities - all the racks can be occupied, making it impossible to return a bike.

"I'm going to start using my own bike, because sometimes there are not enough spaces in the rack" at school, said art student Cecile Noiser, 19.

Company and city officials said that because the system sends in electronic data about which bikes are where, they are exploring ways to redistribute bikes using trucks to better match customers' needs.

Touraine said the glitches are minor compared with the benefits.