If you've been a regular Parisian Spring reader for awhile, you've probably seen a couple of entries about Paris's bike sharing system known as Velib'. It's an incredibly user and environment-friendly public service that has been fully embraced by Parisians from all walks of life. As this recent article from The New York Times points out, France's capital isn't the only European city that is finding success with two-wheeled rentals. Barcelona, Lyon, Dusseldorf and Rome have all launched Velib'-like programs of their own.
While the article mentions a handful of reasons why public bike sharing hasn't caught on in North America, one of them really caught my attention: helmets. The author mentions that wearing a helmet isn't required for program participants in Europe, but insinuates that it would be a requirement in the U.S. or Canada. Presumably, this would dissuade citizens from signing up and cities from taking the risk that someone wouldn't protect their head. Whether true or not, it made me think about the stark differences in safety and personal choice that exist on either side of the Atlantic.
I always felt that Europe had a much more at-your-own-risk mentality, whereas American society tries to protect its citizens against all kinds of unfortunate occurrences. Take alcohol, for example. American rules regarding consumption of alcohol vary greatly by state, but they are all highly limiting in comparison with their European counterparts. Anyone who has been to Utah knows how liquor laws in the U.S. can get out of control, but even a more liberal state like Minnesota doesn't allow alcohol to be sold in grocery stores or on Sundays. Not to mention the 21-year old age limit. In Europe, it's up to the individual citizen to decide when, where and how much they drink. No protective state here, just liberty.
So bring the bikes to North America, already! We're adults, we can decide for ourselves how we dress for the occasion. Don't require helmet use. Do allow our communities to reap the benefits of a clean, efficient public service that can be enjoyed by all.