Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Freedom of Transportation

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.


Fida said...

I drove my bike to work in highheels and my business suit back in Switzerland - never even thought of wearing a helmet. Driving a bike here in Canada is almost like showing publicly that you have a death wish, wearing a helmet is not even enough protection. If one would try to run over a biker in Amsterdam one would be in danger to get a life sentence. I had a blast exploring Amsterdam and Copenhagen on a bike. But I even didn't try to rent a bike in Toronto - I am not that crazy!

Tanya said...

Fida: I've heard from so many sources that Copenhagen and Amsterdam are great bike cities. I'd love to bike there! I didn't think twice about biking in Paris without a helmet either. Not even when I would bike up the Champs-Elysees and through the Etoile roundabout. But here in DC? Makes me more than a little nervous. European drivers seem more used to sharing the road.

Fida said...

I've never biked in Paris. I have a friend who is passionate about it and wrote a great article about it, though it's in German. I biked in Roterdam as well. If you consider biking in Amsterdam, you may want to check out a bike store that rents out newer bikes. I rented one at the train station, and it was a bit wobly. I guess they don't have the best bikes there. Just a thought. Oh, and in Amsterdam you have the right of way as a biker!

Blair said...

You do know that DC started a bike-share program, right? Not that I know anyone who has used it . . . most of the avid cyclists around here already have their own fancy-schmancy wheels!