The White Plans are back in Europe. These were a series of plans put forth by Provo (no, not the one in Utah) in the mid-1960s. The one that I remember hearing about the most was the White Bicycle Plan for Amsterdam that put out 20,000 bicycles for community use in Amsterdam. It was genius at the time and my parents were responsible for telling me about it again and again all through my childhood. It sounded pretty cool at the time, but naturally faded away, just like a lot of the things from the sixties.
But, it was a good idea and it has come back in Europe as more and more people turn to cars and clog in the inner cities. I first saw it in action in Barcelona with Bicing (official Spanish and Catalan here). That was a cool thing to see in action because it was used by a great many people, since even the hottest day outside is still cooler than any day in the stuffy Metro stations or behind the wheel of a car. The only catch in all of this was the fact that you had to be a city resident of Barcelona to use the program.
Enter Vélib’ which is short for ‘vélo libre’ or ‘free bicycle’. This system is genius. Anyone can use it, which means that tourists, yes tourists can hit the streets and attempt to overtake Parisian traffic. This is a feat not to be taken lightly.
Yes, this system does cost something, albeit very little and you have to have a credit card to get access to a bike. But, I think this is a good thing because those who use the bikes pay for them and it gives some accountability for the bikes so that they can’t just be stolen in one fell swoop. Of course, I did see two kids peeling around on one who obviously weren’t old enough for a charge card and they have probably stolen an improperly locked bike. At some point, I’m sure they would get bored and probably return it, because what’s the fun in stealing something that is ubiquitous and mundane? It’s like grabbing a rock out of the river and running around going, “Ha! Look at that, I stole me a rock! Yeah! Rock! Yeah… Wait a minute…” Thus the genius of these systems and why the English deploying 300 bikes in 1993 just proved that was the best way to get 300 bikes stolen.
Because of my tight, 2 Day schedule, I didn’t get a chance to ride one of these bikes; I was on a walking tour after all. But, given the chance to do so again, I would gladly take it. I will just need to be sure that my private health insurance covers Parisian bicycle collisions.