by Jeremy Torr
If driving a car is driving you nuts as you face increasing fuel bills, increasing congestion, rising road tolls and ever more pollutants puffing out of your car engine even though you are going nowhere fast – then think bike.
If your journey is under 5kms, the chances are a bicycle will be faster than a car, door to door. If it is 5-10km, it will probably average about the same time. If you factor in your own health and fitness, the reduction in pollution, and the cost savings – as well as the lack of frustration a slow car journey can bring – it’s a no brainer. City bikes make a lot of sense. Which is why many major cities offer special cycle schemes for visitor and residents.
One of the first I saw was in Barcelona, where the city bus company decided to augment its services with self-service bicycle hire. It uses distinctive red ‘Bicing’ bicycles, parked in special racks at many places around the city. You simply swipe the prepaid transport card, key your code in and the rack unlocks one bike for you. Arrive at the nearest park to your destination, slot the bike back into the rack, and you are done.
Similar schemes exist in London (OYBike), Paris (Velib), Copenhagen (Bycyklen), Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Munich and
Karlsruhe (Calla Bike) which use a variety of methods to pay a basic low hire fee. Once you are done, you either lock the bike to a lamp-post for collection or deposit it in a dedicated bike rack. Brussels, Lyon, Vienna and Oslo also have similar schemes. And in cities that offer schemes like this, there is often a comprehensive network of off-road or dedicated bicycle lanes you can use.
The big plus to this approach is the bikes are all well maintained (the ones in Copenhagen are fixed up by rehabilitees, who offer another useful service to the community), you don’t have to pay big bucks to buy them, and you don’t have to worry about them being stolen. The other massive bonuses are that you can always cycle much more directly than you can drive, you get to see quaint backstreets and river paths, you can avoid clogged main roads, and you get to see the life of the city (as opposed to the deadness of its main arteries).
Even eco-laggards in Singapore can take folding bikes on the trains and buses, and there is a spanking new network of off-road trails to get equatorial riders to work without having to brave the main roads.
In some cities – Adelaide and Patras in Greece – it gets even better: tourists get the use of free bikes. Amsterdam used to have a similar scheme, and Ken Livingstone was about to introduce a similar system in London before he was voted out of office as mayor.
But one of the most enterprising systems is being rolled out (pun) in Dublin. Called Ecocabs, the free shuttle uses totally funky neo-rickshaws, paid for by advertising. The service is limited to around 2kms from the city centre, with travelers boarding at designated pickup points or by hailing an empty Ecocab. The big plus (as well as the cost) is you don’t have to pedal. Or get wet if it’s raining (it is Ireland, remember).
But no matter if you pedal your own bike, take a temporary rental, borrow a free civicbike or take an Ecocab, traveling in cities on a bike is a Good Thing. It is easy, cheap, relatively quick, and much better for our world. Give it a try.
Photos by Jeremy Torr and company sources.