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European Support for Bicycles Promotes Sharing of the Wheels

BARCELONA, Spain - In increasingly green-conscious Europe, there are said to be only two kinds of mayors: those who have a bicycle-sharing program and those who want one.

Over the last several years, the programs have sprung up and taken off in dozens of cities, on a scale no one had thought possible and in places where bicycling had never been popular.

The sharing plans include not just Paris's Vélib', with its 20,000 bicycles, but also wildly popular programs with thousands of bicycles in major cities like Barcelona and Lyon, France. There are also programs in Pamplona, Spain; Rennes, France; and Düsseldorf, Germany. Even Rome, whose narrow, cobbled streets and chaotic traffic would seem unsuited to pedaling, recently started a small trial program, Roma'n'Bike, which it plans to expand soon.

For mayors looking to ease congestion and prove their environmental bona fides, bike-sharing has provided a simple solution: for the price of a bus, they invest in a fleet of bicycles, avoiding years of construction and approvals required for a subway. For riders, joining means cut-rate transportation and a chance to contribute to the planet's well-being.

The new systems are successful in part because they blanket cities with huge numbers of available bikes, but the real linchpin is technology. Aided by electronic cards and computerized bike stands, riders can pick up and drop off bicycles in seconds at hundreds of locations, their payments deducted from bank accounts.

"As some cities have done it, others are realizing they can do it, too," said Paul DeMaio, founder of MetroBike, a bicycle transportation consulting company based in Washington, D.C., that tracks programs worldwide. "There is an incredible trajectory."

The huge new European bicycle-sharing networks function less as recreation and more as low-cost alternate public transportation. Most programs (though not Paris's) exclude tourists and day-trippers...

Full Story: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/10/world/europe/10bike.html?hp