London’s imminent cycling revolution enchants environmentalists but worries many.

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=velib&iid=4524833″ src=”0/2/f/3/PicImg_Velib_bicycles_in_63ac.JPG?adImageId=12882244&imageId=4524833″ width=”380″ height=”256″ /]Only three months are left before London gets its own Cycle Hire Scheme which is now officially set to be launched on July 30th, 2010.

City bikes will then be available for hire on docking stations that will be accessible every 300 meters in Central London. In fact, Transport for London guarantees there will be around 400 stations all together with about 6000 bikes in Zone 1. According to David Brown, the Director of Surface Transport at TfL, “when the London Cycle Hire scheme launches on 30 July, it will be the most sustainable, environmentally friendly and healthy form of public transport ever seen in the Capital.”

London follows inspiring cities

This plan was copied from similar Smart Bike programs that got a surge of popularity in the recent years across dozens of major cities in Europe and North America. The concept originated back in the 1960’s when a group of radicals in Amsterdam set up the White Bicycle Plan to encourage individuals to share bikes. The first municipal bike-sharing program to have successfully worked was in the French city of La Rochelle with its yellow bikes that invaded the streets as far back as 1974.

In 2007, the city of Paris saw the upcoming of the biggest bike hire scheme ever put into place in the world with about 20,000 bikes made available for hire on more than 1,200 docking stations. It proved to be a real political triumph for Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, which inspired former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone to conduct feasibility studies to bring the scheme on to the British capital.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=bicycle+city&iid=272309″ src=”0268/72dd3618-0e7d-4148-bc29-86077febcd39.jpg?adImageId=12882262&imageId=272309″ width=”224″ height=”341″ /]The current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has been considering the plan as one of his major priorities since he was elected in 2008. He explains, “this will provide a genuinely sustainable alternative to the car and encourage more Londoners to cycle”.

The economical crisis won’t stop it

Since the beginning of the initiative, a number of companies have jumped into the project in order to make the plan a public-private partnership. Last year, the privately owned public sector corporation Serco Limited was given a £140m contract to operate the whole scheme. At the worst moments of the economical crisis in 2008, Serco explained why TfL required their services. According to the company, “the financial crisis and subsequent economic slowdown means that governments around the world are contending with increasing demand for high quality services whilst also facing a sharp deterioration in public finances.”

But as of today, the government has managed to cover all expenses. While the Canadian company Bixi was contracted to build the bikes, Minale Tatterfield is responsible for the branding on the infrastructures. However a source from the project disclosed that the later company “went through a series of branding models, in some of which the scheme had its own branding. But ultimately it was decided this is very much a TfL initiative.”

In fact, unlike the Velib’ in Paris which is run free of charge by JCDecaux, the Cycles for Hire scheme in London has not been funded by an advertising firm but, on the contrary, it is entirely being subsidized by central funds. Today, Londoners fear they might have to bail the scheme out in the future just like Parisians did last November.

Apart from the fears that London’s taxpayer’s face, they also express their apprehension on a number of other issues surrounding the project. For example, safety matters trouble Dave who is a regular cyclist in the City. He ride his personal bike everyday to work and says, “the whole scheme in itself is not a bad idea but I think Mr Johnson should have given his priority to develop better cycling lanes before throwing himself into this. I still find it quite dangerous for anyone not too experienced to manage riding amongst the Taxis and buses here.”

A step towards a greener London

But amidst all this criticism, Johnson’s enterprise continues to be strongly supported by all environmental groups and individuals who believe that the so-called “cycling revolution” will be a way for London to become a greener and therefore healthier metropolis.

Organisations like Friends of the Earth, a charity dedicated to finding solutions to environmental problems, anticipate how beneficial the Cycle Hire scheme would be to London. Senior transport campaigner, Tony Bosworth, pointed out that “nearly a quarter of all car journeys in the UK are less than two miles long. Offering Londoners access to cheap bike hire would provide a greener and healthier alternative to driving – and help cut congestion, carbon emissions and air pollution in the capital.”

Hence, at the moment, if some Londoners are filled with a mixture of anticipations a few months before the launch of this scheme, which could change the face of transportation in London, ecologist and environmentalists continue to back Mayor Boris Johnson in all his efforts.


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