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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Urban Solutions

I finally got my www.Valenbisi.es card to work. There was nothing wrong with the card or with the system and if you do it correctly the access is immediate. You first need a Mobilís card for the Valencia bus and metro system which you can buy at any tobacco shop. Next you log on to the web site and follow the instructions (Spanish, Valenciano, and English are offered). It costs 18€ for a year’s subscription and after charging your credit card you will receive a PDF receipt with all of your information. Next you need to verify your PIN number online by responding to an email. Next you take the card and your receipt to any Valenbisí station and register your card by punching in a few required numbers on the station keypad.

Once your card has been activated you just need to scan it at the station, enter your PIN, and press #1 which tells you to select a bike. It will show all of the available bikes at that station and you enter the number of the post of the bike you want to take. At the bike post you press a button and the bike is released. From this moment you have 30 minutes to ride the bike and then you must dock it at another station or pay a tariff. The system is designed for short trips of less than 30 minutes which is why rides under 30 minutes are free. You could make 100 trips a day of less than 30 minutes and not pay anything more than your annual fee of 18€.

If I have one problem with the Valencia system it’s the name, Valenbisí. It doesn’t really roll off the tongue like the Paris system called Vélib or the one in Barcelona called Bicing and in Lyon it’s called Vélov—very cool.  I know it’s not a big deal but I talked about this with some Spanish friends and they agreed with me. I’m pretty thrilled that the program has started so I’ll learn to live with the clunky name. The goal in Valencia is to have 275 stations with 2750 bikes available. I don’t know how close they are to this so far but it looks like they are working full steam ahead to finish all the proposed stations. I have two stations within a block from my apartment.

The system was inaugurated back in June and it looks to be quite a success already. Valencia is perfect for this type of program for many reasons: distances around town are quite short, Valencia has no hills, the weather is perfect for cycling almost all year, and there already exists an extensive network of bike paths. I predict that the city will look completely different in as little as six months from now. The culture of bikes is being thrust upon Valencia. I have noticed the Valenbisi bikes all over the place, especially near the University on Blasco Ibañez (a major boulevard with bike paths on either side of the street).

I saw a comment on a forum discussing bike share programs and someone asked, “Why don’t people just buy their own bikes?” There are a lot of reasons why people like bike sharing so I’ll just list a few. For one thing, many people who live in cities don’t have a place to keep a bicycle.  If you live on the third floor of an apartment building and you don’t have an elevator, a bicycle can be very inconvenient. If you are leaving town you probably wouldn’t want to leave your bike at the train station.  If you are commuting across town by bus or metro you may still be rather far away from your destination and bike sharing can take your that extra kilometer. You don’t have to worry about maintenance or theft.

One intangible item in this formula is the Valenbisi bikes are just cool. I know this cool factor will wear off with time but there is no denying it now while we are in the initial phases of the project. By being a member and using the bikes you can’t help but think that you are involved in making the city a better place for everyone.  Whenever I ride these bikes I feel that I am advertising for a more sustainable transit system and cleaner air. And what could be cooler or more hip than riding a bike downtown to visit and art exhibit on a Sunday afternoon?   I was patting myself on the back so hard today that I almost lost control of my bike.Besides, everyone knows that bikes are a lot of fun.

I heard one planning engineer describe the more successful bike share programs as “transformational” meaning that they actually transform the city. I believe this will happen in Valencia, a city without much of a bike culture. The more bikes people see on the streets of Valencia the more they will start considering cycling as a transportation option.  Not only will more and more people start participating in Valenbisi (there are already about 25,000 members) but more people will begin riding the bikes that they own and haven’t used much. The program in Paris has caused an increase of 20% in new bike sales.  Increased ridership increases safety for cyclists and with increased safety you will see even more people using the bike as a transportation tool.
There are times when the program is too popular, like this empty station in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. This station often is without bikes even though it has 30 posts. It is also a station that accepts credit cards (not all do) which means out-of-towners can get bikes here (only residents are allowed to use Barcelona's system). Fortunately, there was another station a few hundred meters away that had bikes.

2 comments:

  1. I wish Madrid had a similar scheme, although some parts of town are pretty hilly.

    ReplyDelete
  2. If I miss one thing about living in Seattle it's monster hills and lung-busting mountains.

    ReplyDelete

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