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Posts from the "Barcelona" Category

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European Parking Policies Leave New York Behind

Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.

Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.

Flashback to Europe, sixty years ago. Just emerging from the ruin of total war, the continent was in the midst of a nearly unprecedented reconstruction. Over the next decade, industry finally was able to turn toward consumer products, from stockings to refrigerators and, of course, the automobile. Italians owned only 342,000 cars in 1950, but ten years later that number had increased to two million, according to historian Tony Judt. In France, the number of cars tripled over the decade.

With mass car-ownership fundamentally new for Europe, parking policy was practically non-existent. The first parking meter — an American invention — only made it to Europe in 1958, arriving in front of the American embassy in London. In most places, cars could park not only for free but wherever they wanted: on the sidewalk, in a public square.

When they realized that simply giving drivers free rein to park anywhere was untenable, Europeans attempted to build enough parking to meet the population’s galloping demand. Public space, from sidewalks to canals, was turned into parking space. Zoning forced all new development to use money and space for parking. All these concessions, however, only made European cities friendlier to cars and further drove up demand.

Today, however, all that is in the past. As outlined in the new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, “Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation,” the continent is now leading the world when it comes to innovative, intelligent and sustainable parking policy [PDF].

Across Europe, cities have come to understand that oversupply or subsidy of parking leads to too much driving. The effect is considerable. In Vienna, for example, when the city began to charge for on-street parking, the number of vehicle kilometers traveled plummeted from 10 million annually to 3 million. In Munich, the introduction of a new parking management system has resulted in 1,700 fewer automobiles owned in the city center each year since 2000.

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Theft and Vandalism Just Not a Problem For American Bike-Sharing

Minneapolis' bike-share system has only had __ stolen bike, but it's not just because they're Minnesota nice. Theft and vandalism haven't been a problem for American bike-sharing systems. Photo: __.

Minneapolis's bike-share system has only had two stolen bikes, and not just because people there are Minnesota nice. Theft and vandalism haven't been a problem for any American bike-sharing system. Photo: Kevin Jack via Flickr.

Even as bike-sharing spreads across the United States, it remains dogged by one persistent doubt. Critics, and even some boosters, fear that the bikes will be routinely stolen and vandalized. It’s time to stop worrying about crime, however. In America’s new bike-sharing systems, there have been essentially no such problems.

Fears that public bikes will be abused can be traced to Paris’s Vélib system, which while wildly popular has struggled with high levels of theft and vandalism. Take Michael Grynbaum’s write-up last week of New York City’s bike-share plans in the Times, where crime is portrayed as the only downside:

In Paris, the pioneer of bike-sharing, the bikes are used up to 150,000 times a day. But there has also been widespread theft and vandalism; bicycles have ended up tossed in the Seine, dangling from lampposts and shipped off to northern Africa for illegal sale.

The scenes of Vélib bike abuse replicate descriptions widely circulated in a 2009 BBC story about the system’s troubles. The problems with Vélib are real, if overhyped by the media. In 2009, JCDecaux, the advertising agency that runs Vélib, estimated that over 8,000 bikes were stolen and another 8,000 rendered unrideable and irreparable. It was a problem that had to be addressed.

Luckily for the rest of the world, it seems to have been an easy fix for other cities. Many now believe that the locking mechanism at Vélib’s stations was poorly designed. Systems that use a different method have successfully controlled theft to the point where the cost is negligible.

Vélib bikes lock on the side of the frame, as seen here. Other operators, including ClearChannel, B-cycle and the Public Bike System, have had dramatically lower rates of theft and use a different locking method, explained Bill Dossett, who runs Minneapolis’s new NiceRide bike-sharing system. “The ClearChannel systems had the locking mechanism built into the headset,” where the handlebars meet the bicycle frame, “and just has never had the same problems,” he said.

For example, Barcelona’s Bicing system, run by ClearChannel, has had about one-fifth the rate of stolen public bikes as Vélib, despite higher theft rates citywide, according to the New York Department of City Planning.

Stateside, the problems with crime have been smaller still.

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Biz Students See Ripe Market for Bike-Share in NYC

NextBike.jpgA Nextbike kiosk in Tubingen, Germany. Image: Eldersign via Flickr.

With bike-share systems launching in three major American cities this year, the question naturally arises: Does New York have an appetite for bike-sharing?

Patricia Bayley and Martin Mazza say yes. Students at Barcelona's IESE, one of Europe's top business schools, Bayley and Mazza intend to open a bike-sharing company in New York City.

Along with a third student, Adrian Lui, Bayley and Mazza were recently selected as finalists in the "NYC Next Idea" business model competition. Sponsored by the NYC Economic Development Corporation, the competition invited graduate students from around the world to compete for seed money and free space in one of the city's business incubators.

Though their team didn't win the competition, the feedback they received encouraged Bayley and Mazza to pursue their plan. If they can secure venture capital for the project, they're ready to start working on it full-time come graduation day.

At this point, they aren't ready to tip their hand about many details, such as where bike stations would be located. They do intend to use a subscription model fairly similar to those in other cities, and their submission called for eventually installing 40,000 bikes across all five boroughs, an ambition they will scale back. "One of the critiques from the judges was to start smaller and see how the consumer reacts," said Bayley.

Both Mazza and Bayley are veteran New York City cyclists. While studying in Barcelona, they've had ample time to observe Bicing, Barcelona's bike-share program. They think they can do better. "We can learn from their mistakes," said Mazza. Added Bayley, "One of the big problems here in Barcelona is that the city is on a hill. People are renting them at the top and dumping them at the bottom." Inspired by both the success and the shortcomings of Bicing, they see a market in American cities, especially in flat, tightly-knit New York.

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Barcelona, 100 Years Ago: A Model for Streets Today?

This film, as featured on YouTube via Infrastructurist, shows the streets of Barcelona a century ago, taken from the front window of a tram going down the street. It's an amazing film. The central avenues of this Catalan city are so vital, so alive, a mix of every activity. Then the film compares the old streets to the same streets today. Quite a comparison.

The streets a century ago illustrate the principal of “tout a la rue,” meaning everything into the street. Cyclists, cars, pedestrians, streetcars, kids. And of course horses. Seems to work.

Interesting how bold the cyclists are in 1907. I wonder why they don’t seem to fear being tipped over by the streetcar tracks? They ride right across them, often at only a slight angle, and don’t get channeled into them. Were tracks built somehow with less of a gap between track and street? Were the tires of the bicycles fatter?

The views of the same streets today are distressing. I love Barcelona. It's one of my favorite cities. But the streets of today seem lifeless and sterile. Could they really be that barren today? Maybe the films from today were shot in the early morning, when few people were around. The streets certainly seemed very alive when I was there in 1994. Still, it's no doubt true that even the most active streets today are less so than those of a century ago. It's mostly the fault of the car, which we have given our streets over to so completely.

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