Vélib’ in Paris
And in DC, Capital Bikeshare
Capital Bikeshare has been around since 2008, a year after the launch of Paris's wildly successful Vélib’ program, itself modeled after a program in Lyon. DC's program has been judged a success with over 116 stations in the District and Arlington, over 1,100 bikes, and more than 1 million rides taken. But that's just a piker compared to what you can find in Paris and 30 surrounding communities: a total of 1,800 stations and 20,000 bikes.
Why the difference? For starters, using bikes for transportation has a much stronger history in Europe, enduring from the days of World War II when traveling by car was out of the question. A second distinct but related point is that the vast majority of folks who bike in DC do so for exercise and dress accordingly. You may see a guy in a suit on a bike but trust me, you will never see a woman in heels. Third, Paris is a mixed use city: virtually every neighborhood is a place where people both live and work. There are mixed use neighborhoods in DC but the dominant theme is work downtown, live elsewhere.
A final issue, one still not fully dealt with in DC, is the issue of the helmet. While in my opinion, there are still far too many cyclists going helmetless, there is a sense that a helmet is essential to a safe bike ride. Capital Bikeshare acknowledges this but still hasn't figured out how to dispense helmets at unmanned stations, especially when helmets can't be adjusted for size and people understandably don't want to share headgear. Although the Vélib’ Web site notes, "Port du casque recommandé," you rarely see a Parisian wearing a helmet. If you do, it's a good bet, he or she is actually from the U.S. or Canada. In fact, there have been numerous serious accidents with Vélib’ (including at least six deaths) but thankfully nothing comparable has occurred in DC.
As for me, I'm sticking with the Metro as my preferred method of transportation in both DC and Paris. Kudos to those who bike...as long as they wear a helmet. If you're not convinced, I suggest you watch this short video.