[Outlook]Bright ideas about bikes

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[Outlook]Bright ideas about bikes

In a column on the May 29 edition of the JoongAng Ilbo, I wrote that riding a bike is a good option when gas is so expensive. Many people told me it was a good idea and people around me sang the song that I wrote in the column. The lyrics go: “If gas is too expensive, ride a bike/If you don’t have a bike, you can walk.”

The more good feedback I got about the column, the more interested I became in bikes. When I was doing interviews about other subjects, I found myself having conversations about bikes as well. One person I met suggested that the 25 districts of Seoul could run a bike rental program. I agreed that it was a very good idea. I found out later that Songpa already had a program and Gangnam and Mapo, along with Gwacheon and Goyang in Gyeonggi Province, are going to start similar programs and let private companies operate it.

Paris’s Velib Project, which started in July last year, is the first public bicycle rental program. The word Velib is the combination of velo, the French word for bicycle, and liberte, or freedom. The system is popular because the rentals only require nominal fees and riders don’t need to return the bikes to the same place they rented them from. There are 750 Velib rental spots in Paris with 16,000 bikes. You pay 29 euros ($45) per year and you can rent a bike for as long as you want, all throughout the year. In the month the program started alone, 50,000 people signed up for membership and 1.5 million rented bikes. The figure has been climbing ever since. You rent a bike at a Velib rental spot, bike to your destination and return the bike at the nearest Velib stand. JC Decaux operates the scheme, paying for the bicycles and maintaining the rental stands. In return, the city of Paris gave the company the right to run advertisements on over 1,600 rental posts.

The scheme is regarded by many as one of the best policies Paris has initiated in for decades. The program has spread across France and to other European cities. Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, visited Paris last year and studied the Velib program to adopt it to his city.

Songpa District in Seoul has two rental spots, one in the Hangaram apartment complex in Pungnap-dong and the other beside the Cheonho subway station. There are 30 bikes and some 50 people use them per day. By next year, Songpa plans to open more than 300 rental spots offering 4,000 bicycles.

Gangnam District has also decided to introduce a bike rental program. It plans to open bicycle lanes that run next to the sidewalk in each direction on main thoroughfares such as Eonjuro Street and Yeongdong Bridge. The city has already put bus lanes in the middle of these roads. It will be the first time that lanes are reserved exclusively for bikes on majorstreets.

Changwon, South Gyeongsang recently presented a good measure to encourage citizens to bike to work. The city will give an allowance of up to 30,000 won ($29) to those who bike to work. Changwon revised its ordinances in April and set aside a budget of 3 billion won for the program.

But there is one condition. Companies first have to provide the allowance to the employees who bike to work more than 15 days a month. Then the city will reimburse the companies. Firms that participate can cut down on both the size and maintenance costs of parking lots. On top of this, the companies can boost their image as environmentally friendly businesses. The city estimates that 80,000 people, some 10 percent of all workers, will use the program; it plans to begin operations in January next year. The residents of Changwon will be able to get exercise while riding to and from work, and get an allowance at the same time.

Biking should become a means of transportation for us, especially with oil prices so high. Biking is good for your health and the environment. We have become accustomed to speeds of 100 kilometers per hour while driving, but going 10 kilometers per hour relaxes you and lets you enjoy the whole trip much more than driving.

There is one problem with biking in Korea. If you cause an accident while on your bike, you can get 15 demerit points on your driver’s license.

This regulation is difficult to understand and even harder to accept. The government has pursued a business friendly policy. It’s time toadd bicycle-friendly laws as well.

*The writer is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Young-jae
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