Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mexico City parks bikes in key spots for Commuters

Officials in Mexico's capital have parked bikes in key areas and, for a fee, made them available to commuters in hopes of making a dent in the city's aggressive car culture and improving the air. Take a vast, teeming megalopolis where the car is king, bicycle paths are few and motorists often seem determined to mow down anyone not tucked behind a steering wheel.

Now try talking residents into pedaling to work every day to help the environment.

The new project, called Ecobici, is modeled on bike-lending programs in such cities as Barcelona, Spain; Paris; and Copenhagen. Planners hope that by saturating certain Mexico City neighborhoods with the three-speed bikes, they can persuade residents to consider making cycling at least part of their daily commute.

Ecobici users pay a $24 yearly registration fee and get a membership card, which they can swipe across an electronic reader at any station to release a bicycle. Riders have free use for up to 30 minutes and are charged up to $3 an hour for longer intervals.

"A lot of people said, 'You are crazy; bikes in Mexico City?' But we have visited a lot of cities around the world that did it with success," said Martha Delgado, environmental secretary for Mexico City's government. "We have beautiful weather here. We need to recover space. We need to improve air quality."

So far, city officials have placed 1,100 bikes at 85 stations in several busy neighborhoods near downtown. The areas were chosen as promising proving grounds because they boast a mix of residences and businesses.