Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bicycle Love

Velov is a portmanteau of the french word velo (bicycle) and the english word love (love), and is the name of a joint venture of the city of Lyon and a french advertising company to provide low cost bicycle rental service throughout the city and many of its suburbs. The city provides free space to park the bikes and some free advertising space as well, and the advertising company provides the bikes and maintenance and rental services for just enough cost to cover their expenses. I think it works quite well, and it is very popular in Lyon.

To use the bikes you have to purchase a membership card, and then you can rent a bike anytime you want just by swiping your card in front of a card reader at all of the bike rental spots. The membership costs 1 euro for a day, or 15 euros for an entire year, and there are weekly or monthly options as well. Once you have a membership, you can borrow a bike for up to 30 minutes for free, and then pay a fee of about 75 cents per half hour after that. I can bike from my house to work in 12 minutes, and in fact I can bike all the way across town in just about 30, so for most people the bike rentals are free once you have the membership.

This weekend I was able to convince George to take a bike out with me, and we rode out to the Lyon suburb of Villeurbanne, to check out some more of the interesting architecture of Tony Garnier (who I wrote a brief bit about earlier in this post).

When these buildings where built in the 1930s, they were the tallest buildings in Villeurbanne, and the neighborhood is still known as Gratte-Ciel (skyscraper) because of this. Real skyscrapers are actually extremely rare in France--the city of Seattle, Washington has more of them than the entire country of France--so I guess the name hasn't lost much of its significance since then.

The area is very well planned. Large streets, with wide sidewalks lined with many trees for shade, and plenty of caf├ęs and restaurants with outdoor seating for enjoying the nice summer weather. This street is also home to one of only two Starbucks in the Lyon area, and one of only a handful of Subway restaurants (although new Subways seem to be popping up all over the city now). The presence of these two restaurants is a big plus too, not because I am a huge fan of either (I don't even drink coffee), but because this was a sunday in August which means that nearly all of the french restaurants were closed, and the nice summer weather I mentioned above was a lie because it was about 94 degrees and humid, and American franchises all have great air conditioning systems

The neighborhood is also extremely white. All of the buildings are plane white with no color other than whatever flowers decorate the many balconies. It is also extremely clean, which is pretty rare for 80 year old white buildings. My friend Jouan at work calls it the communist quarter of Lyon, not because they have universal healthcare and good public transportation, but because everything is so orderly, utilitarian, plain, and white.

I liked the area, although I think it is a bit too far out from the things I want to be close to (work, mexican food, the store that sells dr. pepper, etc.), but like I said earlier, Lyon is not that big of a place, and this is only 3 more subway stops past my house, or an additional 15 minutes on the rental bikes.

1 comment:

Trisha said...

Lovely pictures! I like the look of the Lyon community bikes.