Cars don’t make any sense in big cities. When you live in a densely-populated, highly-active area (as those of you who come from NYC can, I’m sure, attest), having a car is much more hassle than it’s worth. Imagine the chaos that would occur if everyone in Manhattan drove in to work between 8:00 and 9:00 and had to find parking space. It’s much more efficient for everyone to use public transit, take cabs, or (GASP!) walk places. And of course these options are all much better for the environment than cars. People who live in cities tend to be healthier than people who live in the suburbs, and it’s mainly because they walk so much, just as a matter of course.
America is such a car-crazy culture, though, that many cities have resisted this idea — and here I’m thinking of Los Angeles and Dallas in particular, where urban planners have designed cities for drivers rather than cities for people. Most urban planners I know see this as a disastrous idea. Cities thrive when they promote human interaction, not when they space everything far, far apart in order to leave room for everyone to park.
Anyways, one thing that London (as well as a number of other forward-minded cities around the globe) has been promoting especially vigorously recently is the idea of urban cycling. Check out the London Cycling Campaign here. With the Olympics coming up this summer, London has been especially keen to promote the idea of getting around by bike to help solve some of the congestion issues that will arise if everyone tries to take cabs.
To this end, they’ve launched a project called Barclay’s Cycle Hire — a bicycle sharing system, much along the same lines as the HWS Yellow Bikes program. (London didn’t invent this idea, of course — it’s been taking off over the past few years in cities around the world.) In London, they’ve been calling these bikes “Boris Bikes,” naming them for Boris Johnson, the current Mayor who launched the initiative. They’ve got about 6,000 bikes available at over 400 stations around the city. If you want to join in the program, it costs £1 for one day, £5 for a week, or £45 for a year, and you can grab any of these bikes, ride them wherever you need to go, and lock them up wherever you end up. The wrinkle is that you have to lock them up again within 30 minutes of renting one, or else further charges apply (and these charges get expensive fast).
So they’re really designed to get you from one place to another (to save you from taking a cab), not to let you cycle around for a leisurely ride — although I suppose you could do that for free too, so long as you remembered to change bikes every 30 minutes. If you want to go on longer bike rides (say, in some of the magnificent parks around the city), you’d need to go somewhere else to rent one, but there are options for this too.
All of which goes to say: consider packing your bike helmet for London so that you can cycle while you’re here. (I’m not sure of the law, but urban cycling obviously carries risks — I think you would be crazy to do it without a helmet…)
And on this note, here’s Queen from 1978 with “Bicycle Race.” (You probably know Queen from “We are the Champions,” “We Will Rock You,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” at the very least…)
This is one of the earliest rock videos ever made, and embarrassing on so many levels. Not least of which is the fact that Queen rented out Wembley Stadium and filmed 65 nude models riding bicycles as part of their promo campaign for the song. (You can see glimpses of them in the video, masked by “cutting-edge” video effects…) When the rental company learned this is what they had done, they made them pay to replace the seats.
Ah, the seventies…