Friday, November 14, 2008

Seoul Velib'

I enjoyed my first ride on a Seoul city free bicycle, and it definitely beats the Parisian Velib'.

Well... actually, I didn't use the automatic system (not implemented yet in Jongno-gu*), but the simple rental service, a partnership between the "gu" and the condo. Each building has its own 10-bike station, and as a resident, I don't have to pay anything. I just have to check-in and check-out at the management during office hours. When the full systems work, I can just like in France pick up any bike I fancy anywhere and drop it at any station.

On the upside, it's free and there is no time limit : I just have to bring it back before the office closes (the coach wouldn't turn into a pumpkin, but my face might be flushing like a strawberry). And since it works with a standard lock, I can park almost anywhere.

Beyond the concept, the green bicycle itself is really comfortable and quite light : since (unlike Parisians) Seoulites don't tend to vandalize nor steal things, the City didn't have to order Velib'-style 500-pound armored tanks. You wouldn't want to ride the Grey Panzer on such a hilly city. I wish this V1 came with headlights, though.

Another thing : Seoul was not meant for bicycles, and cars keep ruling the traffic. Few drivers are used to 2-wheel vehicles and that can be dangerous, particularily on a big road. Still, the situation is changing dramatically and very quickly : many kids learn to ride, bike shops have been multiplying over the past five years, tens of kilometers of bike lanes are created every year, and the local administration is more than eager to accelerate the process.

If many axes are already covered (ie you can ride marathons along the riversides), some touristic hubs could be improved. For instance, I was disappointed to see** no specific lane or crossing on the Sejongno restoration project in Gwanghwamun, which at least (and at last!) empowers the passer-by at the heart of the city.

Anyway. Lanes or no lanes, Seoul is definitely on the right track.

I rediscovered my native Paris with the Velib' and I intend to do the same in Seoul.

* For instance, Gangnam-gu plans : 250 stations and 3,000 bikes, 30 mn free + 1,000 KRW / 30 mn (see "Bike craze has Seoul putting in a ‘Velib’ program" - JoongAng Ilbo 20081021)

** To be honest, I only saw drawings and paintings of the project... and in this country artist's renderings are as trustable as three-dollar bills, particularily when buildings or real estate are involved.

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