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Paris Aims to Cut Traffic With Bikes

The City of Light wants to be the city that bikes.

Paris City Hall launched a new bicycle service Sunday, with more than 10,600 posted at 750 stations all over the city. Users can take a bike and put it back at any station around town.

The service -- called Velib', a combination of the words "velo" (bike) and "liberte" (liberty) -- is an initiative pushed by Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who has made fighting traffic and pollution his No. 1 goal.

For Parisians, the bicycle service means another public transport option, in addition to the subway, buses and trams, Delanoe said.

"In the morning, you can go to work in the tram and come home by bike; it depends on the weather, it depends on your mood and on your friends," Delanoe said at the launch.

Business was brisk the first day. Parisian Sandrine Millet checked out her local station near the Champs-Elysees avenue and discovered only four bicycles left at a stand of 27. She hopped on one of the gray three-speeds and said it was "very comfortable."

"It's perfect for short rides, when you want to get somewhere fast, but don't have the courage to walk," she said.

Velib' is also accessible to tourists. The service is offered in eight languages, and its machines accept foreign credit cards.

Paris is following the example of other European cities with inexpensive bicycle services, including Stockholm, Vienna, Brussels, Barcelona and Copenhagen.

Delanoe has promoted biking heavily since taking office in 2001, and the city now has 230 miles of bike lanes. Velib' is due for expansion: By the year's end, Paris says it will nearly double the number of Velib' bicycles and stations.

A yearlong pass costs $39.50, while a one-day pass costs $1.36 -- and a seven-day ticket goes for $6.80. But the project is designed for short rides and has a sliding price scale -- so as to keep the bikes in rotation.

The first half-hour after users pick up a bike is free, but additional half-hours cost extra. Anyone who does not know the sliding scale and goes for a long joyride is in for a surprise: A one-day pass plus a 6-hour ride costs around $55.

Paris is distributing pocket copies of road safety rules to Velib' riders -- but bikers have to supply their own helmets.

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