From Green Wheels to Man-powered Wheels: Biking in Strasbourg and Boston
About the Author: Ms. Emily Ubbes is currently interning at the U.S. Consulate General in Strasbourg
While enjoying our new electric Chevy Volt, staff members of the U.S. Consulate in Strasbourg have also been benefiting from another mode of green transportation this summer: bike riding! And, apparently, so have the people in our sister city, Boston!
For over 50 years, Strasbourg, France and the city of Boston, Massachusetts have been sister cities according to the Boston Strasbourg Sister City Association, a nonprofit organization designed by president Eisenhower to enhance international understanding through cultural programs and exchanges. Originally, these cultural centers bonded in terms of their strengths in economy, education, medicine, and government, but over the years, they have become more and more similar in terms of cultural advancements, perhaps in part due to this intercontinental cooperation. Both cities hold great pride in historical architecture, majestic churches, and grandiose landmarks, and as time progresses, they are only growing closer together, which has connected the two municipalities in yet another important area of life: transportation.
To many, Strasbourg has been considered one of the most bicycle accessible cities in all of France, with over 130,000 cyclists and over 500 km (310 mi) of bike paths. Strasbourg also has a very effective bike rental system, which I have had the pleasure of using for the past year. Velhop, the go-to solution for long-term and short-term bike rentals has been operating since 2010 and offers many payment plans for students, carte bageo holders, and those who plan to rent bicycles for any period of time. This company has brought cycling in Strasbourg to a whole new level of accessibility! Though it has taken a little longer for Boston to catch up to the cycling trend, in 2007, Mayor Menino implemented Boston Bike, an initiative determined to transform Boston into a leading bike friendly city. Over the past 5 years, the city of Boston has installed 2,750 bike racks, and is continuing to add an additional 250+ each year, slowly but surely catching up to Strasbourg’s current 19,000 bicycle parking spaces.
In order to transition the Bostonian mindset in terms of transportation to that of a European city, such as Strasbourg, this metropolis is focusing on five universal bike planning areas: Engineering, Enforcement, Education, Encouragement, and Evaluation. Using their sister city, Strasbourg, as inspiration, Boston will continue to provide safe condition for cyclists, as well as increasing the pleasure and convenience of biking, in order to make cycling the natural choice for citizens of Boston, just like it seems to be the most used mode of transportation in Strasbourg. In my opinion, transforming Boston’s bike sharing system, where people can pick up bikes from hubs and return them within 30 minutes, to a more user friendly bike rental company, like Velhop, would help to encourage biking in the city of Boston. From personal experience, having lived both in the United States and in France, I can say that the U.S. has a lot of work to do when it comes to promoting healthier and more earth-friendly modes of transportation. We need to get past the stereotypes that more people walk and bike in Europe and more people drive cars in America. Although Boston will have greater tribulations when it comes to safety, as it is a busier and more populated city, it has seen the benefits, both to human health and environmental safety, which are associated with becoming a world-class bicycling city, and it is on its way to becoming a role model for other cities in the U.S..
The goal of the sister city program is ultimately to enhance cultural awareness and to learn from other parts of the world in order to better ourselves. Citizens of Boston have seen firsthand how the cycling community of Strasbourg improves the city, and soon the two cities will be on the same level when it comes to bicycle accessibility. On the other hand, maybe Strasbourg could learn from Boston when it comes to wearing helmets. Almost 73% of Bostonian cyclists sport the stylish headgear; whereas, it is evident when strolling down the streets of Strasbourg that helmets are only worn by children with overprotective parents! Either way, the cooperation between Boston and Strasbourg will continue to better cultural awareness, as well as cultural programs in the cities themselves, for centuries to come.
Want to become a cyclist in Boston or Strasbourg? Follow these links for more information: