TALLINN - Mayor of Tallinn Juri Ratas has announced a bold plan to introduce a low-cost public bicycle loan system as a means to combat urban congestion and pollution. Ratas, inspired by what he saw during a recent visit in Lyons, France, said he wanted Tallinn to become a bicycle-friendly city. Under his scheme, hundreds of bicycles would be available at kiosks across the city for a very small fee.
"Two weeks ago I was in Lyons. There are public booths where people can borrow bicycles. They have 173 booths with 2,000 bicycles, and they aim to open 300 booths with 4,000 bicycles. I hope to have something similar in Tallinn by next year," Ratas told The Baltic Times. Similar projects operating in cities around the world are subsidized by advertising on public structures.
Residents can sign up for the system by supplying their credit card details and leaving a deposit. Users collect a bicycle from a kiosk, ride it to their destination, and leave it at another kiosk.
Lyons' system has over 15,000 registered users, and similar arrangements across Europe have proved equally successful. Ratas said he had already begun negotiations to make his concept a reality, though he warned "it isn't very simple."
First of all, cyclists in Tallinn are a rare sight. Many residents believe the roads are too dangerous to traverse on bicycles, and concerns remain about the safety of bikes once locked. Cases of bike theft have been numerous.
Ratas said he wanted to change this attitude by building more cycle lanes and creating more secure storage areas.
This year the city will pave 500 kilometers of cycle paths, Ratas said. "My goal is to see that 50 percent of the roads are suitable for bicyclists. This is modeled on other cycle-friendly cities. We have 948 kilometers of roads, 141 kilometers of which is now suitable for cycling. This is about 15 or 16 percent, so a lot remains to be done," Ratas said.
Once cyclists reach the city center, they will be able to leave their bikes at one of two secure parking lots.
The two bicycle parks would be guarded and free of charge, the mayor asserted.
Ratas' drive to make Tallinn a bike-friendly city coincides with his campaign for the introduction of a Green Capital of Europe competition (see story Page 11). He is currently petitioning the European Commission to approve the Green Capital scheme, which would see the title bestowed upon one city each year. Ratas predicted Tallinn would not be ready to receive such a title until 2018.