Around sunrise this July 22ndin Onawa Iowa, near the Missouri River, more than 10,000 individuals from all over the world will swing a leg over a bicycle, clip into their pedals, and venture eastward. One week later the grand tour will end in Davenport, on the Mississippi. The cyclists arrive in all ages, shapes, and sizes; and it’s been going on every year since 1973. No one planned that.
Spontaneous Order Meets The Field Of Dreams.
The idea was hatched by two avid riders, a reporter and editor at the Des Moines Register. Their goal was to finagle a week long bike vacation to be paid by their employer. The pitch was to write a column every day about the people, communities, and scenes of Iowa they would discover from the seat of a bicycle. The original trek began in Sioux City, and after 6 days would also end in Davenport. In between it would be rolling hills, water towers, grain elevators, corn, and soybeans.
A few weeks earlier writer Don Kaul announced the journey in his ‘Over the Coffee’ column and invited readers to join them, no amenities provided. It’s estimated that 300 cyclists showed up, as many as 500 rode on the more populated stretches, and over 100 finished. A few thousand more complained that the notice was too short, school had started, and there was the Iowa State Fair. One of those who showed up and completed the ride was an 83 year old farmer by the name of Clarence Pickard. His gear included an old Schwinn, long pants, long sleeved shirt, woolen long johns – “they keep me cool”, and a duct-taped pith helmet.
From Landscapes To Cityscapes.
Now known as the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, its immense popularity has inspired similar week long bicycle adventures across many other states. The healthful benefits of cycling have also inspired the construction of bike paths in many American communities. And as a pollution free mode of transportation, urban bike-sharing projects have sprung up around the world. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Paris is considered the urban bike-sharing paradise, their service is named Velib. And per the city’s transportation deputy, bike-sharing is an important part the city’s identity.
At its recent peak, there were 1,200 Velib stations, and it averaged 100,000 bike rides per day. In celebration of the system’s success, a new contract has now been awarded to upgrade the network at a cost of only $734 million. Assuming peak usage every day, this works out to a mere $20 per bike ride over a full year, not including the untold millions already spent. And to improve upon the healthful benefits of cycling, or promote green transportation, or increase profitability, take your pick, electric powered bikes were added to the system.
Expert Planning Blows A Tire.
The actual results of this socialism inspired program were predictable. The newly installed bike stations are not compatible with the old system, so they aren’t connected to the power grid. The batteries that allow users to unlock bikes become dead trying to connect to power. The workers assigned to replace the batteries have gone on strike. The City of Light now has holes in the pavement lining the streets where the old stations have been ripped out. The new ones can’t be installed because of problems with the soil under Paris’ streets.
French media now refer to their bike-sharing paradise as an “industrial catastrophe.” Sadly, this is undermining the popularity of their Socialist mayor and her reputation for competence. Really? As is typical, the accusations have started flying. The mayor’s office is blaming the new contractor. The contractor is blaming the electric utility company and the previous operator. Also blamed is the “impossible to predict” centuries of construction in Paris that left behind gravel filled earth. Next, Quasimodo will be summoned before a tribunal, Esmeralda defending, to fight off the Parisian power structure.
A bike-sharing blogger calls it “a shame.” An entrepreneur would call it hubris and waste. Socialists are never accountable, capitalists always are. Those in need of a real ride-sharing service while visiting Paris should try Lyft or Uber. It would be cheap, faster, and more reliable except for one fat nail in the road, the National Union of Taxis. The same hierarchy behind Velib is also behind its chauffeur licensing requirements.
Personal Ownership And Government Ownership.
Comparing recreational bike touring with its urban transportation cousin may be a link short of a chain, but their creation offers valid lessons. The urban bike-sharer is entitled to the first 30 minutes for free, on the same unit everyone gets, if it works. If not, they’re dependent on the government hierarchy. The cross-state cyclist is also entitled: to the wind, hills, heat, and rain atop their favorite chariot. They enjoy this self-reliance with a cast of thousands, all looking out for each other. And a network of entrepreneurs is everywhere. Bike mechanics, pork chop hustlers, and smoothie purveyors; all anticipating the needs of the riders, and serving them cheerfully, trading value for value.
Velib has earned a lot of detractors and will get more expert planning. Iowa has earned a lot of fans for its hospitality, rolling terrain, and network of two lane paved roads. They were never planned for cycling and no one complains. I’ll take the old farmer from Indianola over the mayor of Paris all day long.