13 February 2008

The last summer, nous, la tour Eiffel

I was reading a very interesting article today about an "ads for bikes" scandal that is, apparently, rocking the world of Dublin City planning.

When the Very Understanding Girlfriend and I visited Paris last Autumn, one of the things that amazed us the most was the widespread municipal bicycles that everyone was using. While for many there was no other alternative thanks to the extensive SNCF rail strike, the sight of so many folks going about their business on the the pay-as-you-go Vélib's was something that both gladdened us (amazing to see a city embrace sustainable transport wholeheartedly) and saddened us (knowing that it could never, ever work here in Dublin).

Well apparently both the V.U.G and I were wrong, and there are plans afoot to launch this scheme in our own fair city. What I was not aware of is that the bikes are supplied by JCDeceaux, the advertising company. In return for a city granting them extra, and larger, billboard spaces, they supply the city with the bicycles. This model is now being applied in Dublin with JCDeceaux getting a much better deal, for example in Paris they supply ten bikes for every new billboard approved, in Dublin they will only supply four; in Paris they pay rent of €2K per billboard/year, and in Dublin they will pay nothing for 15 years! In approving the deal the city council overturned the recommendations of their own inspector, though at this stage nothing about the Irish land planning process surprises me.

While I work extensively in advertising, the last thing any city needs is more billboards. Sao Paolo recently banned all outdoor advertising and billboards (check out this great flikr album) in an effort to reduce visual pollution and improve the quality of life. Dublin should be taking it's lead from here and not from the ad agencies. The introduction of 450 bikes onto the streets, that will no doubt be stolen or vandalised within days of the launch of the scheme, will have little or negligible impact on the urban environment, and smacks of short-sighted naivety, or more cynically, green-washing of a more sinister kind.

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