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The Price Paris Pays for Freedom

All weekend long, the “parvis” of the Hôtel de Ville of the City of Paris had been the scene non-stop of celebration since Colombian-French politician, former senator and anti-corruption activist Ingrid Betancourt’s release from Colombia captivity on July 3rd after six and a half years of imprisonment. Mayor Bertrand Delanoë honored her here on Saturday by saying that she would forever be a citizen of Paris and hailed her freedom. Ceremoniously they pulled down the huge poster of herself that adorned the facade of the Hôtel de Ville marking her 2,321 days as a hostage.

(Witness the scene with Ingrid Betancourt honored by Mayor Bertrand Delanoë at the Hôtel de Ville on the official City Hall Web site at: http://www.paris.fr)

It’s another testament to the celebration of liberation this month — with the festivities of Canada Day (July 1st), U.S. Independence Day (July 4th) and of course, Bastille Day (July 14th).

It’s also the first anniversary of the “Vélib”(an abbreviation for “Vélo Liberté”) when on July 15th the city celebrates the success of its public bike program. When the bikes first rode the streets of Paris last July, 750 stations were opened with 10,000 bikes. Now one year later, the program can boast of more 20,000 bikes, 1,450 stations and than 26 million rentals over the course of the year.

Of course, there’s been concern over the three people who have lost their lives on the public bikes, but what price must we pay for freedom? According to city officials, even with the growing number of rentals, the bike accident rate has not increased. I find that surprising, given the way the “pedes

trians-turned-bikers” behave like pedestrians with new found wheels instead of true conductors of vehicles. Pedestrians must now watch for the bikers running right through red lights, traveling against the designated direction of the streets and riding the sidewalks. But hey, there is a price we must pay for all this freedom!

(For some fascinating statistics about the Vélib program, visit http://www.suricat.net/web/index.php/Velib)

Another form of liberation is on the horizon with the newest equivalent car rental service — “Autolib” — electric cars that drivers can pick up and drop off in stations around Paris. By the end of the year, there will be 4,000 cars placed in and around the city — the first of its kind in a capital city. Skeptics complain that bikers will resort to the cars further crowding the roads and that car-sharing schemes are more ecological.

But hey, we must pay a price for freedom, n’est-ce pas?

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
(with Pascal Fonquernie, Webmaster of Parismarais.com, at the official VIP launch of the new parfume, by “Etat Libre d’Orange,” “Tom of Finland,” July 3, 2008, yet another celebration of independence!)

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