Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Here's a wonderful new Spanglishism (or maybe Catalanglesism) coined by, of all people, the Barcelona city government. Seems they read somewhere that in places like Amsterdam there's a government-owned bicycle-rental system, and so they decided to start one here. There will be ten or twelve points around the city where you'll be able to pick up or drop off a city-owned bike. The new system is to be called "bicing," which sounds like sexually ambiguous stuff you would use to frost a cake. Yep, they just took the "bic" from "bicicleta" (or "bicycle") and stuck an "-ing" on the end. I figure it's actually supposed to be pronounced "bee-seen," both syllables getting the same stress.

Why this will not work: Barcelona is a Mediterranean city, not a Nordic one. As everyone knows, urban cleanliness and civic behavior decline as you go from north to south in Europe. So Oslo is cleaner than Amsterdam (or London), which is cleaner than Paris, which is cleaner than Barcelona (or Milan), which is cleaner than Naples, which is cleaner than Athens, which is cleaner than anything south of the Med. So what is going to happen is that within a month half the bikes are going to disappear and the other half will be already rusted out due to lack of maintenance.

Besides, there are already several privately-owned bicycle-rental services in the city. My impression is they do most of their business at the Parque Ciutadella. If there was a market for people to rent bikes to travel point to point in the city, these guys would already have thought of it. Also, bikes aren't expensive, and pretty much everyone who wants to ride one already owns one. Finally, traffic is hellacious in Barcelona, and people who don't know the city or how to ride well are going to get themselves killed. The liability insurance on this bright idea must be enormous. Some dumb American kid is going to get run over by a bus and his parents are going to hire some high-powered lawyers to sue the city and bribe a judge (not that difficult around here; remember Pascual Estevill?) and we're all on the hook for God knows how much in damages.

This smells a little like a make-work project, since I'm sure three or four employees at each of the pick-up points, along with twelve or fifteen supervisors, are going to be necessary. There's a lot of labor-intensive public work here; one I think is funny is that two guys with brooms go around sweeping street garbage into the path of a very noisy and very small vacuuming truck that also dampens the ground under it. After they've been through, the street looks the same as it did before. There must be a hundred of these things going around town at any one time. I don't know why they don't buy larger trucks with real suction power and a real water tank.

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