“(De)politicising and ecologising bicycles: the history of the Parisian Vélib’ system and its controversies
Self-service bicycle systems are today being set up in a number of cities across the world. Seen as a means to promote a sustainable city and new forms of ecology, and valued for their ‘planet friendly’ character, these systems have become a hallmark for cities that want to become part of the so-called green culture. Drawing from the experience of the Vélib’ programme in Paris and adopting a pragmatist perspective, this paper analyses the controversies which developed as this transportation infrastructure was implemented, as well as the definitions of ‘ecology’ which were at the centre of the dispute. In doing so it shows the capacity of the private firm involved in the system, JCDecaux, to ‘hijack’ and integrate the ecological critique, its rather powerful capacity to persuade other actors, and the popularity that the project achieved through a hard-won process of justification. At the same time, this paper argues that the mobility turn played a performative role in the justification and the definition of this new transport project.