Sep 17, 2013

Cycling in Paris

Paris, the city of lights, the city of lovers, and the city of crazy bike infrastructure!

We arrived in Paris via the Paris East train station. Emerging from the station you are immediately greeted with a huge Velib kiosk, as well as plenty of noisy scooter and car traffic.  Bike lanes are not that easy to spot but there are bikes everywhere mixed in with the chaos on the roads.  Travelling to the hotel by taxi we were both more than a little concerned what cycling in Paris might be like.

As it turned out, there was no need to worry.

Large Velib kiosk outside our hotel.
First thing the next morning a set about digging through the internet trying to find a map of the bike routes through the city and was defeated at every turn.  No matter how many ways I tried to find the info online it seemed that there was no maps to use.  Info found online mentioned there was a paper map available at the Hotel de Ville (aka, city hall) but we were never able to source one from there.  I did eventually find an app that routed you along their bike network, however, it required roaming to keep you on track so when we used it we usually loaded the route at the hotel (free wifi) and tried to follow it as best we could with the roaming off.

This led us into some very exciting places!  Like giant roundabouts, like the Bastille below...

Take a deep breath and don't look behind you!
Upon rolling up to this intersection Nadia looked at me with that wide-eyed "we have to go into that!" look, causing us to pause for a few moments to watch other cyclists so we could see how they handled it.  To say they handled it rather casually really doesn't describe it.

Perhaps the old lady on an equally old Gazelle, riding quite slowly, and munching on a baguette (for real!) who just rolled right past us and into the chaos without any hesitation helps illuminate how Parisien cyclists handle traffic.  That is to say, cyclists ride where they want and automobiles simply navigate around them with ease.  No honking horns.  No yelling out windows.  Just get on with it.

Painted sharrows on skinny roads is the norm.
With our newfound courage and more than a little hope that the drivers would continue to avoid our wobbling selves we pressed on with our "no real destination" tour of the neighbourhoods of Paris.

The streets above and below are perfect examples of what a lot of the Paris bike network looks like.  Roads so skinny only one vehicle can use it at a time.  When cars approached from behind, the Calgarian in me instantly tensed up waiting for the revving engine or a honking horn - which never came.  It took more than a couple instances of this happening before I relaxed, realizing that drivers were ok with slowly following us until an opportunity to pass presented itself.  When riding "the wrong way" down one-ways in Paris, which was encouraged with sharrows you see below and with signage indicating bikes were allowed, approaching cars would slow, sometimes stop, and pull over a little so we could keep our momentum.

How civilized!
Would you feel comfortable on bike infrastructure like this? Note the approaching van too.
Below is another example of bike routes on one-ways, in this case, placed right up against the parked cars.
Bike bowling for shoppers!
There were quite a few curb-separated bike lanes in Paris although I neglected to take a photo of one.  They were generally one-way in nature and often separated by parked cars too.  Also quite extensively used was a curb-separated bus lane (forgot to photogragh that too) that was shared with bikes and taxis.  On the face of it, sharing those lanes with city buses seemed scary but the reality was much different.  Buses would give you a little "dingding" when approaching from behind and the lanes were wide enough to accomodate the bus and a comfortable amount of room for bikes too.  Taxis would also use them but they would also dart in and out of them depending on whether traffic was backed up in the normal travel lanes.  They would sometimes give you a freindly honk too, but only if you were excessively wobbling about in the middle of the bus lane.

Sharrows, sharrows everywhere.
And the cobblestones.  So many cobbled roads both of us were getting a little bit sore from banging around on those little Brompton wheels over bumpy, skitchy roads.  Having said that, we were quite surprised to see so many Brompton's in Paris.  Makes lots of sense though, considering the extensive subway network in Paris.

Cobbles, cobbles, everywhere!
Paris was an incredible place to cycle in.  Why?  The main reason was simple - respect. 

Motorists (including the neverending swarms of scooterati), bus drivers, and taxi operators all offered up more respect than I have ever experienced astride a bike anywhere in Canada.  The traffic chaos was overwhelming to be sure but never really felt dangerous.  No one ever "buzzed" us intentionally, no one ever honked aggresively, and no one ever made us feel like we were in danger.  Honestly, I feel more scared riding along 17th Ave SW than I did anywhere in Paris.

Also quite interesting to experience was bike infrastructure that was basically squeezed into every nook and cranny of Paris.  Much of it was narrow, lots of it was just sharrows, but it worked. I've come away with the impression that "lack of space" - often cited as a reason why we can't put a bikelane here or there - is a bullshit excuse to not install more bike infrastructure in Calgary.  Our roads are so big this excuse simply does not pass the stink test anymore.

So, City of Calgary Transportation department, the City bike office, and all you Alderfolk - what are you waiting for?  Calgarians deserve more than traffic jams and 5-lane one-way roads. Calgarians need safe places to cycle, free from aggressive, anti-social motorists.  Calgarians deserve transportation options that are cheap, easy, and fast.

Stop dithering.  Get on with it.

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