Vélo Paris

Courtesy of Velib

Courtesy of Vélib

We just got back from France and would like to report on what we observed about bicycling in Paris.

We decided to ride from our hotel in Versailles all the way to Paris. It was about 13 miles /21 km and when we got to Paris, the first thing we noticed were huge bike share stations called Vélib (short for bike and freedom in French). Everywhere you go, there’s a bike share station. The program is comprised of a whopping 20,000 bike shares in 1,800 stations, located 300 meters apart which explains what we saw. That’s about 1 bike per 100 Parisians, the largest bike share scheme per capita.

One of the many Velib bike share stations.

One of the many Vélib bike share stations.

It’s no wonder that every 10 bicyclists we saw, about 8 of them are on a Vélib. And it’s so popular that Paris also has a kids’ version called P’tit Velib.

No helmet and upright on a Velib!

Normal folks on Vélib bike shares!

That's one cycle chic!

That’s one cycle chic! (Sorry about the the blurriness of the photo.)

Although Paris has such a great bike share scheme and I do appreciate that the bridges over Seine River have separated bike paths, but their bike infrastructure on regular streets remains lackluster. You can pretty much tell that wherever there’s space, they just slap on some bike signs and say, “voila!”

I didn’t feel comfortable riding around. Many big streets don’t even have striped bike lanes and you’d probably want to avoid riding on them as much as possible. Cars are going pretty fast. In addition, the turnabouts are frightening to go into. Cars are always coming into the roundabout without slowing down, and drivers are always making right turns (I wouldn’t be surprised that right-hooks would make up most of the accidents there) in roundabouts. Moreover, the abundant exhaust fumes from the diesel engine cars was repulsive. There were so many scooters too and their emissions are not regulated.

Another comfortable looking cyclist in Paris.

Another comfortable looking “Saddle Warmer” in Paris.

I have to give a hats off to Parisian bicyclists. They don’t wear any head protection, no hi-vis outfits, and ride in fast and congested traffic.

I don't understand why bikes and buses have to be mixed. They are the most opposites.

Like in America, buses and bikes are grouped on the same part of the road.

However, there were some good ideas like what is shown in the photo below. It shows that bikes can go in the opposite direction of a one way street.

I noticed that all the bike signage were painted in a simple white color. I find this to be interesting because I think French design tends to be more artistic and elaborate. Also, the bike stencils are pretty crude.

Many narrow one-way streets have contra-flow bike lanes.

Many narrow one-way streets have contra-flow bike lanes.

Cross-bikes on streets of Paris.

Cross-bikes on one of the large streets of Paris.

Another good idea is having cross-bikes through wide intersections. That is sorely needed in the States, particularly at freeway passes and boulevards.

This is what we need on the Embarcadero in San Francisco or anywhere where there's a bike lane.

This is what we need on the Embarcadero in San Francisco or anywhere where there’s a bike lane. Tow away if park on bike lane.

Notice the wide street above doesn’t have demarcation for cars. It has been shown to calm car speeds.

No car entry except bikes. Yay!

No car entry except bikes. Yay!

In conclusion, riding in Paris seems pretty dangerous but the city averages about 2 fatalities per year between 2007 – 2012, a fairly low rate for a city this big with 2.2 million residents. The French (at least the Parisians) have the bicycling spirit. They are a country of Tour de France, inventors of Velocipedes and derailleurs that made what modern bikes are today. Paris has a flat topography, density and beauty, and more would jump on bikes if they had the proper infrastructure.

Related reading:
Video: Biking from Versailles to Paris
Three epic sites, one no bikes in sight

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6 comments

  1. James Kruzitski

    Your report on riding in Paris matches our own experience. We live in Minneapolis and are urban riders, and initially found the Paris cycling infrastructure and general flow to be a little intimidating. After an hour of thrashing around we became comfortable with it. One of the coolest experiences we ever had on a bike was pedaling the entire length of Rue de Belleville from east to west. If you get back, give it a try. I know we will.

  2. Pingback: Three epic sites, one no bikes in sight | I Love Biking SF & OAK
  3. Pingback: Video: Biking from Versailles to Paris | I Love Biking SF & OAK

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