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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another good idea is having cross-bikes through wide intersections. That is sorely needed in the States, particularly at freeway passes and boulevards.
Notice the wide street above doesn’t have demarcation for cars. It has been shown to calm car speeds.
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.
We recently went to Vancouver, B. C. for a short vacation. It was my third and Nellie’s fourth time visiting the west coast Canadian city. We enjoy visiting Vancouver because it is the closest destination (just 2.5 hrs by plane from San Francisco) where we can experience something different from American cities. The people are nice and helpful and the city is clean, well laid-out, and beautiful. In addition, the food is excellent. You can randomly walk into any eatery and come out feeling satisfied. Vancouver has been ranking near the top in livability for the last few years and I can see why.
The last time we were there in 2009, we saw very little bike infrastructure. But recently, John Pucher, a cycling guru paid a visit to Vancouver and said that this city should be talked about as the best bike-friendly city in North America. The city was selected to have the Velo-City Global conference, a premier marketplace for bicycling delegates, which was held last year. They have mayor Greg Robertson who is a bike commuter and a city council that is not afraid of implementing bike facilities. Moreover, a bike-share program is expected to roll out early next year in downtown Vancouver. In addition to striped bike lanes, they have a few real cycletracks that are as good as those in Copenhagen, but of course they are not nearly as ubiquitous. Bikes are allowed in all modes of transit from buses to Sky Trains to Seabus ferries. Not to mention, a popular bike/fashion magazine called Momentum which is geared for regular people riding bikes, is based in Vancouver. Every year, there is a very large and notable turnout there for the World Naked Bike Ride.
Because Vancouver doesn’t yet have bike routes going everywhere, it is nice to see bike signs showing where the bicycle routes are. Having bike routes clearly marked and indicated on street name signs like the one shown above allows our eyes to automatically know where to look for the bike signage. It also helps drivers know to expect bicyclists if they are taking that street. It is so much better than placing bike signs on the sidewalks which are hard to see, can be blocked by tree branches or other nearby sign poles.
Although I despise anything that is just merely a striped bike lane, I think Vancouver does them better than San Francisco. For example, notice the green paint near the driveway for cars (see image above). It alerts drivers that they are crossing a bike lane and to look out for bicyclists. I think this is a brilliant way of using green paint. In SF, this is done in the opposite way. An example would be the Embarcadero in SF (sorry no photo) where the bike lane is painted green but when it reaches driveways the green paint disappears. What this signals is that it tells bicyclists to be the responsible party. It doesn’t make any sense, right?
In the image above, the bike lane is painted green as it reaches the intersection to warn motorists merging right to execute a turn that they are crossing through a bike lane. However in SF, this is not being done at all.
As mentioned in my other post, crossbikes are such a brilliant idea utilized by many bike-friendly cities. When you are riding across a busy/large intersection, do you ever feel that you are endangered? What about when you are walking and there’s no crosswalk? I got to ride in these crossbikes in Vancouver, and I can tell you it’s one of the best bike facilities ever created. Again, SFMTA needs to implement these.
There are five bridges in Vancouver, and four of them you can bike on. A popular bicycle route to get from downtown to the Kitsilano neighborhood (known for having the best beach in the city) is through the Burrard Bridge (image above). It has a dedicated cycle track for bicyclists. However, these bridges have a long incline and are not suited for any 8 to 80 y.o. bicyclist. What they need is a separated bridge just for bikes and pedestrians.
Below is a video (Note: Sound is muted, so don’t think your computer speakers are broken) showing what it’s like to ride in a cycle track in downtown Vancouver. (Editor’s Note: As you might be able tell in the video, he was having a ball!) The cycle track on Hornby St. is raised with car parking to the left, and a buffer with plants to the right of the parked cars. It is a great piece of bike infrastructure!
Although Vancouver has some great pieces of bike infrastructure and an amazing sea wall (which will be discussed in Part 2 of this series) navigating around Vancouver on a bike was not really that easy. It is still a very car-centric city. There seemed to be way more cars than when we were there before. There are many streets that do not yet have bike infrastructure. Riding on the main streets can be hair-raising. Also, there are only one or two streets going east to west that have bike routes. Then there are streets like Robson, Denman, Granville, and Davie Streets that are meccas for shopping and eating but do not have any bike routes on them. It seemed intentional that bike routes were not placed on them perhaps because they don’t have much space. But I thought that was kind of ridiculous. It is all a matter of re-prioritizing use. Bicyclists also shop and eat too, and studies (1,2) have shown they spend more money and frequent businesses more than motorists. At the very least, there should be bike sharrows.
In Vancouver, helmets are mandatory and I believe this could dampen ridership which may lead to less safety for bicycling on the streets. It should be optional for adults and mandatory for children. Motorists in Vancouver are courteous and more patient, and with some streets that have really good bike infrastructure, I don’t see why helmets are mandatory. In addition, they have a wonderful seaside bicycle route away from car traffic and they are still required to wear helmets there. What they need is to get more bicyclists on the streets and a helmet law doesn’t help with that.
I gotta admit, Vancouver is a hilly city. Although the hills aren’t as steep as San Francisco’s, it’s going to be tough to attract the 8 to 80 y.o. crowd. In order to get more people to bike over those hills and bridges, I believe electric bikes is the answer. I think if somehow electric bikes are marketed right like having e-bike shares for the public to try, that could be a good way to help people who are on the fence realize it is right for them.
Overall, Vancouver has done a great job in improving their bike infrastructure in just a few years. The speed at which they have been able to implement bike improvements is impressive.
In the next post on Vancouver, I will discuss more about biking along the sea wall in Vancouver and what we saw while biking around. Stay tuned…