26 July 2009

Paris Transformed - Is London Next?

Paris Bike Culture - Cycling Sociably
Lizzie Davies has an interesting piece in The Guardian today about Paris' Vélib' bike share programme and London's similar system in the works.

"It's 2am on a Friday night and I need to get home. There are no taxis, the last metro left 10 minutes ago and, tottering on my three-inch heels, I'm not keen on walking it, either. Unlike when I was a Londoner, and no night out was complete without an excruciating night bus at the end of it, this is no cause for despair. I simply do what every savvy Parisian does now: I take a Vélib'."

It really is that simple and that's why Vélib' is such a massive success, despite the growing pains. When Wifealiciousness and I visited last year I said that we were going to have to try the Vélibs because of these bicycle blogs. "No way. There's no way I'm riding a bicycle in Paris traffic..."

Shortly after arrival at our favourite hotel we were on the streets and this Parisienne rode past...
Prepare for Paris Cycle Chic
"I can do that... ", said my lovely muse. Indeed, several chic Parisiennes pedalled past and Wifealiciousness needed no more convincing. If they could do it in Paris, so could she. For the rest of that long weekend we rode everywhere. Even up to Sacre Coeur - a vertical Paris-Roubaix - in 25 degree heat. Her in heels. Easy and lovely.

We saw parts of Paris we'd never seen before, even after having lived there and visited dozens of times. Remarkable.

If it's done right in London, I really can't see how it won't transform the city like it did in Paris.

Although the journalist writes: "The Vélib' scheme has managed to turn a city of tumultuous traffic and angry drivers into a haven for adrenaline-junkie cyclists."

Cycling in Paris is much like cycling in Copenhagen. I don't think 'adrenaline' when I think about riding a bicycle in the French capital. Not at all. What I saw is recorded in this photo set of Paris Cycle Chic as well as this photo set of general bicycle life photos.

Alternatively, I wrote this reportage about the visit over at Copenhagen Cycle Chic.
Paris Bike Culture - Cycling Sociably
The journalist in The Guardian article confirmed something we've been on about here at Copenhagenize.

"Sociologists, when asked why the harmless bicycle has become the target of such anger [bikes getting vandalised and stolen], have blamed the phenomenon on class resentment. The people who have taken most enthusiastically to the Vélib', they point out, are Paris's privileged bourgeois bohemians, or "bobos", who inspire as much loathing as they do envy.

"It's a bit like the 4x4s that people have a go at to get at the rich," said Sebastian Roché from the National Centre for Scientific Research. So has the vélorution reached the end of the road? Not quite. In Paris, fans are staying loyal despite the odd bad experience and in cities around the world, authorities are using the Vélib' system as a model for their own bike-hire efforts

It's the status shift. It's the beginning of a very positive development. The bicycle is gaining status at the expense of the automobile. Like in Japan, the demotorization of Paris is well underway. It's not just about the bike, it's about many, many people in the city realising that it's a nicer place to be.

Making the bicycle a status symbol for urbanites is the key. The way forward. No talk of safety, 'fancy gear', health issues. Just sexing it up and making it cool. I've read somewhere that 2 million bicycles have been sold in Paris since Vélib' started. It's happening in Paris.

Paris... well done you. Let's hope London makes it work. Boris Johnson is oft quotable: "a cyclised city is a civilised city" but can he make it happen?