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?


Taliesin said...

Sadly, it seems likely the scheme in Brisbane, Australia is doomed due to the requirement for helmet use. Having to bring a helmet with you requires a certain amount of planning ahead, removing the spontaneity a scheme like this promotes, not to mention having to carry it around with you. Plus, Brisbane is a somewhat tropical climate, making sweaty helmet head an issue.


Hopefully, I'll be shown to be wrong. But if I'm not, it might get a few more cycling advocates to really think about compulsary helmet laws.

Mike said...

A different Guardian journalist came to take a look at the bike rental scheme that's finally up and running here in Bristol:

The article pretty much consists of them saying that: 1) Bristol is hilly 2) Bristol is rainy 3) None of the three passersby they spoke to had seen anyone make use of the (brand new) scheme. They then find another random lady, this time in Paris, to explain why the scheme works there and not in the UK. And that's Bristol's nascent bike rental scheme successfully torpedoed.

álvaro said...

So if Paris and Barcelona could, and London might, why can't Madrid?

Well, it can, is just a matter of political cojones.

Nice article Mikael, mange tak.

Klaus Mohn said...

The possibility of an adrenaline rush can be explained quite easily: the lack of segregated bike lanes (relative to, say, CPH or Berlin). Though the infrastructure has made tremendous progress in the pas 10 years (and I've been riding in this city for 20 of my 24 years), it's often more practical to integrate traffic . The infrastructure is often unnneccesarliy complex, and cyclists are made to wait and swerve every other block because car traffic fluidity still has the premium in the French urban planner's mind. Bike boxes are not respected. Also, the city has been carpetbombed with traffic lights, and they're *not* timed for cyclists, believe me.
That's why it's easy for the parisian cyclist to get lost in the game of high speed, brisk accelerations, and assertive/defensive riding. Sad but true, I do it too. So... vive la démotorisation! Looking forward to getting my city back.

townmouse said...

Klaus has half answered my question - what else is there in Paris that's promoting cycling, other than Velib (and the odd Metro strike)? Are there more/better cycle lanes than London? Is Velib enough on its own? Or does it raise the cycling rate a bit and then plateau out? I suppose I'm asking what's the minimum a city can do to become a real cycling city, because we can be fairly sure that Boris will do no more than the minimum, if that

Klaus Mohn said...

Well There *was* a lot of progress with the infrastructure, like I said; there just hasn't been enough of psychological copenhagenization (the car hasn't been knocked off its pedestal yet) is what I'm complaining about :)

The network effect of the Vélib, the safety-in-numbers effect, that worked tremendously, and that can be easily reproduced in any city that adopts a bike-sharing scheme.
Still, I think the MOST important positive effect of Vélib was that it put people on bikes, people who would never had tried to ride. Commuter drivers, tourists, SUV blondes, if they've tried it and seen how cool it is (and how much nicer it is when drivers don't give you shit) they're more likely to respect cyclists' space next time they're at the wheel.

Maybe I'm giving them too much credit. But as a cyclist-walker-metro-user-driver, I think we're making progress.

About London: I guess I'm worried that people won't ride Vélibs as much because the distances are too great, but Berlin is a bike-friendly city so that should work OK for you guys, right? Godspeed.

Mikael said...

paris experienced a great deal of goodwill from the start. there are many more bike lanes than in london, but that was a result of political will.

size-wise, paris and london are the same. distance is no issue.

if there is a mayor with balls present, any city can do it like paris did.