Monday, October 19, 2015

Paris Bike Infrastructure Impressions

Journée Sans Voiture Reconnaissance

Sunrise from bike path along the Seine
On September 27, 2015, Paris rescued some its most beautiful spots from cars: Journée Sans Voiture. I arrived the day before to get my bearings and see what these areas were like before the car ban.

Cycling at dawn underneath Voie Georges Pompidou past the Eiffel Tower
Many cities are satisfied to call a coat of green paint a bike lane. Although Paris had a lot of this too, there were many great protected lanes showing considerable commitment to safe cycling: like the pedestrian/bike tunnel that goes underneath the Voie Georges Pompidou thoroughfare which runs along the Seine. It provided a safe way to a very nice bike path along the Seine right across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. A dawn ride on the last day, yielded stunning views of the Eiffel Tower under an utterly clear sky.

    Pre-Event Impressions

    Even before my bike was unpacked,  I found some great examples of the Paris bike experience. Just walking a half mile or so from the train station towards my hotel, I saw these sites.

    Not in Kansas Anymore

    Paris: more style than the average street

    One of the first things I encountered was this scene:
    • the beautiful Metro signage, lighting, and railing
    • the stylish cyclist
    • the lovely trees and architecture
    It felt like Paris alright: just a gorgeous scene. But what about the actual bike infrastructure?

    Great function

    First bike lane seen outside train station.
    This was the first bike lane I saw: dedicated to cyclists, protected from cars. Definitely battling for respect from the pedestrians and with pavement not in the best shape. Nonetheless, it provides the most important thing in a bike lane: shelter from cars. 

    Spectacular form and function

    The most beautiful bike lane I've 
    seen in Paris yet.
    This was the second bike lane I saw: absolutely gorgeous and safely away from cars. Unfortunately, not the norm but how could it be. Cycling through miles of lush garden might be too much to ask.

    Qu'est-ce que c'est?

    Arc de Triomphe at Rush Hour
    I did encounter some bike infrastructure design that was perplexing if not annoying. Although I highlight it below, this is not to say the Paris cycling experience is anything less than great in many places and way beyond many cities.

    Arc de Triomphe avec voiture
    The first surprise was that the Arc de Triomphe was not included in the car ban. If there is any place in Paris more deserving of a car ban, it is there. More pics of the Arc and cyclists here.

    Tight Squeeze
    Pretty tight and a ped risk
    Quite a few bike lanes, like this painted lane near the Eiffel Tower, were questionable:
    • Pedestrians on this corner might be hit if cyclists banked turns where this lane told them. 
    • Not much space between bikes and fast moving cars. 
    • At the end of the curve (upper right of the frame), there is a wicked sharp left. No one is making that left without stopping: just as they enter oncoming traffic.
    This one might not be better than nothing because it guides cyclists into some sketchy circumstances.

    Pedestrians beware

    Bike lane by the Louvre
    Likewise, this one by the Louvre had a nice barrier between cars but not one between people on the curb. Notoriously oblivious pedestrians would have to be very cognizant that cyclists are whizzing right next to them. Still, this would be deluxe in many countries.

    Baffling bevels

    These bevels got old quick
    There was this otherwise beautiful and obviously new lane which had bevels like this one for car driveways. They are steep enough to be quite jarring: needlessly so. Making these elevation changes more gradual seems easily doable and far more usable to bikes.

    Sheltered sharrows: nice but uneven

    This speed bump had some of
    the smoothest pavement

    There were these sharrows in parking lot lanes adjacent to a boulevard. Nice enough except some had sketchy pavement and these speed bumps ensure you won't be getting anywhere fast.

    Some places notch speed bumps so cyclists can get through without launching off their bikes.

    Reconnaissance Conclusions

    Slow ride, take it easy

    All in all, during my ride around Paris I found myself constantly killing momentum to slow for cracks, bumps or turns. It seems the bike lanes are designed for the heavy and slow 15KPH bike share bikes: Paris Velib.  Nevertheless, many of us can and need to sustain 25kph or faster to make cycling a practical mode of transport.

    Protected bike lanes are the ideal but, when encountering these obstacles, it became very tempting to just jump in with the cars after all. Thanks to congestion, it was rarely difficult to keep up with them.

    Still great and about to get better

    All that said, many lanes were great: like this one near Belleville Metro Station. Decent spacing, nice distance from pedestrians, plenty of distance from both parked and moving cars. It's even tree-lined.

    Paris has clearly made huge investments in bike infrastructure and stands ready to make a lot more. Vive Paris for their commitment to bicycle transport. We could expect no less from the home of the Tour de France.