Out of town: Paris, and the velibe scheme

I was recently in Paris and was keen to see how the much discussed Paris Velibe bike hire scheme had changed the City of Lights.  And to check out the cyclists of Paris to see what they were riding, what they were wearing and how many of them were there.

The thing that struck me first, as I crossed town in an electric taxi (Come on London, keep up!) was just how much more traffic there is in central Paris, and how much more noticeable the congestion is - the concept of congestion charging isn't popular in France and it wasn't till I visited Paris, as a comparable city to London, that I noticed that perhaps as a consequence of the congestion charge the traffic situation in London isn't nearly as bad for cyclists as the popular media would have you believe. (Or maybe that it's not as bad as it could be.)  Clear cycling signage helped the bikes to navigate through town and avoid the worst of the busiest streets.

It wasn't long before I saw someone peddling by on a hire bike - you can spot them a mile off because they're a distinctive metallic green colour.  "Crumbs" I thought "that bike looks heavy", but whizzed past me they did so clearly appearences can be deceptive.  What's more, the bikes are striking for their 'all in one' design - they have half-tyre mud guards, integrated bright dynamo lights, a solid looking wire mesh front basket, with a lock and a kickstand.  Everything you need for a city bike, and a millon miles away from that prevalent image of cycling that I think we have here in the UK of bikes being something sporty, hyper-masculine and the reserve of fit bods in lycra (or worse, not so fit bods in lycra!)  Now whilst I'm a big fan of sports cycling, peddling your bike through a city is a totally diferent matter, and it seems to me that Paris have designed a good looking, robust bike that's fit for the job. 

The hire stations, which you see every 300 metres or so were busy with bikes coming and going and seemed easy to use too, so long as you're armed with a credit card.

I took the shots below on the Pont au Double near Notre Dame of some ordinary Parisians peddling about their daily business - and don't they look fabulous in their long coats and heels? 

As you can see all of the cycle stands in the city (placed on former car parking spaces) were busy too - always a sign of a strong bicycle culture.  It's been widely noted that ordinary Parisians trying out the Velibe scheme remembered how much they used to love their bikes, and the velorution followed naturally - I hope the same will be the case in London next year when Boris Johnson launches our very own cycle hire scheme.  The increase in bicycle share of total trips in Paris leapt from 1% to 2.5% in 2007 - more than doubled - there was a 46% increase in bicycle trips in the third quarter of 2007 following the introduction of the Velibe scheme ('Velibe' incidentally, is a made up word combining the French for bicycle 'velo' and that key stone of the French constitution 'liberte' - I think it's a rather fitting word - we are yet to find out what London will call it's scheme when it launches next summer).  The statistics speak for themselves.

I finished my 'cycle study' along the Seine on the segregated cycle pathway that runs between the Louvre gardens (Jardin des Tuileries) and the Voie Georges Pompidou - it's a crying shame that London doesn't have a similar dedicated cycle path alongside the Thames on the Victoria Embankment, and it's high-time we had one.


anna said...

I heard that the Velib system is very well thought-out, and that seems to pay off. The bikes look, well, clumbsy, but very stylish still. Better than the ugly Citbike bikes we have in Vienna, covered with ads.

ibikelondon said...

I think the clumsiness comes from their having to be robust enough to survive on the streets and through fairly heavy usage and in order for them to be vandal proof (all of the cables and wires are inside the bike, hidden away) But they're quite flexible too - you can raise and lower the seat by a large degree, and if when people put the bike back on the rack they have a flat tyre or there is a fault with the bike, they spin the seat round 180% to let everyone else know, which is a nice touch.

Re advertising, in a way they ARE covered in advertising in that JC Deceaux funded the scheme in a return for a sizable chunk of the Paris authority's advertising space and associated revenue. Still, works for me!

Anonymous said...

Mark, you must not be too utilitarian. There has got to be fun. Riding to work is a chore if the sole purpose is to get to work. Saving time, working your heart, lungs and legs are great advantages. Personally I love those expensive speed bikes - takes me back to when I was your age and ran round in circles on athletics tracks. Of course I am aware that speed can kill, or worse, leave you a cripple.


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