Monday, July 15, 2013

Cycling in Paris and London

A bike lane in London

Howard Chabner sends these impressions from his recent trip to Europe:

Cycling in Paris

Paris has a bike sharing program. There are noticeably more cyclists now than during my last visit in 2010. Still, except for one time (on a Sunday afternoon in the Latin Quarter), whenever we passed a bike sharing station, the majority of bikes at the station were not being used. Around 70% to 80% of the cyclists we saw were using the shared bikes. These bikes have fenders and are sturdy looking, rather than sleek or high-performing. They have powerful headlights and rear reflectors, making it easy for us as pedestrians to see the cyclists at night, and easy for the cyclists to see pedestrians. A disadvantage is that people using these bikes don’t wear helmets, because most people who don’t have their own bikes don’t go around carrying helmets, and the shared bikes don’t come with them.

I saw no cyclists running red lights and almost nobody weaving in and out of motor vehicle traffic. Cyclists tended to stay in the lane, changing lanes only when necessary to make a turn. There are relatively few intersections with stop signs. When cyclists came to an unprotected intersection, they almost always slowed down or came to a complete stop. Cyclists always deferred to pedestrians, and I didn’t see anyone trying to outrun motor vehicles. The typical cyclist rode fairly slowly, certainly much slower than in San Francisco; perhaps the shared bikes are designed to be unable to go fast. 

 I saw almost nobody riding on the sidewalk; the main exception was that one of the widest streets, which has a very wide sidewalk, has designated bike lanes on the sidewalk, so of course cyclists rode on that sidewalk, but they remained within the bike lane markings. I didn’t see any parking buffered cycle tracks (such as on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park) at all, no raised cycle tracks at all, and very few dedicated bike lanes. There is a narrow designated bike lane along the curb on Boulevard de Sébastopol near the Pompidou museum, but I don’t believe it has safe hit posts or any other kind of divider. (On several bridges in rural Burgundy, where we had been before Paris, there were well-designed bike paths with divider posts.) 

Based on what I recall from my previous trips, there did not seem to be areas where on-street parking had been removed and replaced with bike lanes. Occasionally there were some bike parking spaces where previously there had been automobile parking spaces, and there were a small number of parking spaces reserved for charging of electric vehicles.

Cycling in London

I hadn’t been to London in decades, so don’t have any sense of the trend. There were relatively more cyclists in London than Paris. London has a bike sharing program, but around 70% to 80% of the cyclists I saw were riding their own bikes. As in Paris, and probably for the same reason, those who did use the shared bikes didn’t wear helmets.

Although the speed of the typical cyclist was faster than in Paris, the behavior, as in Paris, was very responsible. I saw no cyclists running red lights and almost nobody weaving in and out of motor vehicle traffic. Cyclists tended to stay in the lane, changing lanes only when necessary to make a turn. There are relatively few intersections with stop signs. When cyclists came to an unprotected intersection, they almost always slowed down or came to a complete stop. Cyclists always deferred to pedestrians, and although many cyclists kept up with motor vehicle traffic, they didn’t try to outrun motor vehicles. The only unsafe behavior I saw was that some cyclists didn’t have lights or helmets.

I saw almost nobody riding on the sidewalk. I didn’t see any parking buffered cycle tracks (such as on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park), no raised cycle tracks, and very few dedicated bike lanes. The dedicated bike lanes that there were generally did not have physical dividers. 

On many bridges, and some other places also, there are signs telling cyclists to dismount; the cyclists we saw almost always dismounted. Cyclists did ride on the walkways along the river, which seems to be permitted, but they rode more slowly than on the street and were careful not to get too close to pedestrians. As a pedestrian, the closest encounter I had with a cyclist was on one of these walkways, but it wasn’t very close; even so, the cyclist dismounted as soon as he saw me and apologized, even though he hadn’t come close to me and there was no need to apologize.

The cyclists in both cities rode responsibly and safely (except for not having helmets and, more in London than Paris, not having lights), deferring to pedestrians, and calmly sharing the road with motor vehicles. I saw no arrogant, entitled, privileged behavior. In terms of cyclists’ behavior and practices, and from the physical design of the streets, sidewalks and walkways, it was clear that cycling is treated in Paris and London as one mode of transportation among several, not as a privileged mode to which all others should be subordinate.

The day after I got home, the first time I left my house, I encountered a cyclist whizzing down the sidewalk on Fell Street in front of my house. I asked him politely not to ride on the sidewalk and was met with an icy stare. I knew I was back in San Francisco.

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8 Comments:

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howard lives in a world of his own making.

 
At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wish I'd known Mr. Chabner was going to Paris. I would have told him to head to Boulevard Richard Lenoir which is a very long, one-block wide park with a great parking-protected bikeway on each side of it, much like the Panhandle proposal he so hates: http://goo.gl/maps/zrtP2

 
At 5:55 PM, Anonymous Jesse said...

I'd be curious if there are other differences, like better policing, slower speeds, less accidents and deaths compared to other cities or maybe SF bikers are just aholes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate

 
At 10:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bullshit on Fell street sidewalk cyclist. BULLSHIT!

Chabner is a member of AAA! He's working as an astro-turf community activist and is really only trying to further car culture here in SF. I bet he never even went to Europe.

 
At 9:49 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

Good perspective on how world class cities handle their bicyclists (and how the bicyclists handle everyone else).

We Americans have a militant attitude towards our transportation. Couple that with moral sanctimony and you have arrogant and militant cyclists and a bicycle lobby group. Militant motorists, too, but then again, when the motorists make up 96% of the population, it seems to make sense that the city should consider their needs as priority number one rather than priority number last.

 
At 9:51 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

Uh, Anonymous, there is a bad history of poor behavior on Fell and Oak St. by cyclists.

This just in, you aren't as fast as cars or motorcycles - so move over. There are bike lanes all over creation thanks to your lobby, and the majority of those roads don't have a lane. So get out!

 
At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good perspective on how world class cities handle their bicyclists (and how the bicyclists handle everyone else).

I see that rkeezy believes that SF is not a World Class City.

 
At 7:31 PM, Anonymous Rick Duvais said...

Bike share made a lot of this possible: as a resident of Paris for 4 years, I can assure you that Paris took out over 4,000 parking spaces to build 200km of dedicated, separated bike lanes. Between these two aspects, there was a marked shift from only hardcore bikers to casual bikers. This shift led to a much safer and better environment for bikers and cars alike. It's important to remember that San Francisco today has a decent number of bikers given how dangerous it is to bike here, but lacks the casual mainstream biker. As someone who biked every day in Paris, I rarely bike in San Francisco; it's far too dangerous being asked to ride on streets with cars zooming in wide lanes from stop sign to stop sign. If we truly want a better combination of bikers and drivers, we have to provide the biking infrastructure to support the non-hardcore bikers. Until then, well have a high percentage of asshole bikers and a high rate of bike/car accidents.

 

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