Thursday, May 14, 2009

Velib' and the Bike Lane Conundrum

Speaking of health and well being, I took another spin on Velib’ the other day. While bike lanes are still few and far between in Paris, there are more of them than before, and I thought why not take advantage of the ample bus lane configuration on Boulevard Montparnasse. I set out from Gobelins on a bus/bike lane that runs in two directions in a parallel universe on one side of Boulevard de Port Royal. It’s like a separate street with two-lane traffic that just happens to run right next to another one. At this point in my travels, the bus/bike lane was on the left (to me) side. Once I got over my disorientation, I was a happy camper, because there was barely any traffic and I felt relatively safe, even if I did have to look over my shoulder from time to time to see if a bus was creeping up on me.

Then, as I crossed Avenue Denfert Rocherau, I saw a labyrinth of markings on the pavement and suddenly the two-way bus/bike lane switched to the other side of the street! “This is too much for me,” I gasped, as I ducked over to the crosswalk and walked my bike across the street, as I tend to do when I lack the courage to cross interminable Parisian intersections with angry cars snorting on every side. As my heart rate returned to normal, I got back on my bike and continued down the bus/bike lane thinking that now the way was clear all the way to Montparnasse.

It was then that I came up on what my map tells me is Place Picasso, but my heart calls The Nightmare. This time, the markings on the road were clear: when the light changes, follow the white lines across the intersection and rejoin the bus lane on the other side. I looked over to the other side. It looked doable. It looked like a clear and simple procedure. It even seemed logical. So when the light changed, I crossed. I was the only bike on what felt like a freeway onramp, or a train turntable, or some other place where a bike just shouldn’t be. I pedaled across for what seemed like several kilometers, all alone, with about 14,000 cars staring me down from 12 different directions, all poised to come charging out of their starting blocks the second the light changed. What if I didn’t make it to the other side before that happened? “I’m going to die!” I shrieked as I crossed, my heart jumping into my throat, my body covered in a cold sweat.

To my amazement, I made it across. It took a good fifteen minutes for my heart to stop pounding. I know I’m a cowardly weenie, but could someone please build decent bike lanes in this city? Please? I understand that bus lanes make handy bike lanes too, but a bike is not a bus...


StyleSpy said...

At the very least, it sounds as though you got an excellent cardiovascular workout!

Margie Rynn said...

True. Though I wonder if getting your heart pumping through sheer terror has the same healthy effects as getting your heart pumping through exercise.

Starman said...

Since the buses and the bikes have to share a lane, the bus drivers must be used to dealing with bikes. I don't think they would just run over you. Would they?

Margie Rynn said...

You are right, they probably wouldn't run me over. But there's something about having a bus suddenly appear about three feet from the back of your bike that is unnerving...and let's not even talk about taxis. From what I understand, I shouldn't complain because compared to some other cities Paris is pretty bike friendly. But in January I was in Amsterdam...that city takes bike-friendly into entirely different dimension.

Pamela Poole said...

Bonjour Margie.

Do you know about

Our June newsletter will be about writing and authors and we'll be promoting our members' works to over 1,000 francophiles.

We're also on Twitter: @francophilia.

Hope to see you there!


Anne said...

Your experience is exactly why I hate riding a bike in Paris and won't bother with the Velibs. You are so right about Amsterdam (and most other places in the Netherlands) and it's true in Denmark as well. You need to build a bike infrastructure and a bike culture.

tiffany said...

This made me smile.

My boyfriend and I spent a couple of weeks in Paris last month and we had fun using the Velib system...once we (or I) got used to riding around on the streets. My turning point occurred when I started singing out loud, "I'm going to die." I realized that the singing helped pull me out of the scary situations a little and made the rides less fun. I'm sure all the Parisians were shaking their heads at the crazy American girl.

But, coming from San Francisco, I found the Paris bike lane system to be pretty user-friendly. And I actually started to enjoy the crazy traffic circles!

Abfab Art Studio said...

Holy cow Margie! I was afraid just reading this hahaha

That whole cross-the-road scenario is NUTS!

I only ever drove a car once in Paris during a 3 year period when I was living there, and it scared the bejeeboos out of me haha

Pamela - thanks for twitter name - am now following you :-)

Teena (currently in Sydney)

Burton Bradley said...

You are much braver than I was a few weeks ago when my tired feet were tempted to try one of these out. Now, after reading your post, all my fears about riding a bike in Paris are confirmed. Congrats on your survival!

Margie Rynn said...

I didn't mean to discourage people from Velib'-ing! It's gotten a bit better out there, I think there's a learning curve too...Maybe it's time for a new Velib' post.