Friday, April 16, 2010

Velib' Update

I’m hardly a Velib’ expert. Living in the burbs, I don’t get to use Paris’ way-cool rent-a-bike program as often as I’d like. There are thousands of Parisians out there who have thoroughly integrated Velib’ into their lives and can test tire pressure, adjust the seat, check out their bike and sail into traffic while I am still pulling my Velib’ card out of my wallet. That said, I’ve gotten used to the system and it seems way less baffling than before.

And less scary. As time has passed, I have been forced to acknowledge that despite the psychotic look of Parisian traffic, you don’t see cyclists being bumped off at every corner, nor is there a steady stream of ambulances rushing mangled Velib-ists to city hospitals. Of course, there are plenty of accidents, and you should worry, but you should also know that there are a lot of cyclists doing dumb things on their bikes, too.

I think it was my old roommate who finally made me see the folly of my ways. She thinks nothing of sailing out into the middle of place de la Bastille on two wheels. In fact, she does it almost every day. Since she has to eventually turn left, she actually gets herself into the center of it, near the mighty column that celebrates Les Trois Glorieuses (that’s the revolution of 1830, by the way, one of the several other revolutions that Paris witnessed on the rocky road to becoming a republic). “Are you nuts?” I asked, dumbfounded. The traffic that careens around the place de la Bastille is so bad I won’t even go near it in a car. Imagine a giant roundabout the size of a (round) football field with cars whizzing around at the speed of light.

That said, I am forced to admit that cars get around it without pile ups every five minutes. Maybe there is some kindly god like the winged Spirit of Liberty on top of the column that hovers over the place de la Bastille and protects drivers and cyclists from the law of probability. My roommate responded that she gets around just fine, and that car drivers are much more aware of cyclists these days. I decided it was time to stop worrying so much and start appreciating the joys of Paris on two wheels.

Besides, it’s my civic duty. If cyclists don’t take to the streets in numbers, Paris will never complete the transition to becoming a bike-friendly city. And perhaps it is fitting that the bicycle revolution should take on the place de la Bastille, birthplace of the first French Revolution. Aux armes, citoyens! Though I still won’t ride through it like my roommate. I’m not crazy. I wear a helmet.


Starman said...

According to the rules I read about the Vélib, you must wear a helmet or be subject to a fine.

Margie Rynn said...

Really?? Well, no one seems to be paying any attention to the rules, in that case. I hardly ever see anyone wearing a helmet. It's nice to know someone cares, though.

chloebaveas said...

Ok may be a stupid question, but I'm pretty new to Paris and am yet to face the fear of velib. I was wondering do you know if there is a map or anything that shows you where specific bike lanes are? or you just assume its everywhere and hope for the best?


Margie Rynn said...

Not a dumb question at all...and you pretty much answered it. There are maps with "bike lanes", but that can mean a lot of things. Sometimes its a real lane with a concrete divider and other times...well, you hope for the best. The city is evolving towards being bike friendly, so there are new lanes all the time. But as I wrote on other Velib posts, there are not enough bike lanes. Still, it's doable. I find wearing a helmet gives me courage. For maps, try a recent L'Indispensable or one of the other Paris par Arrondissement map books that shows Velib' stands and bike lanes. A map with Velib' stands is essential when looking for a place to park the bike. Once you start using Velib on a regular basis, you start to get much more familiar with where the stands and the lanes are and its less daunting.

This Time Now said...

Velib is the best thing that's happened to Paris in years. After living in Paris for five years, each time I come to visit, it's as if I'm in Paris for the first time.

Bernard said...

Couldn't agree more. I've just come back from a week exploring Paris for my bike tour business, and I fell in love with Vélibs. A fantastic way to get around Paris.

I cycled round the Place de la Bastille most days, and you're absolutely right. It should be scary, but it just ain't.