Friday, April 16, 2010
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.