Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bikes in the City

The strike continues today, and as a result there are many more bikes on the street as people try to find alternative ways of getting around the city. But even without the strike, the people-to-bike ratio had already increased thanks to the Velib, the city's new bicycle rental service. For a modest fee, you can sign up for this program, and any bike you check out from one of the many stands around town is free for the first 30 minutes. As a result, there are more Parisians on wheels.

The program has been a huge success, although whether it has helped to reduce traffic is hard to tell. In fact, I think it has made being a pedestrian a little harder. Bike riders don't always follow the traffic rules as they should, sometimes running red lights or making unexpected turns. And they frequently come up onto the sidewalk, either to avoid street traffic, to make a shortcut, or just to have the open pavement to themselves. But the sidewalks aren't always open, and they're often quite narrow. When a bike shows up, almost all of the limited space suddenly vanishes. I've almost been hit by bikes on more than one occasion just walking down the sidewalk minding my own business.

I'm all in favor of the Velibs for being environmentally friendly, and on a strike day like today, I'm glad to see people still getting around. But unfortunately, they add another element of the unknown into the already confusing Paris streets.

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