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What Vancouver can learn from Paris: bike-sharing

Flickr photo by MrZuffenhausen

Paris, despite its frenetic traffic, turned out to be a much more cyclist-friendly city than Vancouver. Part of it is the cultural acceptance of bicycles on the road, another one is access to bikes via a bike-sharing program called Vélib, discussed in last week's article. 

Seeing a motorcycle flying down an empty sidewalk (“Why?” Because it’s empty) or a truck parked on a bicycle lane, are examples of how Parisian flow thinking works. I attribute this to a Latin flow conscious compared with our Anglo-Saxon insistence on following the letter of the law, over the spirit of the law.

If you find Vancouver cycling harrowing, this article is not for you (cycling in Paris is not for the faint of heart). This article is for the intrepid cyclist who’d like to experience Paris by bicycle.

Chaos in the Streets

Photos: Jason Hall

As in any large city, the first concern cycling in Paris is safety. That I should mention safety first—and my return to Vancouver confirmed it—is an indication of the extreme short tempers that prevail on the roads of Vancouver. How can a city of only two million be so uptight about sharing the road with other modes of transport, while Paris’ vast traffic chaos is taken in stride so well?

Maybe it’s just another way Paris trumps us with its superior culture. Or, as City of Vancouver Councillor Louie when I interviewed him for the last article put it, “there’s a much greater bicycle awareness in Europe than here”. Still, I would shake my head at the rage that sort of behaviour would arouse in Vancouver. But in Paris—pas de problème.

Conclusion: Paris is scarier, but it's actually safer.

So, armed with a knowledge of flow, I’ll describe how to use Velib’, the city-wide bicycle service that is easy to use (with a few tips I learned) and very, very cheap.

The Judgment of Paris – Velib’s Usability Challenges

Setting up a pass at the Vélib’ station near my hotel turned out to be very difficult, and it wasn’t a language difficulty. After several attempts to understand its lexicon, I finally asked a very helpful Parisian who, not understanding how the kiosk worked for short-term borrowing himself, called Vélib’ headquarters on his cell phone and we finally got me set up for me to start cycling.

Temple des Mystères - Vélib' bicycle kiosk

Temple des Mystères - Vélib' bicycle kiosk


There are several design flaws that make it hard to use:

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