Wednesday 17 June 2009

The Daily Life of a Parisian Cyclist

Theo Zweers just sent me a link to this remarkably well made video about cycling in Paris. While the video is in French, the use of graphics makes it extremely easy to understand the majority of it for speakers of any language.

The title is "Angles Morts" which means "dead corners". i.e. "blind spots" in English or the "dode hoek" in Dutch. I assume this is a play on words in French as well, it indicating that cyclists are being ignored even by those who should be upholding the law.

The statistics at the beginning show that like in many other places with car dominance, 47% of car journeys are under 3 km, 22% are under 1 km and 12% are under 500 metres. If conditions for cycling are nearly as frightening as they appear in this video, it's hardly surprising that this is the case.

For me, viewing the video was a good reminder of how things are in the UK. The roads are full of cars, there is a need to be constantly alert for what drivers might do next and cycle facilities frequently result in inconvenience. There is no sign in the video of any regard for the subjective safety needed to make cycling a pleasant experience that everyone wants to take part in.

I expect that some people reading this will be thinking along the lines of "what about the velib system?". I've written previously about the wishful thinking involved in these schemes, which actually have scope only to be used for a tiny percentage of total journeys. Let's hope that French cyclists start to see real infrastructure improvements, making journeys convenient and pleasant.

It may seem to many that the incidents shown in the video are simply normal life for any cyclist anywhere. However, it would be impossible to make a video like this where we live in Assen. Such incidents as are shown simply don't occur. Seeing this video made me think about this and I've been unable to recall a single time that anything unpleasant of note has happened in the two years that we've lived here. Such pleasant conditions are, of course, what makes all cycling pleasant, and mass cycling possible.

Zero deaths in Paris ?
There's a very popular idea going around that somehow Paris is incredibly safe and has zero deaths of cyclists. You may have wondered whether this is true or merely a myth. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given what Paris looks like in the video above, the real figures show Paris to be about as safe or unsafe as London.

To make real progress in cycling safety and convenience, you need to copy the best examples. This means copying the best that the Netherlands has to offer. Dutch cities are not only far more convenient for cycling but also far safer than Paris, London or indeed anywhere else outside the Netherlands.

For reasons that have always been a mystery to me, many British cyclists would seem to think France is a particularly good place to cycle. In France, just 3% of journeys are by bike. It may be three times the cycling rate of the UK, but it's still barely more than a tenth of the cycling rate of the Netherlands. There is a reason why the French don't cycle more, and you see it in this video.


l' homme au velo said...

That is a Blatant disregard for the Cyclists. They actually have very good Segregated Cycle Lanes but the Motorists and Scooter Fiends are Parking and Driving on them. That is sheer Arrogance, they know that no one is going to stop them it seems.

That is even worse than in Ireland in our situation the Motorists Respect you more even though our Infrastructure is terrible and not as good as theirs.

Kevin Love said...

Yes, there is a play on words in French. For those who are not Canadian and don't speak French, this sort of comes through in English as well. There is the same pun of angle/angel.

So Angle morts = Angel of Death. Being French, there has to be a literary reference somewhere. In this case, to the Book of Exodus.

David Hembrow said...

Le Homme au velo: Sadly I see nothing in the video which I'd describe as being good infrastructure. Rather there are narrow strips of pavement or ineffectual lines and "sharrows" on the road. These have every bit of the effect that you can expect from paint alone. i.e. virtually none.

The video shows merely tokenistic "infrastructure" which in some cases actually puts cyclists in the way of danger. It's not at all the same thing that you find over here.

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. If it's really good then it attracts people to cycling and you get a high level of bike usage. France and Paris don't have that.

Kevin: Thanks for the "angel of death" translation.

Unknown said...

It looks a lot like India. Only India is worse. There are no cycling paths. Hell, people don't even follow lane discipline. And they even drive on the foot paths.
I've almost been knocked down twice, once by a car and once by a motorbike.

Anonymous said...

David, thanks and it is definitely an excellent video and further evidence that laws are being routinely violated.

The right hook problem is illustrated in the video too. I recall seeing exit like ramps (for cyclists only?) at intersections in Switzerland. They are too narrow for cars and allow cyclists to make right hand turns before reaching the intersection. This allows the cyclist to avoid the dreaded (being unnoticed) right hook.

Have you seen these in other places and do you have any videos, pictures, etc. of them? Thank you,

Bob said...

Excellent video. Great editing job. Been down to Paris a couple times (my wife seems a tad infatuated with the place) and I wouldn't dream of trying to ride a bike there, even though I ride in The Netherlands every single day. I feel much safer in the car...on the streets of Paris. That's sad.

Denis said...

Dag David,

Firt, dankuwel vor u blog!

I'll continue in English, I'm afraid, to add that there are cycle infrastructure on this video but there is a total absence of enforcement (even police force parks on cycle lanes or bus lane (even on tram track I have seem in the Paris suburbs, blocking the whole line...)

Also, car drivers are seen as an electorate so no one (members of the council) want to upset them by giving them fines when they park in the bus or cycle lanes for instance. This leads to absurdities where even in the centre of Paris people drive 5 min to buy their baggette or buy cigarette at the street corner).
London on this side is much better with massive fines (120 pounds for a bus lane) and very efficient enforcement for parking and bus lanes.

In Paris, things have gone out of hand and parking in a bus/cycle lane is seen as normal, something that "everyone does"...

So only infrastructure does not do the trick, car must be limited and constrained (reduced carriageway, reduced parking, etc). And even if mayor of Paris is left greenish, things are mouving slowly. For instante pedestrianisation of rue de Rivoli (equivalent of Oxford Street in London) has recently been rulled out.

David Hembrow said...

Denis: Thanks for your contribution from France. I think the problem is simply that cycling in Paris is not as attractive as driving.

Enforcement is a part of what is required (as I noted a while back), but for cycling to become really popular it needs to be free of hassle.

The infrastructure in the video is simply of much too low quality. It frequently results in conflict which puts people off cycling.

As for enforcement in the UK... I'm British and I assure you that British police park their cars in cycle lanes too. They also overlook other drivers doing the same. Our children were amongst those dodging this mess on a daily basis and the police simply wouldn't come and look.

Britain is the wrong place to look to see anything particularly positive for cyclists. For good examples you need to look to the Netherlands.

Oldboy in Brussels said...

David, thanks for your response. All this is from my personnal experience. I cycled in both Paris and London both on regular basis communting. I think conditions in London are much better (maybe because speeds and traffic levels are lower?). Paris is really mad about car, but as you say it is still very convenient to drive and park.
I must admit in don't really cycle in outer london.

But of course all this is incomparable with what I know from Gent where it aslo happens I cycle on a regular basis and what I saw on your fantastic blog.

People from France and Britain need a full reeducation and serious constrains that no politician will risk his career implementing...


Neil said...

That contraflow (with only a tiny dashed line as separation) was truly scary.

Jon Senior said...

Just discovered that you now have a blog, glad to see the Netherlands are working out for you.

With regard to your comment about Vélib, I should note that having been present in Paris for the launch (living, not visiting) my by-eye, non-scientific head count put about 3/4 of the bikes in motion in Paris 2 months after as Vélib. Even allowing for a number of existing cyclists choosing to use Vélib instead of their own bikes, this move effectively doubled the number of cyclists on the street. The system has been effective enough to branch out into a number of the immediate suburbs.

The infrastructure often sucks, that video highlighted a number of the horrors that I've seen (and avoided) in real life, but there are still more people on 2 wheels and that can only be a good thing.

In addition, French drivers tend to be more aware of bikes, and indeed, more courteous than British drivers in similar situations. I once got involved in an argument with a taxi driver who had shouted at me (With a good 1.5m clearance) for not using a cycle track. When I explained (loudly) that it was both uncomfortable and dangerous, he apologised for his actions. Although I do get annoyed by drivers here in France, I find cycling to be a considerably more pleasurable experience.

Obviously... it's not a scratch on the Netherlands.

Rob said...

Experience in *rural* (northern) France is that the cyclist is considered an athlete (regardless of actual fitness) and treated with the same respect as the more usual French Sunday (roadie) club rider... what with Le Tour being a big thing in the parts of France where I've ridden. Every close pass I've ever experienced on French roads has been by an English driver. And I've known from their approach behaviour that they'll have a GB plate...
Paris is a different country!

Unknown said...

As a Parisian "vélotaf"er, or someone who bikes to work everyday, this video says it all. The infrastructure needs improvement, drivers need to be re-educated, and, above all, the police need to enforce road rules and protect, rather than discriminate against, cyclists.

The police force is trying to make cycling in the city safer. In the past four years, from 2004 to 2008, tickets have jumped 250%. The only problem - the tickets are being given to cyclists. The police force says this is because there are more cyclists and thus the roads are more dangerous. Studies show exactly the opposite: safety in numbers. Thanks to Velib, the roads are safer for cyclists in Paris.

As for the police - in my opinion, and it is just my opinion - there is a concerted effort by the police to either a) rake in money through cyclists (the tickets are 90 euros for riding on the sidewalk or running a red light. Same price - minus the points - if you are driving a car. First step to making France bike friendly country, a proper "code de la route") or b) there is an "anti-bicycle" sentiment at the Prefecture de Police. One that is attempting to balance the mayor's pro-bike attitude?

I am not against enforcing road rules for cyclists, but I personally find the current crackdown by the police force rather insulting and unjust, considering the extent to which they turn a blind eye to other, often more dangerous, driver attitudes. I'd like to know how many tickets in the last four years have been given to motorcycles driving in cycling lanes? How many more tickets have been given to mopeds burning lights? I’d guess the numbers haven't jumped 250%. Same thing for the number of cars that do not respect the 1 meter passing rule. Now that's a way for the Prefecture de Police to make money.

Thank you for this video. It is proof of my daily frustrations, but it doesn’t say it all. Paris remains a lovely place to bike.

Anonymous said...

I have occasionally cycled in London, even during the rush-hour and it was never as bad as that. However, I am a vehicular cyclist and very assertive.

Most of my cycling is in Surrey and Middlesex, there are idiots and bad experiences out there, but they are thankfully few and far between.

My experience of France is limited. This year we cycled along the Loire and in the Sologne, albeit away from major towns and not during the rush-hour so it was very nice and relaxing.

I realise the video was a compilation, so we don't know how quickly this collection was obtained. The video, though well made was most unpleasant to watch. My brakes and tyres were quite worn-out afterwards. ;)

I long for cycling infrastructure that you have in Holland.

Frank Reinthaler said...

Angles Mortes –> Dead Englishmen?

(Can't believe no one said that already!)