13 May 2008

La Semaine du Vélib' et du Vélocouture Parisienne

We've heard much about the Vélib' Revolution in Paris. Marie was down there for a visit a while back and now it was my turn, together with Wifealiciousness. I was looking forward to seeing how the bike share programme worked and how it fit into the urban landscape of the French capital.

In short, I was astounded. It's hardly been a year since the Vélib' was thrust upon Parisians and yet the Vélib' has already become an iconic addition to a city hardly lacking icons.
Copenhagen Cycle Chic Goes To Paris
This first photo doesn't even feature a Vélib' bicycle and that is on purpose. The Vélib' Revolution has spawned bike culture. Vélib bikes are everywhere, of course. There are 20,000 of them in the city. But what amazed me was seeing so many normal bikes. I've read that bike sales have increased since the beginning of 2008. Parisians have tried the Vélib and now many are investing in their own bikes.
Copenhagen Cycle Chic Goes To Paris
Ah... there's a Vélib'. Wifealiciousness and I were in Paris for three days - sans enfants. Friday was spent visiting old haunts and certain shops we love. All the while we regarded the flow of bicycles in the streets. Who was riding them? Was it easy or hectic?

What is fantastic is that there is no one demographic group cycling on the streets. It's men and women, young and old. Couples, families, you name it. The key to any successful bike culture is to get women onto bikes. They are the group that is most likely to ride and yet least likely to actually do it, especially in urban settings. But the Parisiennes are out in force. Vélib' is short for Vélo Libre and Vélo Liberté - Free bike and bike freedom. The perfect name.
Paris Bike Culture - Cycling Sociably
Wifealiciousness and I hopped on our first Vélibs on Saturday and never looked back. It takes three minutes on the machine at any bike rack to set up a subscription. One day, seven days or one year. All you need is a credit card with a chip in it, but when even the Chinese have chips in their credit cards, that's hardly an issue anymore. We took the one day subscription and were issued a card with a number. Each time we wanted to take a bike we went to a machine, typed in the number and selected a bike. In under a minute we were cycling away.

It's even easier with an annual subscription. You get a permanent card and you just wave it in front of the card reader next to each bike and the bike is unlocked.
Copenhagen Cycle Chic Goes To Paris
Once again, it is segregated bike infrastructure that makes bike culture possible. You cycle, by and large, along existing bus lanes, although there are many dedicated and segregated bike lanes around the city.

The most fascinating thing is that motorists have already figured out how to deal with all the bikes. The cars watch for bikes and the cyclists take it easy [Style Over Speed... :-) ] and watch for vehicles. This karmic co-existence is remarkable, especially so soon after the introduction of the Vélib'.

I've driven in Paris many a time and it used to be a witches cauldron of automotive chaos. You get used to it, but it was always a nervy experience. Second only to Roma in my experience for stress. Riding through the city on a Vélib, however, is no great feat. It is liberating, glorious and it is easy.
Copenhagen Cycle Chic Goes To Paris

If chaotic Paris can adapt to the sudden appearance of 20,000 Vélib bikes and thousands of normal bikes, then it should be no problem for other cities. Bike share programmes, segregated bike lanes, ease-of-use. Off you go.

The mentality of Parisians and the French in general is a big plus, but Paris is now the yardstick that all other cities itching for bike culture have to measure themselves by.

I'll post photos and commentary all this week - La Semaine du Vélib' here on Copenhagen Cycle Chic.


Copenhagen Cycle Chic Goes To Paris
Riding Vélib bikes - shouldn't we just call it Vélib'ing? - around Paris is a breeze. I'm sure that to some the above photo, however, looks a trifle perilous.

Not to worry, though. Busses in Paris have frequent stops so you can usually stay
ahead of them. If you find yourself next to one at a light, they provide ample room for cyclists and, most importantly, they know the cyclists are there. Wifealiciousness and I were overtaken by busses a few times, but they drove slowly and gave us a wide berth.

Taxis in Paris use the bus/bike lanes, too, but even on speedier stretches along the Seine or Rue du Rivoli, taxis slow when overtaking bikes. Brilliant.
Copenhagen Cycle Chic Goes To Paris
There is a sincere sense of 'joie de vivre' present in Paris these days, thanks to the bicycles. The system itself is so easy to use and the massive number of bike racks means that you're always within spitting distance of a Vélib. As the map below shows, Vélibs are widely available :-)
Vélib Paris Rental Locations
One thing that we noticed was that with the Vélib you get to see parts of Paris you would normally zip past on a Metro deep underground.
Copenhagen Cycle Chic Goes To Paris
One evening we rode up to Sacre Coeur. It's a long climb up the mountain, especially the last stretch, with all the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix combined with a Haute Categorie climb in the Pyranees. The Vélib bikes have three gears, like most normal bikes in European cities, and while getting up the mountain required a bit of muscle, it was no problem. The real hell was all the tourists up at Sacre Coeur, but we were the only ones on Vélibs, which was quite cool.
Paris Bike Culture - Copenhagen Cycle Chic Goes to Paris
We didn't fancy running the gauntlet of tourists to get back down so we merely followed the road that cars take, down the backside of the mountain. We realised that neither of us had ever been on the other side. Who has? Millions of tourists climb up the front and back down again, like so many camera-toting Dukes of York. We discovered a hidden corner of Paris that we would never have visited without the Vélib.
Vélo Hommes - Cycling Chaps in Paris
The whole time we rode down streets we've never seen before, discovered cool shops previously unknown to us and generally experienced a whole new Paris.

Joie de vivre, indeed.

Paris Bike Culture - Cycling Sociably
One of the best things we noticed about cycling in Paris was that Parisians have understood how sociable cycling is. Cycling in couples is a common sight in Copenhagen and by all accounts Parisians have embraced this sociability as well.
Paris Bike Culture - Cycling Sociably
Couple contemplating directions.
Paris Bike Culture - Cycling Sociably
Pere et fils in the bike box at the traffic lights.
Paris Bike Culture - Cycling Sociably
Casual moment. He was pointing out various buildings to the girl as they rode.
Vélo Liberté - Parisian Bike Culture
A flock of Vélib's on the bridge.
Vélo Liberté - Parisian Bike Culture
Chic couple at an intersection.
Paris Bike Culture - Cycling Sociably
An interesting aspect of this bike life in Paris is that the Vélib is seen on the streets at all hours. The metro closes early, compared to other cities, but the Vélib is always there for you. Nightlife in Paris is made so much easier.
Vélo Liberté - Parisian Bike Culture

We're getting ready to wrap up our love affair with Paris and Les Vélibs this week. There are a couple of things left, however. Firstly, some photos of les hommes doing their casual thang in the French capital.
Vélo Hommes - Cycling Chaps in Paris
Fly by.
Vélo Hommes - Cycling Chaps in Paris
Still going strong. And I just love his driving gloves.
Vélo Hommes - Cycling Chaps in Paris
Le shopping.
Vélo Hommes - Cycling Chaps in Paris
Any bike will do. Even if you have to borrow it. :-)
Vélo Hommes - Cycling Chaps in Paris
And then there's this chappie. Zipping along the Seine on his [what are they called?], casually smoking a cigarette. Tres cool. Trop cool.

What better way to wrap up Semaine du Vélib' here on Copenhagen Cycle Chic than with a little video tribute.

The music I used is courtesy a friend of mine, Jason McNiff. The song is called 'Bella Ciao' and it's from his latest album 'In My Time', which is available on Amazon.co.uk
He used one of my photos from New York for his album cover:
My First Album Cover
Which is lovely, of course. My son and I run around the house singing Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao! :-)

I love that it's an Englishman singing an Italian song in a Danish film about the French capital. Vive l'Europe... :-)


Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed your post. Please keep them coming.

my hyggelig said...

What a great and inspiring post for an equally great and inspiring city. I was excited to hear about the Vélib’ bikes last year and it is great to see how well they are being received. Riding in 6" heels is probably way easier than walking in them... :) I can not wait to try one out some day.

Anonymous said...

Carefully implemented, city bike schemes can be a great addition to a city.

Forced through by city councils in underhand deals with advertising companies, effectively privatising the public realm for the profit of the same company, they are nothing but bad news.

Dublin's is the latter version. I'm not holding my breath.

(Discussion on this subject from an Irish architecture discussion forum at the URL behind my name.)

Michael said...

Interesting to note that you said setting up the card requires a credit card with a chip (smart card) in it.... as almost all American credit cards don't have this chip...

I have encountered some machines and grovery stores in Europe where I couldn't use credit because they required that your card have a chip - but is this program really limited to that as well?

I hope not, because by the looks of them, the massive American tourists often seen wandering around paris could certainly use a bike ride or two...

Colville-Andersen said...

interesting point, ctesiphon. i'll check it out.

michael, i'm surprised that you don't have chips in your credit cards over there. it has pretty much been the standard for years. better security and ease-of-use.

i don't feel that the velib system is 'limited' by using smart credit cards. it caters to the vast majority who will use it.

Only 18% of americans own passports - of them there are many who are recent immigrants who wish to return home now and then. Then there are those who use the passports for ID and those who only need them to travel to Canada and Mexico. Those who actually travel abroad statistically visit Britain most. There are still many who visit Paris, but many of them are older tourists visiting in tour groups.

I don't know how many American tourists ending up in Paris are actually in the target group for using Vélib, but it doesn't seem very cost efficient for the City of Paris to cater to them.

The system caters to locals and frequent visitors, first and foremost. And it uses the technology that these people use. Then you have half a billion chip-equipped citizens in the EU, plus those European countries not in the EU, 120 million Japanese, the Chinese [travelling more and more] - and many of these people travel to Paris and are in the target group.

I still have a VHS machine even though my local film rental shop only rents DVDs. Technology rolls on.

Michael said...

absolument! I couldn't agree more...

The funny thing is that as the US has slowed down and spent all it's time and energy and money on illegal, immoral, horrible wars over the last 8 years - the rest of the world has been moving on.

I recently read that we have moved from the Anti-American world to the Post-American world. The US just doesn't matter any more.

Anonymous said...

Although most US credit cards lack the "pouce" (chip) that is required for Vélib, I believe that American Express cards are nonetheless accepted (I'm not sure if they actually have a chip or not, though), so there is a way for some Amis to take advantage of Vélib when they are in Paris.


Colville-Andersen said...

michael... do you have a link to that post-american world article? sounds interesting.

dupuy... indeed, you are correct. i've checked around now and that seems to be the case.

for a great laugh, read this article and especially the comments.

Anonymous said...

ROFL, thanks for the article link, had a good laugh. It pretty much lived up to expectations, conflated and all. Cultures apart, indeed. :-)

Michael said...

Here's the article on the post-american world:


Diz Rivera said...

Hi from Santa Monica, California. I love your site. I've enjoyed all (recent) posts as I mentally will U.S cities towards a more progressive bike culture. Santa Monica is a fairly bike-savvy city, but I love witnessing the explosion elsewhere. I have hope. Thanks again.

2whls3spds said...

SOME of the American Express Cards have the chip and some don't. I didn't realize I was missing out on one ;-) I do travel a fair amount but so far my international travel has been fairly limited and to only a couple of days of business at a time. I hope to change that soon.


Michael said...

2whls3spds- true that some Amex have the chip - isn't it in the wrong place? It's in the center of the card, but that's not where it is on the european cards, right?

2whls3spds said...

Not sure...my wife carries the card with the chip, but I believe you are correct. I only carry a single Visa card and I can assure you it does not have the chip.


Kristin Tieche said...

My Amex card has a chip in it, and I intend to use it in Paris this summer.

Matt Holden said...

Great to read about this system working in a big city ... there was talk of setting up a free bike scheme here in Melbourne (of the advertising-sponsored variety) but it seems to have foundered on our compulsory bike helmet laws ... we keep our fingers crossed.
BTW, the biggest innovation here is "Copenhagen lanes" (on one main city street at the moment) -- named after your city, of course ... bikes separated from traffic by a car parking bays ... the biggest hazard is people getting out of the parked cars ...

love your blog.

Colville-Andersen said...

great to hear from all of you.

matt: melbourne is indeed cool. used to live there actually.

it's also one of the nine cities chosen by architect Jan Gehl as a fine example of a 'reconquered city.' Read this post about it.

Unknown said...

Once implemented, the target group is not always as it was initially intended.

The tourists of Paris are part of the target group of the Veli'b, the option is there to use it. But it was positioned for the inhabitants, in addition for the public transport and to encourage people to leave their car at home. However for this last group there is no change in car usage measurable.

I read somewhere that the initial plan for Copenhagen was to offer commuters the possibility of using a bike in combination with other public transport. I am not sure who the current users are, but it seems to be that the system is mainly used by tourists. Most inhabitants of the city already own a bike, and use it rather than the city bikes. The question is actually if the success of the Veli’b is related to the amount of bicycles the Parisians own.

Colville-Andersen said...

I agree, Myana. The Velib system was intended for Parisians. We saw very few tourists using them.

In other cities with new bike share systems, they are ONLY for the locals and you have to sign up a week in advance, etc.

In CPH, it's only the tourists and the occasional inebriated copenhagener on their way home at night.

nevertheless, the amount of bikes we saw and the ease of use the cyclists exhibited in paris is, i believe, a fantastic sign.

Unknown said...

Absolutely, it is amazing to see the turnaround in attitude towards cycling in Paris. I would have never believed it if anyone told me 5 years ago that Paris would be accessible by bike nowadays and that it has become a quite common means of transportation for the Parisians.

Therefore I think it is an interesting situation for bike developments and I wonder whether this success would be possible for example in the Netherlands, where many people already have their own bicycle.

Anonymous said...

I loved this - we tended to think Parisian mentality (since post WWII) was an obstacle to bicycle use. This is sweet revenge.

My bicycle is a six-speed Raleigh Sprite, black, upright handlebars, mixte frame - about what I'd need in Paris, as there are a couple of hills I couldn't do with a Dutch Omafiets without damage to my middle-aged knees.

Eventually I'd like to see a bicycle funiculaire up Montmartre and Méilmontant/ Belleville, about the only high hills that might be an obstacle to people of a certain age with joint problems (cycling is very good for many kinds of athritis, etc).

And, of course, it keeps people beautiful! Not necessarily model-slim, but toned, and aware of our bodies.

ManfredKZ said...

Great article and photos, I have driven my car many times in Paris and always found the chaos stressful and exciting at the same time, especially going around "The Arche"!
ow here in Edmonton there is good news, I just read in the news paper this week:
"Let's watch what happens in pioneering Montreal, and consider a bike-sharing system for Edmonton. For all the wind about evironmental sustainability generated by the turbine of the human persuasion, any real progress must also begin at home.[...] For the past few years, some 100 cities - including the likes of Paris, Barcelona and Washington, DC - have hosted bicycle sharing programs. [...] Paris' Velib program has been a massive success, for example, where over 20,000 bikes have been used on 27 million rides.[...] Montreal is road-testing its own bike-sharing system that could serve as a template for other Canadian cities, including Edmonton.[...] with Montreal leading the way, Edmonton will have an appropriate model to study. The hope is City Hall will be doing just that over the coming year. Bike-sharing could well make sense here, at once improving the city's environment, along with the health of Edmontonians."
Very Good news, if only the political good will translates in concrete planning and action soon! Greetings from Edmonton, Canada

Emaratioryx said...

Great article !!!
I'll make sure to practice cycling in Copenhagen first then I'll try Paris.. I loved this post :)

M'dame Jo said...

I've heard that vandalism is actually quite a problem. It seems that 40% of the bikes are unusable.


Similar systems exist elsewhere. I've used them in Vienna and Lyon - and in Copenhagen about 12 years ago :-) - I don't know what the stats are, but vandalism doesn't seem threathen the system's sustainability. Is there less respect toward city property in Paris than in Vienna?

I don't really get how you can steal a Vélib' considering you have to give your credit card information though...

Well, hopefully it will still last...

Colville-Andersen said...

the hype about the failures of Velib are greatly exaggerated. It is said the JC Deceaux, the ad company with the contract, has overhyped the negative aspects in order to get more money out of the city in the contract negotiations. these negative points have been thoroughly debunked in the press.

Anonymous said...

what do you mean by "even the chinese"? that makes no sense, and you didn't even provide any sort of context to that statement.

treberden said...

The chappie smoking a cigarette is on a "segway", which is an electric human transporter...

Elodie said...

I think it's a great idea, here in London we have cyclists who can only ride in the street with the buses and cars, and it's completely nerve wracking to see them! I would love to cycle around the city, but you really do have to cycle in a pack for security. Hopefully London will follow the great example of bike-friendly cities like Copenhagen and Paris. :o)


Slim Girl Diary

Anonymous said...

Its one month since the Dublin bikes went live. Really successful over 25% more sign ups in the first month then the target for the year already they are planning an expansion. And why not I have always said is a nice city to cycle around. Small yet nicely formed between a wonderful bay and lovely rolling hills.

MTM / Bella Ciao said...

Bella Ciao is not only a song any more. Now it is also a bicycle. - Bella Ciao - La canzone della resistenza - La poesia della libertà.
Best from Berlin.

Anonymous said...

What a great blog! You would love Davis, California! :)

bedava oyun indir said...

Thanks bro