Five Years of Velib: How Cycling Became Chic in Paris

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Stefan Simons in Paris, June 25, 2012 (Photo Gallery).

Once upon a time, only a small number of Parisians rode bikes, but the French capital city’s Velib bike rental system has shaken up the way locals move from Point A to Point B. Five years after their debut, cycling has become cool in Paris — and there are fewer cars clogging up the city center … //

Not Just A Weekend Hobby:

Some 130 million trips have been clocked up since the bike network’s launch five years ago. The anniversary was marked on Sunday with a mass cycle ride down the Champs-Elysées. The success story has shifted attitudes to mobility in the French capital. A few years ago it was unimaginable that suited businessmen or elegantly dressed women would mount a bike.

Eric, a sociologist at the University of Seine-Saint-Denis, swears by the city’s bikes which he uses “at least twice a day.” The 48-year-old is faster on the saddle than in the subway: “The Velib station is just over the road from my front door,” he says.

And the daily newspaper Le Parisien quoted a member of the Velorution cycling organization as saying, “The invention has proved that a bicycle can be a serious means of transportation, not just a weekend hobby.”

“The image of the bicycle has changed,” says Dominique Lebrun, Paris’ inter-ministerial coordinator for bicycle use, referring to the 700,000 French workers who commute by bicycle.

The rental bikes have proved their worth, particularly for short trips. While cars grind through the boulevards at walking pace, speedy cyclists can cover about five kilometers (three miles) in 20 minutes, whizzing past the gridlock. The system’s teething problems, such as where to find bikes and which stations have parking space, have largely been solved: More than a dozen free smart phone applications, including “Open Bike,” “Cycle Hire” and “molib,” direct Velib riders to the nearest parking space.

A Bike Renaissance: … //

…  A Green Avenue from Paris to London:

Adding to the cyclists’ obstacle course, mopeds and motorcycles often illegally travel on bike paths when the traffic is dense. But Transport Ministry official Lebrun remains optimistic: “Over time there will be fewer accidents as car and motorcycle riders pay greater attention.” Since a record 694 cyclists were injured in 2007, the total number of bike accidents has declined steadily each year in Paris.

Beyond the cities, France hosts a network of bike paths totalling approximately 8,000 kilometers. A further 10,000 kilometers are planned over the next 10 years. The first cross-country route is under construction between the Breton port of Roscoff and the Atlantic coast city Hendaye, called the “Velodysee”.

And over the weekend French cyclists set off along the “Avenue Verte,” or green avenue, a new path linking London and Paris. Depending on the route, the journey is between 408 and 474 kilometers long. On the French side, it uses sections of former railway lines between Paris and Dieppe and has no steep inclines. The new route was hailed by Le Monde as being a good step for “tourism, sport, culture and the environment,” but cyclists are only given the exclusive right of way on a third of the trail. The rest is shared with cars.

“It’s just a beginning,” said Didier Marie, president of the Seine-Maritime region. “Bike paths will be added to gradually improve the route.” (full text).


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