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Lessons from Paris: Being Bicycle-Friendly Takes Much More than Rentals

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, July 07, 2010, at 02:34PM
Paris Bicycle Infrastructure Eric Richardson [Flickr]

This Velib station offers easy access to rental bicycles. The city's bicycle infrastructure also includes several hundred miles of bike lanes, bike boxes, sharrows and special crosswalks.



For Pershing Square's recent Meet Your Neighbor Day, 325 bicyclists turned out to take a 15-mile Sunday morning ride around all parts of Downtown Los Angeles.

The group was a mix of Downtown residents, regular cyclists and those out for curiosity. While they were comfortable making their way through Downtown in a group, many would not be comfortable riding our streets on a regular day.

So why is it that in a city like Paris, cyclists of all shapes, sizes and dress can be seen in every corner of the urban core, with bikes just another regular piece of the transportation puzzle?

It doesn't take long to surmise that infrastructure might have a little something to do with it. While Paris' Velib bike rental system has been a favorite toy for L.A. politicians to consider bringing to the city -- Downtown Councilmembers Jose Huizar, Jan Perry and Ed Reyes have all been a part of motions mentioning bike sharing -- it's the city's pervasive inclusion of cyclists that seems to make much more of a difference to how riding in the city is perceived.

One can't look around a Paris intersection without seeing a bicycle symbol somewhere. Name a buzzword related to urban cycling and you'll probably find it implemented in the city.

Its 273-mile network of bike lanes and paths (with more to come) takes all forms, from simple striping to completely separated paths between the street and sidewalk. Sharrows -- symbols painted on the road surface reminding drivers to share the road -- are everywhere. Bike boxes, spaces that allow bicycles to pull ahead of autos at intersections, are common. Wayfinding signage for cyclists points out major routes between neighborhoods.

The Velib system, with its 20,000 bicycles and more than 1,600 stations, is simply the cherry on top.

Could car-crazy Los Angeles ever go for a similar all-out effort in Downtown? Why not? The Paris system may be deeply engrained today, but most of the bike lanes have been installed since 2001 and the Velib system was only launched in 2007.

This may just be the moment in time where Downtown and Los Angeles need to be ready to truly buy into this idea of a city oriented toward more than just the car and see what happens.

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