04 May 2014 Life

A Paris cycling adventure

Less than half of Parisian households own a car. It’s easy to understand why: you’re never far from a Metro station, and the city gets nice bike-friendly weather pretty much year-round. Not to mention that it’s an absolute pleasure to walk in Paris. A growing bikeshare network, dedicated bus lanes, and the annual transformation of the Georges Pompidou Expressway into Paris Plage reinforce the message: it’s time for cars to take a back seat.

With private automobiles being pushed more and more toward the bottom of the totem pole, it seems that the informal rules of the road have adapted accordingly. I can’t speak to the evolution of Parisians’ rush-hour behaviour over time, but I can tell you that coming from North America, it’s something of a culture shock.

In Paris, staying in your lane is a matter of artistic interpretation. Many of the white lines have long since faded from the cobblestones, and the flow of traffic can become a sort of dance. Of course, as a cyclist, I’m grateful for the comprehensive network of segregated bikeways, bike boxes, sharrows, and dedicated traffic signals. But let’s talk about what happens when this civilised hierarchy loosens its grip.

I’m riding down Avenue Kléber, about to enter the roundabout at the Place Charles de Gaulle. The Arc de Triomphe is looming ahead and the scene is particularly thrilling. Six or seven layers deep, all manner of cars, taxis, tour buses, city buses, scooters, motorcycles, and bicycles are circling, circling, like pilgrims at the Kaaba.

Shifting down to second gear, I prepare to enter the fray. Comparisons to Mecca aside, the atmosphere is anything but meditative. To my left, a taxi peels away, darting toward Kléber and leaving a gap in this chaotic carousel of traffic.

Now, dear reader, the next action is up to you. Oh, yes — this is a choose-your-own-adventure story. You’re now a confident urban cyclist in Paris. Good luck, and make your first choice:

Enter the roundabout or Wait for a bigger gap in traffic

Sam Nabi

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