161/365 – Paris is not for parking

ParkingI never drove a car in Paris, and I’m glad.  The pace seems intense and the rules of the road kind of loose, plus most of the streets are one-way or one-lane, with huge roundabouts that seem chaotic to the first-time observer.  But the main problem is: Where do you park?

Okay, most of the large buildings have courtyards, so that’s where a lot of cars go, out of sight through the big doors along the narrow streets.  There are also lots of underground parking lots, with discreet little signs next to a plunging driveway.  Then there are the streets, where cars seems to be left anywhere and everywhere, backwards, on corners, pulled up on the sidewalk, and so close together, it’s hard to tell how someone got in the spot or will ever get out.

At least the cars are small, and there doesn’t seem to be much air pollution.  Mostly our attitude while strolling the streets of Paris was to beware of the cars and wait patiently at marked crosswalks with traffic lights (watching mainly for bicycles and scooters, whose drivers seemed to mostly behave, although they sometimes try pushing through pods of pedestrians.)

160/365 – Scooters and motorcycles in Paris

Dark_cycleI call them “The Dark Knights of Paris” – helmeted motorcycle drivers zooming through traffic by riding the stripes between lanes with aggression, showing no fear.  They are accompanied by a buzzing bunch of hornets – the motor-scooter crowd – many of whom are women.  Actually everyone wears helmets, so you can’t tell the gender or age of the two-wheeled warriors until they park. 

Special parking spots are set aside for the two-wheeled [FRENCH WORDS], but that doesn’t stop scooters from being parked just about anyplace else.  Back home in Madison, this being a major college campus town, scooters are also the rage, but they are generally driven in a much more kindly manner, and are probably underpowered compared to the French models.  I hope these vehicles all become electric in the future.  That would calm the noise level down a lot.

159/365 – Did I tell you about the bikes?

Brave_bike_ridersBicycles are everywhere in Paris, bikes of every description, being ridden by every sort of person – the earnest young woman dressed for work, the older man in a suit, the student, the elderly – all bravely coursing along next to the crazy torrent of busses, cars, and delivery vans (the Renault Kangoo being my favorite model.)

I expected heavy use of bikes – you see it in all the European films – but what I didn’t expect was the huge extent of the bike rental business.  Well, it’s not really a business, per se, it’s a publicly subsidized convenience. 

The city hall (Mairie de Paris) of Paris operates a rental program called Vélib’ with literally thousands of three-speed unisex bikes at hundreds of stations around the city.  It costs just one euro (about $1.45) a day for an unlimited number of 30-minute jaunts (subscriptions are also available). If you use the bike for an hour, that adds a euro, another half-our adds two euros, so the thing is designed for short trips (under 30 minutes is free.)  Even the guy we were renting the apartment from sued a Velib’ to come over from his office.  It’s an amazingly good idea, and Paris is on the way to becoming a city of bikes.

Typical Velib' bike station in Paris.

Typical Velib' bike station in Paris.