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Speeding Up the Slowing Down on the Streets of Le Marais

In the Musee Picasso - Paris, FranceIn the Musee PicassoMayor of the 3rd Arrondissement, Pierre Aidenbaum, sauntered into the courtyard of the ‘soon-to-open’ Musée Picasso on Friday morning on an advance tour of the newly renovated museum at the same time we did, so we had a chance to say hello and thank him for the district’s special invitation. As long as I’ve lived in the district, he has been always active, progressive and very present — we seem him regularly in the neighborhood restaurants, lots of public events and is personable and friendly to all.

Pierre Aidenbaum at the Musee Picasso - Paris, FrancePierre Aidenbaum at the Musée PicassoTherefore, it wasn’t surprising when I received a recent article in Metro News that he is wishing to impose lower speed limits (30 kilometers per hour) in the district to protect the growing numbers of tourists wandering the narrow streets. While he is proposing this change for his own district, the question is asked if Mayor Anne Hildago will take his lead and impose it on the rest of the city. According to the article, the speed limit is already applicable to many other neighborhoods, and if proven successful, it could be extended to all.

As a pure pedestrian in Paris, this is welcome relief, but my fears have never been of the cars at any speed. The most dangerous vehicles on the Paris streets are first, the motorbikes, and second, the bicycles. Both seem to forget that they are on vehicles at all, particularly the ‘peddlers,’ who see themselves more as pedestrians on wheels than conductors of vehicles on the road. They completely ignore taking streets in their assigned directions and rarely stop at traffic lights. Very often they ride on the sidewalks swiftly passing the pushers of prams.

Photo by AFP as Published by Metro News by AFP as Published by Metro NewsMotorbikers can be even more irreverent. They love to swiftly pass a car (on the right or the left) while it’s stopped at a pedestrian crosswalk, putting the pedestrians crossing at tremendous risk. I’ve witnessed it too many times and it infuriates me!

While the bikers can and should be held responsible for ‘breaking the rules,’ the rules are confusing. If you’re renting a “Vélib‘” from the city’s public bike system the written rules are clear:

    Road safety guidelines

    – Respect road signs and signals (red lights, one-way streets, stop signs, etc.)
    – Always look out for pedestrians, particularly at traffic lights and pedestrian crossings
    – Be aware of other cyclists and ensure they can always see you
    – Do not cycle on footpaths
    – Cycle in single file even when cycling in a group
    – Do not undertake vehicles if they are turning right
    – On the road, keep right unless specific paths are provided
    – Do not transport passengers, Vélib’ bikes are designed to carry only one person
    – Do not lend your subscription card/ticket to any other person
    – Watch out for vehicle doors opening
    – Use the locker for short stop
    – Signal changes of direction with your arm
    – Before you set out, check your bike is roadworthy and safe
    – Wear reflective clothing in bad weather conditions and at night
    – We recommend that you wear a properly-fitting helmet
    – Do not wear headphones while cycling

    Always be alert to what is happening around you!

Photo by Le Figaro as Published by by Le Figaro as Published by VivreleMarais.comBut other aspects of maneuvering a bike in Paris are not. For example, priority is given to the cars coming from side roads on the right, which means that if you’re headed straightaway and a vehicle is coming from the right, that vehicle actually has the right of way and you must yield to them! This quirk in French traffic rules is clearly counterintuitive because it seems to be virtually impossible to accomplish it successfully!

The first rule on the city’s list is to “Respect road signs and signals (red lights, one-way streets, stop signs, etc.),” except that narrow Marais streets show the bike lanes in the opposite direction of the one-way direction of the larger vehicles, which again is completely counterintuitive. I’ve seen so many near misses between cyclers and cars it’s not even funny, and even more between cyclers and pedestrians who don’t know which way to look before crossing the street. Then there are the motorbikers who don’t know which rule applies to them at all, so they just take any direction they want up these streets.

My own street is a perfect example of how the bikes can ride opposite the natural flow of the traffic. Can someone explain the logic of this? On such narrow streets, the biker is taking his life into his own hands by riding up a one-way street as a car may turn the corner and hit him head on. Meanwhile, as a pedestrian it’s even more treacherous.

The bike culture in Paris is fantastic! I am all in favor of reducing the traffic of cars to bikes, both motorized and not, but what about us poor pathetic pedestrians who just want a little respect (and a safer life)?!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - at the Musée PicassoAdrian Leeds

Editor, Parler Paris & The Adrian Leeds Group

(at the Musée Picasso)

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