Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Though I only got to ride between station and hotel, and then a short walk, I did get a few photos and a bit of the flavour of a small piece of Paris.  Two things are striking – the high level of bell use, and the use of Velib (public bikes). 

Paris traffic always seems totally chaotic.  Lanes are the number of cars that can fit across, dependent on the ingenuity of the drivers at the time.  Intersections and pedestrian crossings are best queued across, because you never know when you might get the chance to move forward a few feet.  Any piece of footpath not totally blocked by bollards is a fair place to park, even if it is on a pedestrian crossing.  But in the chaos is a safety, from an anticipation of, and tolerance of, the unexpected.  It looks far from inviting, but works out fine on a bike, especially because it is all slow moving.  Plus, there are regularly bike facilities that make on a bike by far the best place to be.

So how have they achieved frequent bell use, I hear you ask?  The design of the cycleways I saw puts riders in conflict with pedestrians at every intersection, so people get used to using, and listening for, bells as a result.
At every intersection the cycleway conflicts with pedestrians waiting to cross, in a small area

And people get used to it - and bell ringing

About half the riders I saw were on Velibs – a fairly constant little stream of riders on a busy road with no bike facilities, all looking casual and undeterred. 

As elsewhere in Europe, providing for two way bike traffic on one way streets is commonplace.
Separated contra-flow on an arterial road

The common "bicycles excepted", sometimes with linemarking at the ends

And reminder logos along the way
Expect bikes both ways

There are bicycle crossings alongside pedestrian crossings, both signalised where the green man seems to apply to both, and unsignalised.  Why are bicycle crossings so hard in Australia?

The hatched green is new to me, and also used in other conflict points such as where a right turn lane opens up beside a bike lane

And there are on street bike parking corrals without too much fuss.

I love exploring the streets of Paris.  Through grotty, at each turn you may see yet another amazing building or monument.

Freiburg is up next - what an eye opener!

Monday, June 18, 2012


A wonderful, comfortable, friendly small city (pop. 300,000) with it all, in my opinion:  an extensive pedestrianised shopping area in the city centre, great Indian restaurants, interesting historic bits, and comprehensive bicycle infrastructure where you need it, though nothing particularly flash.  

I was in Leicester for the weekend for the annual Building Cycling Cultures conference, this year held in conjunction with the annual Riverside Festival.

Leicester has three great assets for a cycling city:
1. Large scale pedestrianisation (luckily completed just before the GFC) making the central shopping area not just attractive, but easy and quick to get around – no waiting at traffic lights!  The decision was made not to exclude bikes from the pedestrian areas, and to use contra-flow lanes on many of the one-way streets that feed into the centre. 
2. The size of Leicester  means that 90% of residents live within a 5km radius of the city centre.
3. They have been steadily adding bicycle infrastructure for 25 years, so they have a good, usable network, consisting of off road paths, shared pedestrian areas, contra-flow lanes and clever connections and crossings at junctions, signposting and on-road bike logos, and some bike lanes.  It’s not a spectacular or particularly visible network, but it works well where you need it.  I like the attention to detail.  I didn't get as many photos as I would have liked - too busy with the conference, such good (distracting) conversation on the ride, and the rain the rest of the time, but here are a few.
Large scale pedestrianisation in the centre

The clocktower

Thoughtful provision at junctions and on one way streets

An extensive off road network along the River Soar and canals

As well as separated paths along roads and shared paths in parks

With a subtle reminder, in this plaza, that bikes are permitted.

The current main focus in Leicester now is on social programs: cycle training; working with schools on travel planning in a partnership with Sustrans; the Cycle Champions project (community development programs to increase cycling in different cultural and disadvantaged communities in partnership with CTC); and a regular program of led rides in partnership with British Cycling and SkyRide.  Partnerships are key to all these programs.

Leicester has two more special features.  It has a Bike Park right in the centre of town, in the basement of the town hall, run by a social enterprise, FutureCycles.  It has secure bicycle parking, showers & lockers, and a bike mechanic and shop.  
Leiecester Bike Park - picture by Rob Marsh from PictureNation

And, new to me, a Cycle Speedway, where fixies race on a short oval dirt track with hundreds of spectators in the stands.
Leicester Cycle Speedway

Building Cycling Cultures Conference

At the conference we heard from organisations including De Montford University, Cycling England, Leicester Forest Cycling Club and the Post Office on their efforts to increase cycling with various programs.  My favourite two presentations were firstly, from photographer Iain Jacques on the architecture of the motor age; and from David Dansky on Road Danger Reduction.  David spoke about his cycle training for driving which is being delivered to professional drivers as an option for the new EU Certificate of Professional Competence requirements, funded by TfL.  And for drivers of a minicab company as a PR rescue after anti-cyclist comments by the boss.  I’d like to explore the possibilities of doing something similar in Sydney (Len and Patrick take note).
(Thanks to Iain Jacques for a photo of me giving my presentation)

I was also able to enjoy the Art House Ride (open houses displaying works of local artists, sculptors and filmmakers) and the Tour de Leicester – both magically without rain.

Alongside the conference there was social media training for community members, by Citizens’ Eye, an organisation that trains young people to be Community Reporters – a great, empowering idea. 

Lessons from Leicester

Leicester seems to excel at using partnerships and supporting social enterprises to magnify what council can achieve on its own, but with a lot of thought into how to make it work best for Leicester.

The most useful lesson for Sydney, I think, was how Leicester have built on the SkyRide with their adapted SkyRide Local.  The annual mass participation ride (like our Spring Cycle) is the eye catching one, but to follow up with people who have taken part, offering them weekly local rides, tailored to local preferences, with trained (and slightly paid) ride leaders, makes continuing the behaviour so accessible.

Huge thanks to Andy Salkeld and Janet Hudson for their hospitality.  It was also particularly good to meet David Dansky (Cycle Training), Elizabeth (Cycle Champion), John Coster (Citizens’ Eye) and Iain Jacques.

Next: a brief overnighter in Paris before heading to Freiburg.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bayeux - a different type of cycling       

A picturesque town (pop. 15,000) in Normandy, France, founded by the Gauls in the first century and famous for the Bayeux tapestry which depicts the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror. In World War II it was the first city liberated by the D Day landings. It was lucky to be unscathed by the war and so retained old streets and buildings.  It is now full of English and American tourists, especially around D Day, 6 June.
Behind the tourist office on the main street
It has a pedestrianised centre, and narrow streets, but cars still seem to zip about too fast wherever they can.  And they don't like stopping for pedestrians at crossings.  It didn’t look particularly inviting by bike, so I walked in search of bicycle facilities.  I reached the city’s ring road, Boulevard de 6 Juin, before I found anything at all, and then it lasted for just one block along Boulevard d’Eindhoven before it disappeared.  I found nothing else.
A typical street in the pedestrianized area
Narrow car streets (with smooth surface for cars and cobbles for walking)
A half bike monument at the start of the cycleway - how weird
The only cycling facility found in Bayeux
Reaching the first intersection
And, just around the corner, it ends
A closer view of the "cycleway" and "ends" signs
Bayeux does feature one transport curiosity –the tourist mini-train.
Tourist train coming down the pedestrianised main street
I didn’t see many people riding – just the postman, a couple of young lads having fun, and a couple of older men getting around.  Here in Normandy it seems that it is a different type of cycling that is more common – cycling tourism.  There was a large group of American tourists staying in our hotel on an organised bike tour.  Many of them, from what I overheard, didn’t have time for cycling in their lives, except on holiday.  It had been raining almost every day of their trip, so mostly the bikes just stayed on top of the tour trailer while they instead went to see the tapestry.  :o)
Cycling - Normandy style (bikes on top of the tour trailer on the left) - taken during a brief break in the rain
It seems a shame that the locals don’t ride around here.

Next - a trip to Leicester for the Building Cycling Cultures conference.