Commuting On Two Wheels in Paris.
PARIS–I went on the internet the night before leaving Boston to see how crowded my American Airlines flight to Paris the next day was going to be. Surprise! I didn’t actually count them, but it looked as though fully half the seats were empty. Sure enough there was plenty of room and at least a dozen passengers had all three seats to stretch out on for the seven hour flight.
Isn’t this the busy summer travel season? What’s going on? The Boston-based crew were puzzled, too. The only explanation anyone came up with was that fewer people may be traveling because of the threat of terrorism. Whatever the reason, I was upgraded to one of the rows with extra legroom and that was a blessing.
It’s possible to get into the center of Paris from CDG by a combination of train and metro, but I wasn’t up for that after a seven hour red-eye and opted for a cab. I can report to you with absolute certainty that rush hour traffic in Paris is horrendous. The freeways into and through the city are jammed and there’s lots of stop-and-go. The cab driver shrugged and confirmed that: “Les embouteillages. Chaque jour, c’est le même chose.” (Traffic jams. Every day it’s the same thing.)
While three and four lanes of cars are poking along, the narrow space between the two left lanes serves as a passage for motorcycles, blowing through there at 30 or 40 miles an hour with what seem like just inches to spare on either side. And I don’t mean just an occasional motorcycle, either. There were hundreds of them, one after another in almost a steady stream.
Most were men, but I did see more than a few young women on scooters, zipping along through that moving gauntlet of cars with aplomb. All of these cyclists were completely ignored by the drivers of the taxis and trucks and private cars.
I have no idea how many cyclists are scraped up off the pavement every day, but my guess is, not many. Drivers and bikers accommodate each other with a shrug. In fact, I’d say that’s true of these people in general. Whether it’s rush hour in Paris, or high-speed trains, or two-hour lunches, or great food and wine, the French have definitely got it figured out.
Well, imagine all those bikers in a car, too. Probably in front of you in the embouteillage. Those bikers, cyclists and public transport users are doing not only themselves, but also the average motorist a favour.