This summer, my wife and I spent four months in the city of Paris. While away, we kept in touch with friends back home through social media. I was thrilled to see Greenville become the first city in South Carolina to construct a protected bike lane demonstration. The project, a joint effort between the City of Greenville’s Bikeville initiative, and Bike Walk Greenville, educated downtown visitors on what a protected bike lane is and why we need them in our bike master plan. Having spent my Summer in a city where biking is more the norm than the exception, and having personally experienced the joy and ease of moving about a city that planned for bike, pedestrian, and vehicle traffic, it is so encouraging to see our city exploring more advanced transportation infrastructure for all users. In Paris, there is no debate that protected bike lanes are important; the only debate is how to improve them.
If Greenville is to continue on its upward trajectory of a desirable place to live and visit, it’s imperative that we learn from and model ourselves after cities like Paris. It’s true, in Europe, transportation infrastructure is quite different than in the United States. However, we are now facing the challenges that Europe dealt with many years ago in their city planning. Urban sprawl, downtown growth, and the desire by residents and visitors alike to be able to explore our city without a vehicle aren’t new challenges. We can all agree access to enjoyable, safe bike routes is a big part of our city’s current popularity.
While in Paris, I participated in community projects called CycleHacks. I met like-minded individuals, learned more about Paris from a native’s point of view, and opened my own perspective to new ideas. One of the CycleHack projects was aimed at improving Paris ’impressive, city-wide network of bike lanes. Ideas for improvement ranged from making the bike lanes more noticeable so pedestrians would realize when they walk across them, to improving barriers between the sidewalk and the bike lane for safety, by using objects such as plants.
Exploring Paris by bike, I developed an appreciation for their bike lane construction as you can see in this short video. When the bike lane crosses a street, there are painted symbols every four feet showing cyclists how to navigate the crossing. Furthermore, French drivers and pedestrians expect bicycles to take the right of way. If you are on a bike and do not go ahead, French drivers and pedestrians quickly grow impatient with you.
In order to successfully build and support a transportation culture that safely allows for more than vehicle traffic, you must educate as well as design for people on bikes or on foot. Paris has done this, and it made all the difference in my experience of the city by bike. Paris is far from perfect, and it can seem quite chaotic for cyclists, but I can personally say that it works.
My summer in Paris was enlightening. I experienced French cuisine, French architecture, and explored a foreign city in arguably the best manner possible, by bike. It is my hope that our City leadership, and organizations like Bike Walk Greenville, will continue their work to make our home city a safe and desirable one for residents and visitors alike. Perhaps one day we’ll read an OpEd in a Parisian paper about the couple who spent their summer in Greenville, enjoying our Southern hospitality and our bike friendly culture.
Don Hudson is the past president of the Greenville Spinners Bicycle Club, and a resident of downtown Greenville
A version of this opinion piece was published by the Greenville Journal on October 18, 2016 as What Greenville cyclists can learn from the City of Lights