How long does it take to go from Marseille’s Old Port to the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MUCEM), the city’s new pride and joy? 5 minutes along the quay, with watch in hand. And from the popular Belle de Mai neighborhood to the Joliette metro station? No more than 8 minutes. And from the Old Port to the upper-middle class stronghold of La Plaine? 14 minutes. In Marseille, new, valuable information can now be found on the sides of bikes belonging to the “Le Vélo” public bicycle rental system. Since this spring, the travel time between various places has appeared on the bikes. It is often three to four times faster than travel by car, including traffic jams and time spent searching for a parking place. As anywhere else, Marseille’s self-service bike system is not always reliable. In certain locations, or at certain times, there is a lack of bikes or the rare available bicycle is vandalized. At other times it is impossible to return bicycles because the stations are full.
By car, however, it is even worse. The traffic jams of the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region’s capital city are famous. With one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the gear lever, drivers become impatient and get ready to honk if the vehicle in front of them appears to stop at a changing yellow light. Finding a place to park is an obstacle course, and from either war weariness or a lack of shame, one ends up in a loading zone. On a motorcycle it is even simpler: the ride is fast, at the risk of terrorizing and making pedestrians deaf. Then you park on the sidewalk – too bad for pedestrians.
An Inspirational Happening
Marking trip times on certain bicycles is clearly inspired by an event directed last September by the group Collectif vélos en ville (CVV), or Bikes in Town Group. This association, which notably runs a bicycle repair shop in the Noailles neighborhood, took advantage of European Mobility Week in order to design false (and temporary) signs bearing green writing on a white background. One example adorning a post in the Castellane Square read: “Castellane-Joliette Bike 12 min/Car 35 min.” Another read “Five Avenues-Pharo Bike 15 min/Car 40 min.”
Copy and Pasted
The Marseille Metropole and Cyclocity, a subsidiary of JCDecaux, which manages public self-service bikes in Marseille, Lyon, and Paris “definitely copied our event,” states Cyril Pimentel of the CVV. “We were hoping that they would say to us: ‘Ah, that’s a good idea, we are going to make real signs now.’ But nothing has happened,” he says. Without any resentment he adds, “We are very glad that the travel times are indicated somewhere, regardless of the medium.”
One should not despair over Marseille. In 2013, the city received the “Rusty Nail” award, given by the French Federation of Bicycle Users to the least bike-friendly city in France. Until April 2013, Le Vélo’s bikes (launched in 2007) were not available at night in order to not upset the taxi lobby. And today, this Marseille service is launching a simple but innovative display that benefits cyclists. This contrasts with the trendy advice and vaguely foolish blog posts offered by Paris’ Vélib’ bicycle service.
But let us return to the edge of the sea. Even Jean-Claude Gaudin, Marseille’s mayor, should be involved. From his neighborhood of Mazargues in the southern part of the city, he would have to pedal less than a half hour, 28 minutes, to reach the seaside neighborhood of Joliette. And if he feels like taking a swim, it would barely take more than 10 minutes to ride from the Hôtel de Ville to the beach.
What other practical measures can be taken to convince citizens that riding bikes has numerous advantages?
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.