Here is a guest post by Mark Cramer, author of the acclaimed Old Man on a Green Bike: Chronicles of a Self-Serving Environmentalist. Cramer writes about his experiences of bike commuting in Paris, where he has experienced cycling against traffic on one-way streets. He also lets us know how cycling in Paris has changed since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Over to Mark Cramer:
What works in one culture may not work in another, but cultures can transform. In most European countries, one-way streets have been re-planned to advantage bicycle traffic. This has been possible because one-way streets for cars are usually intended to even out traffic, as opposed to speeding it up.
As a regular bicycle commuter in the Paris region since 2001, I witnessed the initial experiments in 2010, where certain strategic one-way streets were given “double-sens cyclable” (“two-way cycle”) signs with a bicycle icon. The first of these streets was a true blessing, allowing me a straight trip that avoided a detour through a high-car-volume street.
How the Pandemic has Impacted Cycling Options
Since the pandemic, all one-way streets with a 30 km/hr speed limit have been made two-way for bicyclers. By making the system ubiquitous, safety has been maximized. There are two main systems. The first one squeezes a bike path in the “contra-flow” direction.
The second one places a bike icon decal in the middle of the street. Subjectively, this second type of contra-flow feels even safer.
If you’ve never experienced riding contra-flow, imagine conceptually whether you should feel safer with an unseen car flowing behind you, or a car coming toward you, where you can establish eye contact with the driver. You know that he belongs and he knows you belong. One of you may have to move over, and that’s usually the cyclist, but a usually gentle understanding is established between motorist and cyclist.
Is Cycling against Traffic on One-Way Streets Safe?
In 2013 Brussels, Belgium, traffic research found that only 4% of all bike-car collisions were on contra-flow one-way streets, but 25% of all streets in that city were one-way. It was also found that the severity of incidents was considerably reduced on these one-way streets compared to two-way streets.
On my route home, there’s a one-block stretch of contra-flow that saves me from having to turn across a high traffic street.
Recently I experimented by taking a 90-minute trip almost entirely on contra-flow streets. My subjective stress measurements indicated that I felt safer than on two-way streets without protected bike lanes.
Could Cycling against Traffic on One-Way Streets Work in North America?
Is this applicable in American or Canadian cities? In the California cities where I bicycle when visiting family, one-way streets function to speed up traffic. But many North American mayors have had the vision to begin traffic calming, installing speed bumps, speed cushions, speed tables and roundabouts.
Here in France, the cultural transition was triggered by a symbiotic relationship between municipal governments and bicycle activist groups.
I’ve witnessed a profound cultural transformation in the space of 12 years in Paris. Would cycling against traffic on one-way streets work in your city?
Creative commons attribution: photo by Richard Drdul, British Columbia, Canada
About Our Guest Author, Mark Cramer
Mark Cramer is the author of the acclaimed Old Man on a Green Bike: Chronicles of a Self-Serving Environmentalist.
You can read the introduction for free by clicking on the Amazon link and then clicking on “Look Inside”. Be sure to check out the reader reviews.
“Mark Cramer is a master storyteller. His vast experience and research enables him to create descriptions of places and events that come to life in the mind of the reader, often creating laugh-out-loud humor. Even if you’ve never thought about cycling along Paris streets, or through the countryside outside Bruges, or up Tour de France level gradients in La Paz, this book will show you how and inspire you to do so – or at least to explore your own neighborhood on a bicycle. The book exhibits a deep understanding of the causes of (and solutions to) the world’s and our own personal challenges. Old Man on a Green Bike will make a great gift for anyone searching for adventure, or an engaging, motivating and thought-provoking read.”
– Dr Paul Tranter, School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences, UNSW Canberra, Australian Defense Force Academy, author of Active Travel: A Cure for the Hurry Virus
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