Adventures in Reality


Angles Morts
Le quotidien d’un cycliste parisien pendant 1 an.

Blind Spots—The daily life of a Parisian bicyclist for 1 year

You don’t need to read French to get the gist of this video. I’ve cycled urban areas from Orlando to Rome (Italy) and in 23 years have not experienced anywhere near as many conflicts as this videographer did in one year.

We hear lots of talk about the cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands, but here’s what happens when you try to import the concept without the culture. The infrastructure—motivated by the belief that cyclists must be kept out of the way—is horrible. There is no respect or consideration from non-cyclists; motorists encroach and park in it, scooter drivers use it to filter forward in traffic jams. The cycling infrastructure does nothing more than place the cyclists at a disadvantage.

Urban cycling isn’t difficult, but we can make it a real nightmare if we try. As reader Steve A says, there are worse things than benign neglect.

I don’t read French, but it appears as though the producer of this film is placing the blame on motorists rather than on the facility designers, where it belongs. I’ve seen this misdirected frustration from cyclists in other cities with a lot of bike lanes (see the die-in in the doorzone bike lane). Cyclists are being placed in a hazard zone by irresponsible and unethical facility design and they blame the motorists. Then they cry for “protected” facilities which will have more safety issues, greatly reduced efficiency for cyclists, increased delay and stress for all road users and multimillion-dollar price tags, certain to lead to public pressure for mandatory use. Use of bike lanes and sidepaths is already mandatory in Oregon and New York.

What a great gig for facility designers. They get paid to build stuff that creates conflict and bike-v-car wars, then get paid to build more stuff to solve the problems they created. Landscape architecture firms get your tax money, you get shoved into ghettos. If you follow the money, you’ll see that cycling advocacy in the U.S. is becoming less and less about the interests of cyclists.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

29 replies
  1. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    I don’t understand much French anymore, having had two years of it back in the seventies. I can still ask of the location of the library, however. The video was pretty clear and some of the latin roots of the words are clear in any language. I think I learned the french word for either “share” or “segregate” on all those signs.

    I wasn’t aware that the author of the video was blaming vehicle drivers when he should be assessing fault to the infrastructure designers. If the French drivers are even slightly similar to American motorists, they are sheep/lemmings/mindless followers and by default, inconsiderate of other users of the roadway.

    I use “inconsiderate” often, but it’s not as negative as many might think. Taken at face value, one can allow that any time a motorist performs an action without assessing all elements of a situation, that motorist is inconsiderate.

    Would one think that French motorists are more skilled than American drivers? I think not, and that’s visible in the video.

    So sad.

  2. P.M. Summer
    P.M. Summer says:

    Oh, I think it would be very different here. Very different.

    Why, instead of all those VWs, Renaults and Citroens, it would be Toyota Land Cruisers, Ford F-150s, and Chevy Tahoes. VERY different.

    They’ll need extra pixie-dust in the Magick Paint™.

  3. Dan Gutierrez (AKA CyclistLorax on YouTube)
    Dan Gutierrez (AKA CyclistLorax on YouTube) says:

    Somebody needs to tell this guy that you can use freeware to de-rotate the video. It looks like a long series of bad scenes from the old “batman and Robin” TV series.

    The crap about a 1m distance from parked cars at 4:42 is Euro-pathological advice. 1.5m is the bare minimum, not 1m.

    All of his bad video production and poor cycling advice aside, the worst part of this video is the fact that the videographer doesn’t control lanes and is, to be blunt, treated like the road bitch that his poor behavior advertises to overtaking drivers. He seems to think that he can ride at the edge of the road, and everyone is supposed to give him a lot of passing margin, even though he’s literally begging to be passed closely. People that have such poor skills and poor video editing technique should not be making cycling videos. What a waste of bandwidth…

  4. Keri
    Keri says:

    He rides like a “road bitch” because the infrastructure (and the culture) has trained him to. I suspect the bike lanes and cycletracks are mandatory as they are elsewhere in Europe.

    Hey, 1m is more than the 3ft that’s been promoted in the US forever. Both minimums are an example of the inferiority bias that cyclists should cower as close as possible to the edge of the road.

  5. John Schubert
    John Schubert says:

    One of the difficulties the video shows is part and parcel of being in a city. There is a LOT of commercial activity. That means trucks unloading. Those trucks aren’t going to go away. If they need to double park or block a bike lane to make their deliveries, they’ll do it. And you see that in the video.

    There are steps one can take to minimize the impact that truck deliveries have on the rest of the road users, but thinking that a bike lane can be a magic space in the thick of the loading zone isn’t one of those steps.

    John Schubert

  6. Eric
    Eric says:

    Whether required or not, once a lane has been painted, it’s use becomes obligatory in most people’s minds. From what I can tell, cycle lane use is required in France if the local laws require it.

    I found this old article from the Independent when the new lanes were first being painted.

    “The biggest problem from the cyclists’ point of view, however, is that the signs announcing the cycle lanes are “obligatory”, not “recommending”. This, one cyclists’ organisation has said, was not mentioned when the plan for lanes was discussed, and it means a cyclist who ranges outside the lane is committing an offence.

    Cyclists now complain of being stopped when they range outside “their” lane. They face a 400-franc (pounds 50) fine, and perhaps a check of their bike: a bell that does not work will cost another F300. Surely, said one, Paris police have better things to do than patrol cycle lanes.

    So far, there is no resolution. But the first road markings are starting to fade, and the number of cyclists using the lanes is negligible. Meanwhile, another 25km of lanes is supposed to be completed by the end of the year.”

  7. Eric
    Eric says:

    Finally found it in Google Books.

    Michelin The Green Guide Paris says,
    Bell and Lights
    Use of designated Parking areas
    Wearing of cycling helmet (soon to become requisite)
    Use of cycle paths where they exist.

  8. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    What Keri means by “here’s what happens when you try to import the concept without the culture” is that design does not necessarily breed respect.

    If I’m not respected as a user of a particular mode, how does a new design change that?

    A system isn’t just the physical form. It’s also the behaviors that take place in that form.

    Growing up in Ohio it was rare than anybody parked their car across the sidewalk in their driveway. As kids we considered such cars to be “fair game” for abuse. When I moved to Florida I saw parked cars on sidewalks everywhere. It was made quite clear to me when I moved that pedestrians were respected in my home town, but not here in Florida. The case was the same with cycling. Harassment was virtually nil in Ohio, but it was very common when I moved to Florida. It had absolutely nothing to do with delay. When I moved here in 1979 I was harassed on roads that were virtually empty.

    Keri’s other post on mindfulness applies here; in this case about motorists. Mindfulness depends on care and empathy, not just knowledge. Florida motorists don’t care enough about pedestrians to park in such a way as to leave the sidewalk clear.

    When some motorists see me in the roadway, they think “why isn’t this fool on the sidewalk” because they have no understanding AND no empathy. They assume I am not bright enough to know better. They certainly can’t be bothered to ask me why I do what I do, or to go do some research. In over 35 years of cycling I’ve had only one motorist ask me why. (But of course have heard “get on the sidewalk!” more times than I can count.) That is APATHY, the opposite of empathy.

    There’s a continuum of motorist attitude towards cyclists, and empathy is the essential factor. Of course we can write off the neanderthals who harass and threaten as beyond hope, but what of those who have little understanding and empathy but don’t act out on it? Can we expect them to increase their care towards cyclists when cyclists are given “their own space”? If so, how does that happen?

    Since sidepaths and bike lanes encourage (and in some cases force) bicyclists to drive into motorist blind-spots, or at least stay out of the motorist’s area of greatest attention (the roadway), motorists must have increased care and empathy towards cyclists. If not, they will fail to make the EXTRA effort to scan those areas.

    It’s clear from the French video that some motorists don’t take that extra effort, even in the land of the Tour de France.

    Why should I expect Florida motorists to do better than the French in this regard?

  9. Keri
    Keri says:

    Mighk said: What Keri means by “here’s what happens when you try to import the concept without the culture” is that design does not necessarily breed respect.


    Even more importantly, the cultural respect (or lack-there-of) permeates the entire process of design, funding, approval and construction of such facilities.

    In a culture where bicycles are regarded as unimportant toys, or the primary motivation is to keep the pesky cyclists out of the way, the process gets polluted by minimal, half-assed solutions.

    The delays (required to manage conflicts) will be heaped heavily on the toy-facility users.

    Width and corner radii will be compromised, bridges not be designed for vehicular use (thus will have “bicyclists must dismount” signs), paths will become substandard sidewalks when right-of-way isn’t available, etc.

    Even simple things like the quality of pavement, the roughness of the gutter interface at cross streets, whether or not the trail has right-of-way at a driveway or minor crossing will be compromised in a culture that is paying lip-service to bike accommodation while believing that bicycles are toys that must be kept out of the way of real vehicles.

  10. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    I am rather fluent in French, to the point where I get invited to preach in French when I am in Quebec. So I’ll just point out that a better translation of the title is “death angle.” And in French there is a pun on “angle” and “angel” just like there is in English. So French speakers are reminded by the title of the “Angel of Death” from Exodus.

    There is indeed a lot of crappy bike infrastructure out there. Which does not invalidate the good infrastructure or the need for proper infrastructure planning and implementation. To use the Roman proverb, Abusus no tollit usum. Bad use does not preclude proper use.

    As cyclists, I think that we should follow the example of car drivers in this area. There is also a lot of crappy car infrastructure. For example, a new six-lane expressway, Highway 407, was opened around Toronto a few years ago. It was a fully-segregated car highway with cyclists and pedestrians banned from it. The private firm that did the design did such a bad job of it that the Ontario Provincial Police forbade the highway to be opened to car traffic for several months until the problems were fixed.

    Did car drivers say things like:

    “This crappy infrastructure means we should oppose all segregated car highways”


    “Driving on a segregated route makes me feel like a second-class citizen”

    No, actually. I don’t remember car drivers saying things like that. What they actually tended to say was things like:

    “Let’s fire the @&%^$!!! idiots who screwed up and fix the problems”

    I predict that the overwhelming majority of cyclists who have experienced both crappy infrastructure and places where the infrastructure was done right will have exactly the same response.

    I personally have cycled in both Orlando and Naples, Fla (Not Naples, Italy – maybe one day!). I’ve also cycled in The Netherlands. If I had a choice as to which set of infrastructure I could bike to work on every day I know which I would choose.

  11. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    A culture respectful of cycling would not allow facilities that have been shown to be out of compliance with standards to remain so. But that’s what happens here. See a bike lane striped to the right of a right-turn-only lane? It will stay that way for a decade.

    As the regional bike & ped coordinator I always report such violations, and I have never received a response other than “we’ll take care of it the next time we resurface.” If such a mistake put motorists at increased risk do you think it would be ignored until the next resurfacing?

    The lack of respect (empathy) for the mode also appears at the training level. Few traffic engineers attend bicycle facility design courses because they assume they already know what they need to; they’re the same engineers who insist sidewalk cycling is safer than roadway cycling.

    And then there’s enforcement: parked cars blocking the bike lane? “Not a big enough problem.” Wrong-way cyclists? No lights at night? “That’s their problem.” Ahh, but if a few too many cyclists get in the way of motorists, NOW there’s a problem.

    Disrespect for cycling is institutionalized in this country. That MIGHT change when more people are FORCED to choose cycling when motoring becomes too expensive, but if cycling advocates continue to insist cycling in mixed traffic is dangerous, we’ll end up with a major mess.

  12. Keri
    Keri says:

    Kevin seems to think cyclists will keep the system honest. Cyclists are just as polluted by the culture as everyone else.

    The majority of cyclists in a cyclist-inferiority culture will accept the most heinous of accommodations and ask for more of the same.

    Cyclists here will ride on 6 inches of pavement to the right of a white line. If you give them 3 feet of gutter they’re ecstatic.

    A number of DOTs have found hacks to do pseudo-studies that prove this. The conclusion: we can shoehorn some minimal crap facility into a substandard space and cyclist think we’re doing them a favor. Woohoo!

    If you don’t educate the cycling community to some level of self-respect, they’ll accept anything that looks like it’s done special just for them.

    BTW: Check out John Allen’s photo essay of Ocala’s new “complete street.”

  13. Brian
    Brian says:

    Hey, Keri.

    Nice video, but I think your interpretation is a bit off — the video’s anger is directed less at the drivers than at the engineers who create cyle lanes that actually make it impossible to ride safely and legally (for instance, the door zone: the video points out that legally you’re supposed to ride 1m from a parked car, but the bike lanes are all less than 1m). (And seriously, TGV aside, France isn’t known for its engineering genius…) It also seems implicitly to blame the police who let people abuse the bike lane (parked cars, motorcycles) — as we know, traffic laws are useless without enforcement.

    Frankly, I think police enforcement is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle. We all know that anyone –whether in a car, on a bike, or on foot — will break the law for his own convenience if he thinks he will get away with it. Do I ride on sidewalks when it’s convenient, despite the law against it? Sure. Jaywalk? Sure. Why? Because I’m very sure I won’t be ticketed. It’s like taxes: we all know we have to pay them, but how many people really would pay if there were no penalty for failure?

    The question, then, is how to get the police to take bikes seriously. They, more than anyone else, decide who gets respect on the roads. Maybe we should start with the police training courses?

  14. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    One of the most hilarious moments was the driver training vehicle around 2.00 – parked in the bike lane. Training drivers all right.

    French culture is notoriously rude, and French drivers reflect that by doing all the bad behaviours noted in the video.

    Quebecois drivers are (barely) kept in force by strict law enforcement. Park your car in the bike lanes in Montreal and it will be promptly towed away and impounded. To get it back will require paying such a hefty fine that many drivers simply abandon their cars. Needless to say, that effectively deters car drivers from parking in the bike lanes. Otherwise, my observation is that French Canadian car drivers are just as obnoxious as those in Metropolitan France.

    I predict that the rude element of French culture is not going to change any time soon. So what is needed is proper infrastructure and law enforcement to confine the rudeness to waiters insulting the tourists.

  15. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Keri wrote:
    “Kevin seems to think cyclists will keep the system honest.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    That’s somewhat like saying “In the US South, black people will keep the system free of racism.” My response is “maybe.”

    The Jim Crow regime lasted 100 years, and only came to an end when its victims made it clear that they were not going to put up with it any more.

    The same with cycling. If cyclists put up with crappy infrastructure and unsafe streets, guess what we’re going to get – more crappy infrastructure and unsafe streets. Things only get better when we get organized, demand safe streets and impose clear consequences when we don’t get them.

    A week ago last Monday, myself and other members of the Toronto Cyclists Union and sympathizers packed the public galleries at City Council while the members of Council voted on a plan to turn a car lane into two bicycles lanes on a major road.

    The Union executive has made it clear that municipal councillors who are not on board with the Bike Plan can expect the same discipline and organization will be used to replace them in the 2010 municipal elections.

  16. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Please! Resorting to out-dated stereotypes (“rude” French people, “polite” Japanese) is offensive and not generally helpful in discerning why bike facilities work or fail.

  17. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    If you have ever been to France (or Quebec) and to Japan, you will realize that this is a rather accurate description of local cultural norms.

    The key is to construct both “hard” infrastructure and “soft” items like law enforcement and educational programs so that they are robust to cultural norms that would otherwise cause serious problems.

    To put it another way, concrete doesn’t care what language you speak.

  18. Keri
    Keri says:

    Kevin says: If cyclists put up with crappy infrastructure and unsafe streets, guess what we’re going to get…

    That’s one thing we agree on.

    That’s why I spend so much energy critiquing crappy infrastructure.

    I also take it a step farther. If cyclists continue to act like second class citizens—like they’re borrowing a little 6-inch ribbon of pavement on the edge of the road—they will continue to be beaten down, harassed, buzzed and treated like dirt. There’s a better way to ride.

    I don’t need or want expensive, substandard, speed-compromised, conflict-ridden, parallel infrastructure. I want to use the road. I share the road quite successfully and with very little impact on other traffic. I want to empower fellow cyclists to do the same.

    I want to see infrastructure money focused on solving real access problems, not duplicating a road system that functions just fine for all users when they recognize that roads are for people. 90% of “bike unfriendliness” is a problem of social structure, not infrastructure.

    To paraphrase John Allen, we need to stop trying to use hardware solutions for software problems.

  19. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    John Allen’s photos indirectly illustrate the core problem: the “professional” community’s inability to improve quality over the past 30 years in the realm of bicycle facility design.

    The Ocala project designers made many of the same mistakes that were made back in the ’70s. But back in the ’70s they didn’t have bicycle facility design handbooks and standards to work from. We can at least give the ’70s designers the excuse of having no standards or guidance to work from. The designers of the Ocala project IGNORED the standards and professional guidance because they were letting political pressure based on our cultural bicycling taboo (that bicycles are childrens’ toys, not vehicles) guide their design.

  20. P.M. Summer
    P.M. Summer says:

    Having spent a little time in Montreal, I have to say the French Canadians were very friendly to this non-French speaker.

    True, I made sure they knew I wasn’t an English-speaking Canadian.

    Other than a Englishman, and an American lobbyist from D.C., the only rude folks I met in Quebec were people in the fine art museums… but that’s a universal.

  21. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Keri wrote:
    “I don’t need or want expensive, substandard, speed-compromised, conflict-ridden, parallel infrastructure.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Me neither! I want excellent high-speed infrastructure that is safe for myself and my children to cycle on. High quality is expensive, but a lot cheaper than segregated highways for cars.

    I want to be able to commute to work long distances at high speeds in complete safety, like the video of David at:

    I want the roads in the USA to be the safest in the world, a position currently held by The Netherlands. Right now, the USA is in 30th place behind Romania and Bulgaria. That’s shameful. See:

  22. Keri
    Keri says:

    Suburban and exurban trails are COMPLETELY different from urban sidepaths, cycletracks and bike lanes (the topic of this post/discussion).

    They’re nice where they can be built, but they serve only a small transportation function. When distances increase, the utility of the bicycle decreases for most people.

    Our metroplexes cover many times the square miles of cities in the Netherlands. Building good bicycle highways may be less expensive than motor highways, but the cost per user is exponentially higher. Complete mass transit systems would be a better investment, serving a far broader population. Even that is extremely difficult in our low-density, sprawling urban areas.

    We all want to increase roadway safety. Building separate infrastructure for cyclists does exactly nothing to improve safety on motorways. Better driver education, law enforcement and traffic justice improve traffic safety (also mentioned by Brian in comment #13).

    Again, it’s a software problem. For decades we’ve been trying to solve it with hardware (over-engineering roads, increasing “safety features” in cars and removing cyclists and pedestrians) and we have only made it worse.

  23. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Keri wrote:
    “Our metroplexes cover many times the square miles of cities in the Netherlands.”

    Kevin’s comment:

    It is not about population density.

    The Amsterdam metroplex, known as Randstad (population 7.5 million) is roughly comparable to New York (8.2 million), and has a lower population density. The City of Amsterdam had a population of 742,981 in 2006, less than half of Manhattan’s population of 1,632,795 in 2008. Manhattan has a population density of 27,485 people per square km, compared to only 4,459 people per square km in Amsterdam.

    As someone who has been to both cities, I can attest to the lower population density in Amsterdam. Buildings in Amsterdam are almost all limited to a height of six stories, but Manhattan has a large number of skyscrapers.

    It is not about population density – Manhattan has a much higher population density than anywhere in the Netherlands. Manhattan makes Amsterdam look like… urban sprawl.

    Keri wrote:
    “Building good bicycle highways may be less expensive than motor highways, but the cost per user is exponentially higher.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    That has not been the experience in cities ranging from Northern Europe to Asia to North America. For example, Toronto is in the process of building two major limited access bicycle highways. Depending upon how one sets the motor highway baseline, how one capitalizes projected future maintenance, policing and health-care costs (and how cynical one is in projecting cost overruns for the project!), the cost for the same volume of traffic is between 1/120th and 1/270th the cost of segregated motor highways .

    It is easy to get jaded after having experienced bad bicycle infrastructure. But having experienced good infrastructure, I can say “come on in, the water’s fine.”

    I see that the population of the greater Orlando area is a little over two million. That is comparable to metropolitan Copenhagen. Wouldn’t you really rather be like one of the cyclists here:

    or here

    The key question is this: “What do you want your city to look like?” I know the answer to that question. Take a look at the videos I’ve been posting. That is what I want my city to look like.

    What do you want your city to look like?

  24. Keri
    Keri says:

    I’m perfectly content to be like the cyclist here.

    Want a good laugh? Check out a map of the Orlando metro area at a 1″=2 mile scale and put it next to one of the Copenhagen metro area at the same scale. Make sure you swallow your coffee before considering Kevin’s assertion that they are comparable.

  25. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Keri wrote:

    “I’m perfectly content to be like the cyclist here.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Me too.

    Unfortunately, you and I are a minority. My 71-year-old mother lives in Naples, Fla (alas, not Naples, Italy). It is much like Orlando. She is an extremely experienced and highly skilled cyclist. In spite of her 66 years of cycling experience, my mother is not comfortable cycling in the sort of downtown traffic shown in the video.

    I myself will not allow my children to cycle in that sort of traffic.

    This is one of the major reasons why USA cycling demographics is skewed so strongly in favour of young men, with most of the population being underrepresented. On unsafe roads, vulnerable populations vanish. I believe that David Hembrow is right in comparing cyclists to canaries in a coal mine. See:

    You yourself seem to have admitted that cycling on that street was an unsafe activity by wearing a cycle helmet.

    And just to show that it is not just a Western culture phenomenon, take a look at this video taken in Tokyo at:

  26. Keri
    Keri says:

    I’m not wearing a helmet because I’m on the road. I wear a helmet on a trail, too. It’s a personal choice. It would be completely disingenuous of me to not wear a helmet in the video just to symbolically show safe it is to ride on the road.

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