Bikes and trams in Avignon

As you may have noticed, I’m a great fan of urban bike sharing systems. I have used them successfully in Paris, Lyon, Antwerp, Hamburg, Bern, Zürich, Karlsruhe, Leipzig, Dortmund, Hannover, Lille and a number of other cities, and was always highly satisfied. I was less satisfied with the system in Marseille, not because of the system itself, but because the city of Marseille does not have anything resembling an adequate cycling infrastructure.

So far I have only been to two cities where I did not succeed in accessing the bike sharing system at all: Brussels and Avignon.

Vélopop’ station 04 République

In Avignon the Vélopop’ system accepted neither my German credit card nor my German debit card nor my German mobile phone number. To use Vélopop’ you have to have a mobile phone number with a maximum of ten digits — which means in effect that you have to have a French number, because any foreign number is bound to have more. My German number, when called from a French telephone, has fourteen digits.

Vélopop’ station 01 Jaurès

When I realized that my registration was not working, I walked over to the TCRA office on Avenue De Lattre de Tassigny (TRCA being the regional transport authority, which runs Vélopop’ as well as the local and regional buses), thinking they would be able to enter me into the system manually. But they were unable to help me, even though they were very friendly and sympathetic. They finally suggested I go over to Provence Bikes and rent a bike, which they also said would be cheaper if I was going to do a lot of cycling. (I didn’t really believe this at the time, but after several days and a bit of calculating I decided they were right.) 

Vélopop’ station 06 on Barthelasse Island, by the youth hostel

While all this was going on I learned a bit about the Vélopop’ system and found that it is somewhat different from the ones in other cities. When you enter your number to use a bike, you don’t just take the bike, you first have to take out a key (from a keyhole which has lit up) to unlock the bike. This means you have to return the bike (and the key) to the same station where you got it — which in my opinion rather defeats the purpose of an urban bike sharing system, but never mind.

For those who succeed in getting a one-day or seven-day subscription to Vélopop’, the first half hour is not free, as in other cities, but costs € 0.50 per half hour right from the start.

I did see various people using the Vélopop’ bikes, so they do seem to have a useful function for local residents and for visitors from other parts of France.

It turns out that Vélopop’ was developed by a French company called Smoove — the same company that is taking over the Vélib’ system in Paris starting in January 2018. I hope this doesn’t mean I will be shut out of the Paris bike sharing system as I was in Avignon. 

Provence Bike

Since even the people at the TRCA office did not succeed in registering me for the Vélopop’ bike sharing system, I took their advice and walked over to Provence Bike, where I rented a city-bike for five days. 

In the bike shop

This cost me 49 Euros (which works out to € 9.80 per day). There was also a deposit of € 150.00 which was pre-authorized on my credit card, but never used since I returned the bike on time and in good condition.

Provence Bike is a very professional bike shop with a good selection of bikes. The service was friendly and uncomplicated. I would definitely rent from them again.

At the same address (7 Avenue Saint-Ruf, 84000 Avignon), but with a different phone number, there is a shop which rents out motor bikes and motor scooters under the name “Holiday Bikes”.

My bike in the hotel garden

My bike on the shuttle boat


Encounter zone

Encounter zone sign at Porte St-Lazare

In the summer of 2010, the city of Avignon declared the entire Old City within the city walls (intra-muros) to be an Encounter Zone (Zone de Rencontre), in which pedestrians have the right of way, cyclists may ride in both directions on most streets and the speed limit for everyone is 20 km per hour.

According to the Association of Urban Cyclists in Avignon, “experience has shown that at 20 kilometers per hour, possible conflicts tend to be resolved not by force but in a spirit of tolerance and friendliness (convivialité) to the advantage of pedestrians and people with reduced mobility.”

They caution, however, that people’s behavior will have to evolve, and “we should work in this direction because the task will be long and arduous!”

Signs at Porte de l’Oulle, near Place Crillon

My impression from several days of walking and cycling in this zone in the spring of 2014 is that most road users do adhere to the rules. Only a small minority does not. Unfortunately, all it takes is a small minority to make the streets dangerous and unpleasant for everyone else. Enforcement of the rules seems to be sporadic. I did not notice any police presence in the evenings, only during the daytime and mainly on weekdays.


Avignon’s car problem

Cars polluting the river bank

Avignon has made some progress in recent years in calming its car traffic, particularly with the Encounter Zone and the Vélopop’ bike sharing system. But the authorities are well aware that much more needs to be done to make the urban area livable and sustainable.

Cars blocking access to the river

According to the official Grand Avignon website, two-thirds of the journeys within the metropolitan area (the agglomération) are done by car, and one-third of the car journeys are one kilometer or less. 52 % of the area’s carbon dioxide emissions come from automobiles. 

Cars monopolizing public space

The official website explains: “Today the car is often the only way to get from one place to another within the metropolitan area. But travel times are increasing as more people live far from the heart of the city, and travel costs are also rising. Rethinking the role of the car in the Grand Avignon is to embark on a new concept for urban development, with denser planning and less spread,” with the goal of “making our territory less polluted and making our city more beautiful and more secure.”

Narrow bicycle lanes

Grand Avignon no claims to have 110 kilometers of bicycle lanes, but most of them are extremely narrow, perhaps 50 or 60 centimeters — which would be illegal in Germany, not to mention Denmark or the Netherlands.

As a cyclist I think these lanes are better than nothing at all, since they alert motorists to the fact that cyclists are allowed to use the roads, but these narrow lanes also have serious disadvantages. They force us to ride on the extreme right-hand side of the road, in the gutter (sometimes also in the door zone of parked cars), and they practically guarantee that cars will speed by with hardly any space between the car and the cyclist, so the slightest swerving by either one could cause a deadly accident.


The future tramway

Tram exhibit in Avignon, 2014

At Porte de la République, across from the central railway station, there was an exhibit in 2014 where part of a tram was on display, so people could go inside and see what it would be like.

The tramway is a project of Grand Avignon, and is intended to be the backbone of the future urban transport system. But the tramway project is still very controversial in Avignon and vicinity, despite the overwhelmingly positive effects of the new tramways in a number of other French cities.

Representatives of eight other middle-sized urban areas, Strasbourg, Besançon, Aubagne, Dijon, Le Mans, Mulhouse, Orléans and Caen, came to Avignon in 2014 to report on the advantages of their new tram systems. They insisted that the tramway is not merely a form of collective transport, but also “a tool of urbanism” which creates “a new territorial dynamism.”

The mayor of Strasbourg (where a modern tramway system has been in operation since 1994) was quoted as saying: “When we made the tramway, lots of people were against it, but today our problem is that everybody wants a tram station. In a few years these are the people who will demand to have a tram running through their quarter!”

As of 2018, the first line of the tramway is actually being built in Avignon. It is scheduled to go into operation in June 2019.

My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2018.

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