2019 was just last year, but it already seems like a time from the distant past, when it was possible to take a train to Paris, stay in a hotel there, walk around in crowds by the river, eat in restaurants and cafés with lots of little tables all bunched together, go to a theater with hundreds of other people or even see an opera with two thousand seven hundred people all sitting together elbow-to-elbow in one big room.
This was all still possible in 2019, and the new Vélib’ Metropole system was operating smoothly, so I made good use of the rental bikes on my two visits in April and August.
In April 2019, during the Easter vacation, I stayed once again at a small hotel in Montparnasse on the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet, where there are several large Vélib’ stations. Except in 2018, when the Vélib’ system was not working properly, I was always able to find a bike here when I need one and always found an attachment point when I came back at night.
From Montparnasse, it was an easy ride down Boulevard Raspail to station 7004, Raspail – Varenne, which is in the center strip in the middle of the boulevard and is not far from the Maillol Museum.
Another convenient station for me was number 6002, Saint-Benoît – Jacob, in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter. The bike station is in front of number 1, rue Saint Benoît. On the same side of the street, at number 5, is where the author Marguerite Duras lived from 1942 until 1996. At the other end of this short street, where it meets Boulevard Saint-Germain, is the Café de Flore, next door to the bookshop L’Écume des pages (= ‘The foam of the pages’), where I went to a book-signing session in the spring of 2019.
In August 2019 I stayed at a small hotel on rue Cujas in the Latin Quarter, near Boulevard Saint-Michel and just around the block from Place de la Sorbonne. Here the Vélib’ station tends to run out of bikes quite often, since it is halfway up a hill (called Montagne Sainte-Geneviève), but apparently not quite high enough to qualify as a Vélib’ Plus station. Usually I did find a bike here, but sometimes I had to walk to one of the larger stations nearby.
When I took this photo (above), there were only two bikes left. The green one is a normal mechanical bicycle (what the British used to call a push-bike), and the blue one is electrically-assisted. With my seven-day subscription I could use either one, but for a mechanical bike the first half-hour was ‘free’ i.e. included in the subscription price, while an electrically-assisted bike cost an extra one Euro for the first half-hour.
Normally I used the mechanical bikes, because I like the exercise, but occasionally I took an electrically-assisted bike, either because they were the only ones left or when I was tired in the evenings and wanted a bit of help getting up the hill to return to my hotel. The next month they deducted an extra seven Euros from my credit card, partly for electrically-assisted bikes and partly for rides that lasted longer than thirty minutes.
(I keep writing electrically-assisted because you still have to pedal with these bikes. The electric motor helps, but it doesn’t do all the work, and your pedaling helps to re-charge the battery.)
Several of the new two-way protected bike lanes, which had been under construction the year before, were completed and in use in 2019, making bicycle riding in Paris safer and more convenient than in the past.
Another thing I noticed in 2019 was that there were more “free-floating” bikes than the year before. These are rental bikes belonging to private companies without docking stations. (The red Jump bike in my photo has been parked at a Vélib’ station, but it is not docked there as it does not have the proper docking mechanism.) I have never tried any of these free-floating bikes in Paris, though I have used them in German cities on occasion.
Also, I have never tried any of the electric scooters such as the ones from BIRD or Lime in my photos. Since I need and like the exercise I get from cycling, I can’t quite imagine myself just standing motionless on a scooter during transit.
Both the scooters and the free-floating bikes can be a nuisance if they are left lying around on the sidewalks, but I found this to be less of a problem in 2019 than in previous years.
Here on the upper quay, in the 5th arrondissement, Jump, Vélib’ and scooter riders are sharing a protected bike lane parallel to the river. Note the book stalls on the left in the photo, as described in my post Les Bouquinistes.
My photos in this post are from 2013 and 2019. I wrote the text in 2020.
Next: Vélib’ 2020 (coming soon).