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Well. It’s been a while, blog, hasn’t it? I’m sorry that travails and travels have gotten in the way of our connection. I always wanted to update you, it’s just I had these places to go and visit like San Francisco:

San Francisco Flickr CC idleformat

While I was there a pedestrian was actually struck by a MUNI train outside my boyfriend’s apartment. Though I wasn’t in SF to survey the bike- and pedestrian-friendliness, that incident plus 5 months of having lived abroad made me wonder just how frequent that kind of accident happens in San Francisco. Notable findings include (SFMTA):

  • San Franciscans (or visitors) had 844 non-fatal pedestrian accidents in 2011.
  • Some weren’t so lucky; San Francisco had 17 fatal pedestrian collisions in 2011.

By contrast, Paris (a city with 3x the population) had 27 fatalities in 2011.

Then, adios San Francisco, and hello London!

London - Notting Hill

I proceeded to talk my friends’ ears off about the neighborhood and architectural differences between London and Paris.

London - yellow beetle

(I love the rowhouses.)

London neighborhoods seem to offer less of a variety of buildings; it felt more like American cities in which the downtown neighborhoods tend to offer some apartments, but mostly office space and retail stores while the residential neighborhoods have fewer restaurants and stores. By contrast, in Paris it feels rare to me to encounter a purely residential neighborhood with no shops or restaurants.

Note that the London buildings are 3-4 stories instead of 5-7 like Paris.

Paris - rue de Buci

Also, the Underground is 150 years old this year. That’s cool. And London has a great bikeshare service called Barclay’s Cycle Hire (affectionately known as Boris Bikes after the mayor) but a less-than-stellar cycling environment. That will be likely changing, however, over the next 10 years thanks to a £900 million investment in bicycle infrastructure.

You gotta be tough to ride in London.

Melissa and Cathryn show that you gotta be tough to ride in London.

After a swift Eurostar ride under the Channel, it was back to Paris and off to Istanbul with my friend Jess.

Istanbul is big. Very big. 20-million-people big according to our tour guide though the government says it’s 14 or 16 million, which is for the record still very big.

Istanbul - Golden Horn

Istanbul doesn’t have a bikeshare system which right now seems like a good idea because of how often I found myself walking in the streets with a crowd of people staring down oncoming cars. The congestion strikes me as truly terrifying on those ancient windy roads once trodden by romans, byzantines, and ottomans.

Istanbul - cars

While the congestion intimidates, the transit system confuses. Wikipedia says this about transit in Istanbul: “Istanbul’s local public transportation system is a complex network of tramsfuniculars (what’s a funicular? no one knows*), metro lines, buses, bus rapid transit, and ferries.” No kidding.

The system lacks multimodal transit hubs, and the signage leaves something to be desired. Oh and these are just a few of the means of payment one can use to ride any of these forms of transportation:

Istanbul Transit Payments

Our tour guide was quick to separate discussion of Constantinople — that ancient, super-important, millennia-old city on the Bosphorus — from that of Istanbul, the city that grew out of Constantinople in the wake of WWI. Constantinople feels very European in nature, it has narrow windy streets, belle-époque-era, 6-floor buildings, and ancient roman walls that once protected the city from intruders as well as kept all of the urban life contained from the countryside.


But Istanbul on the other hand, is a modern, sprawling gigantic city.

Istanbul freeway view

Connected to is core by freeways and too-few metro lines (sounds familiar American friends?), It exploded in population size after WWII from 1 million  to 4 million in the ’60s and ’70s up to 12 million in the ’80s and now officially 14 million (though more likely much more) in the 2000s. With that rapid growth came neighborhood after neighborhood of 5-6 floor apartment buildings that cover the countryside. With few exceptions, It’s unusual to see a single tree in the midst of this kind of development.

Istanbul - Western Neighborhoods

Though a fan of urbanization and compact development, I found the dense sprawl in Istanbul overwhelming. And I kept asking myself, how does one build livable neighborhoods for a city of 20 million? It seems like an impossible task.

From Istanbul, it was back to Paris for a week, :D, and off to Bordeaux and La Rochelle for a quick two-night stay with friends Ashley and Jennifer. Notable discoveries include:

Both cities have bikeshare systems!

On VCub in Bordeaux! Photo courtesy of Ashley Hartman.

On VCub in Bordeaux! Photo courtesy of Ashley Hartman.

La Rochelle has two, including the oldest one in France (c. 1974).

Yours truly on Vélos Jaunes, the original bikeshare system in France

Yours truly on Vélos Jaunes, the original bikeshare system in France

Bordeaux buildings look like Parisian buildings, but they have a) more like 3-4 stories, and b) more balconies. Bordeaux buildings tend to be dirtier than their counterparts in Paris:

Bordeaux Buildings

That building didn’t start out life as grey.

The streets in the northern part of Bordeaux were in built in a grid centuries ago to accommodate all the long narrow, underground, wine cellars:

Bordeaux wine cellars plan

La Rochelle has integrated multiple modes of transportation — bikes, buses, shared cars — into one system called Yélo, which is all accessible with one Yélo smart card:

La Rochelle - Yelo

Buildings in La Rochelle — called the “White City” — are white because the whole city is constructed from limestone …

La Rochelle

with the exception of some lovely timber-frame architecture:

La Rochelle - Timber Frame

Perhaps that influence may have come about because of the port city’s centuries of trade with England and Holland?

Phew, no more trips for a month. Time to recover and get back to my project — only two months left.

Hey! You made it to the bottom. Thanks a bunch. Here’s my favorite picture taken in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul:

Hagia Sophia kitty

*A funicular is like a cable car in a tunnel that goes up a hill. Read more on wikipedia.