Paris is piloting hydrofoil water taxis

Artist's impression. Image: Seabubble.

The people of Paris could be using the waterways instead of roads, as early as summer. A new design concept called the Seabubble is due to be piloted in the French capital. The people behind the idea foresee a fleet of small electric hydrofoil taxi vehicles carrying passengers along the Seine, and much like a car sharing arrangement, its designers have even suggested they may be piloted by individual users.

Seabubbles, which can seat up to five people and are shaped like a car, employ proven hydrofoil technology which has been in use since Enrico Forlanini first baffled the inhabitants of Italy with it in the early 1900s.

Hydrofoil technology uses an underwater foil or arm which helps to lift the boat’s hull out of the water so that it can coast on the water’s surface. The drag reduction on these fast and efficient modes of water transport means a smoother ride – even in choppy waters. Larger hydrofoils are in use across the world. You can already catch a hydrofoil ferry in St Petersburg, Russia.

Commute by river

If these hydrofoil vehicles were adopted as a city transport, it would provide a fun, silent, electrically propelled and emission-free alternative to spending time in cars or buses on congested roads, or in the gloom of the Paris Metro system. Its designers are reportedly also seeking permission to use them on the Thames in London.

Paris already has an established and successful dry land equivalent in the electric car sharing scheme Autolib, so the Seabubble already has a lot going for it.

While the thought of using a water vehicle to get around a city with a 30-mile diameter may seem curious, let’s not forget that water has been used to travel across large cities for years. London, Venice, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, New York, Auckland, and Rotterdam all use water buses and taxis of some description.

The river system in Paris snakes its way through the city in such a way that many important parts of town would be in easy walking distance from any moored boat. But as promising as this may be, there are still many unanswered questions.

Boat licences

Although water transport is used across the globe, they are all usually operated by a captain, and run along set routes, but Seabubbles’ designers propose that they could be driven by members of the public. Anyone operating a boat in France requires a boat licence. In fact, there are three different licence types, depending on the type of “driving” you intend to do. So whether there would be enough incentive for someone to embark on a lengthy and thorough training course is yet to be seen. It might make more sense for these to exist as a taxi service for most.

It’s fair to assume that navigating the waters would require some measure of seamanship since avoiding collisions with other Seabubbles and drifting objects would present a daily challenge. Larger vessels would also be a constant and inflexible presence on the Seine and if a large quantity of Seabubbles come into use, they will contribute significantly to the on-water traffic, of which there is already plenty.

Nevertheless, Seabubbles claim that compared to roads, there would be less objects to hit in the water and that their vehicle is easier to handle than a car. They also suggest that innovative detail solutions could take care of any likely gremlins. Technology such as sonar and sensors could be employed to “read” the water ahead and reduce engine performance when objects are spotted. Or an automatic parking function could self-moor the vehicles once they are within reach of their landing.


Maintenance and repairs

Seabubbles can reach a speed of 20mph, and although this is seemingly modest, it is actually quite respectable on water. However, water feels firmer at higher speeds so this can put strain on the vehicle body. The stresses on their gliding points are high, and their structure is subject to a high levels of vibration – meaning that hydrofoils require regular and extensive maintenance. This combined with high usage and a potentially changing, relatively inexperienced clientele, means they may come in for frequent repairs.

All this considered, the project already has the backing of the city of Paris. And if the French pilot phase goes well, some of these questions should be answered, and Seabubbles may well provide Paris with another attraction.The Conversation

Chris Ebbert is senior lecturer in product design at Nottingham Trent University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

How can cities become more bike friendly? The Netherlands offers useful lessons

(Aurore Belot/AFP via Getty Images)

It might seem like cycling is in the DNA of the Netherlands, a country where even the prime minister takes his bicycle to work. But the Dutch haven’t always lived as one with their bikes. In the Amsterdam of the early 1970s, cars were considered the wave of the future. They can be seen filling up squares and streets in historical photographs, and killed an average of over two Amsterdammers per week, including many children.

It is nothing more than an “accident of history” that the Netherlands embraced cycling, says Marco te Brömmelstoet, the director of the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam and a man better known as the city’s cycling professor. Today’s bike rider’s paradise was created after parents and activists took to the streets to protest “child murder” by car. A Saudi oil embargo, rising gas prices, concerns about pollution and anger about the destruction of entire neighbourhoods to build motorways did the rest. 


Amsterdam, 1958. Not a cyclist's paradise. (Keystone/Getty Images)

What’s important about this history is that it can be replicated in other cities, too. Of course, the Netherlands has certain advantages – it’s flat as a pancake, for example. But in the eyes of traffic reformers, the rise of e-bikes (and even cargo bikes) means there’s no excuse for prioritising cars everywhere. 

So how can cities, flat or not, follow Amsterdam’s path to creating places where cycling is a pleasant, safe and common way to get around? The Dutch have some tips. 

Separate bikes from car traffic

Any city could start painting dedicated bike lanes on the streets. But in the Netherlands, those white marks indicating space for cyclists are considered just a minor first step. 

“A line on the road is not enough. Motorists will ignore it,” says Frans Jan van Rossem, a civil servant specialising in cycling policy in Utrecht. If other cities want their residents to choose bikes instead of cars when dodging pandemic-era public transport, protecting them from fast-moving car traffic must be the priority, Van Rossem says. 

The Dutch research institute CROW developed a widely praised design manual for bicycle infrastructure, full of tips for creating these protected lanes: A row of vertical white posts or a curb can serve as a physical separator, for example. Still, cyclists tend to feel safest in a "solitary" path, separated from the road by grass, trees, or an elevated concrete island. 

“The main bottleneck, the main reason why people don’t cycle, is that they don’t feel safe,” Van Rossem notes. “To start, construct separate paths.”

Turn those bike paths into a network

Many cities may have some bike lanes on some streets, but leave cyclists to roll the dice everywhere else. Will conditions still be safe when they turn left or right? Often they have to continue their way without any protected facilities for cyclists. 

“In many cases, cities take fast action, without thinking it through very well,” says Lucas Harms. He leads the Dutch Cycling Embassy, a partnership between the Dutch government and several companies, which promotes Dutch bike knowhow globally. “Don’t build small pieces of bike lane from nothing to nowhere. Think about a network of cycling infrastructure.” 

Utrecht aims to have cyclists within 200 to 300 metres of a connected path anywhere in the city, Van Rossem says. Avoid constructing those paths in sketchy industrial areas, he warns. “A connection through an unattractive area may be fast, but won’t be used a lot.”

Embrace the ‘fietsstraat’, a street where bikes come first


On some streets, drivers have to give up their privileges. (Rick Nederstigt/AFP via Getty Images)

A peculiar Dutch invention called "fietsstraat" (cycling street) holds strong potential for the rest of the world, Kevin Krizek says. He’s a transportation professor from Colorado who spent three years at Radboud University in Nijmegen. 

On cycling streets, cars are “guests”, restricted by a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour. Drivers are not allowed to pass, so cyclists comfortably dominate the road. In the Netherlands the fietsstraat is usually paved with red asphalt, to resemble a bike path and notify drivers of their secondary status. But creating a cycling street can be easy. “All you need to do is put signs at intersections,” Krizek says. The effect is revolutionary in his view. Drivers have to give up their privileges, and cyclists can take the lead. 

Some Dutch traffic experts worry the cycling street won’t work if a city doesn’t also have a robust cycling culture. In the Netherlands, drivers are aware of the perils of urban cycling because they too use bicycles. Moreover, Dutch cities use sophisticated “circulation plans” to direct cars away from city centres and residential areas, onto a few main routes. 

Without “calming” traffic this way, the cycling street could be a step too far, Harms says. “In a city like New York, where all roads are equally accessible and full, it’s better to separate bicycles and cars,” he says.

Redesign intersections for cyclists' safety

If cyclists have to cross intersections “at the mercy of the Gods”, you’re not there yet, says Harms. When he travels abroad, he often finds clumsily designed crossings. As soon as cars turn, cyclists may fear for their lives. 

Harms recommends placing physical barriers between cars and bikes in places where they must cross. The Dutch build elevated islands to direct traffic into separate sections. The golden rule: cars wait behind bicycles. That way, drivers can see cyclists clearly at all times. Barriers also force Dutch cyclists to turn left in the safest way possible. They cross the street first and wait for their turn again before making their way left.

“You can create that with simple temporary measures,” Harms says. Planters work fine, for example. “They must be forgiving, though. When someone makes a mistake, you don’t want them to get seriously injured by a flower box’s sharp edge.”

Professor Krizek points out how the Dutch integrated cycling routes into roundabouts. Some are small; some are big and glorious, like the Hovenring between Eindhoven and Veldhoven, where cyclists take a futuristic-looking roundabout lifted above the highway. Most of those traffic circles move high volumes of cars and cyclists through intersections efficiently and safely. For a simpler solution, the Dutch manual suggests guiding cyclists to quieter streets – crossing a block up or down may be safer. “Nobody knows how to do intersections better than the Dutch,” says Krizek. 

Ban cars, or at least discourage them


A man rides down from a three-level bicycle parking garage near Amsterdam's main train station. (Timothy Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The quickest, most affordable way to make a city more bikeable is to ban cars, says Ria Hilhorst, cycling policy advisor for the City of Amsterdam. It will make streets remarkably safe – and will most likely enrage a significant amount of people. 

Amsterdam doesn’t outlaw cars, but it does deliberately make their owners feel unwelcome in the historic city’s cramped streets. Paid parking is hugely effective, for example. Many car owners decide to avoid paying and use bicycles or public transportation for trips into the city. Utrecht, meanwhile, boasts the world’s largest bicycle parking garage, which provides a dizzying 12,500 parking spots.

To further discourage drivers from entering the city’s heart, Amsterdam will soon remove more than 10,000 car-parking spaces. Strategically placed barriers already make it impossible to cross Amsterdam efficiently by car. “In Amsterdam, it is faster to cross the city on a bike than by car,” Harms says. “That is the result of very conscious policy decisions.”

Communicate the benefits clearly

Shopkeepers always fear they will lose clients when their businesses won’t be directly accessible by car, but that’s a myth, says Harms. “A lot of research concludes that better access for pedestrians and cyclists, making a street more attractive, is an economic boost.”

Try replacing one parking space with a small park, he recommends, and residents will see how it improves their community. Home values will eventually rise in calmer, bike-friendlier neighbourhoods without through traffic, Van Rossem says. Fewer cars mean more room for green spaces, for example.

“I often miss the notion that cycling and walking can contribute a lot to the city. One of the greatest threats to public health is lack of exercise. A more walkable and bikeable city can be part of the solution,” says Ria Hilhorst. “But in many countries, cycling is seen as something for losers. I made it, so I have a car and I’m going to use it, is the idea. 

“Changing this requires political courage. Keep your back straight, and present a vision. What do you gain? Tranquility, fewer emissions, health benefits, traffic safety, less space occupied by vehicles.” 

Again, she points to Amsterdam’s history. “It is possible; we were a car city too.”

Karlijn van Houwelingen is a journalist based in New York City.