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Paris, France Aims for Bicycle Trips to Account for 15% of Transport by 2020

A two-way bicycle path in Paris, France. Credit: Olivier Razemon.More parking spaces for bikes, new bike paths on the main roadways, widespread 30km/h zones, and possibly wider bicycle paths or even banning automobile traffic surrounding markets; these are some of the measures included in the Parisian local government's new "bike plan." The plan, which should be finalized at the beginning of December after a period of discussion, was presented during a meeting of the "bicycle committee" of Paris' 11th arrondissement, in the arrondissement's city hall on September 16 by a publicly-employed engineer.

"We are still in the stage of thinking about the major principles," indicates this municipal employee. All the same, the plan's major features are mapped out, and were promised during local election campaigns by the majority. The amount of travel by bicycle has tripled since 2001 in Paris, and the city's goal is to have 15% of transportation completed on bicycle by 2020, in comparison to the 3% show in the latest available poll.

Parking your bike, from bad weather or from wrongdoers, is a constant concern for Parisian cyclists. The city wants to "alter the distribution of existing bike loops, increase offerings, install adequate urban furniture, and identify under or over-utilized zones." Indeed, the technician says "cyclists are lazy and usually leave their bikes close to their destination." It would be better to install a small number of hoops at each intersection rather than a long file of parking every three hundred meters. A series of "attractive spaces," museums, libraries, social spaces, and possibly also supermarkets and schools could benefit from more spaces.

Several secure areas will be installed on the roadways, like in several northern European cities, or the French cities of Dijon and Lyon. Christophe Najdovski, the official in charge of transportation, especially cares about this topic. "The difficulty lies in finding a place for these bike stations," says the city's engineer. Apparently, it is not allowed to infringe upon space reserved for car traffic or parking, except in some spots. The city therefore intends to close several tunnel roadways, like that of Avenue du Maine, which will be transformed into a secure bike-parking zone.A parked car obstructs a bicycle lane in the streets of Paris, France. Credit: Olivier Razemon.

Rebuilding the Parisian network

The system of bike paths should be rebuilt. Main roads developed long ago, like the surroundings of Magenta Boulevard, the Barbès intersection, or the Maréchaux Boulevards are going to be redone. "In certain locations for architectural reasons, the bike paths and sidewalks are the same color," laments the city engineer. The paths that run along Bourdon Boulevard would have to be restructured. Up to now, these paths are "neutralized" several weeks a year in order to give space to random events like an antique festival.

Several major streets will feature bicycle paths. The city is nevertheless asking about the type of features to choose. Markings on the ground would be the least expensive option, but cars often park in two rows in such situations. Building on the sidewalk would likely provoke "usage conflicts" with pedestrians, placing a divider is not always accepted by the fire service, and a "widened sidewalk" which would take up road space (and which is favored by bicycle groups) presents a "very high" price, according to the local government.

The Architect's Eye

The developments are moreover surveyed with attention by publicly employed architects, who act as fastidious guardians of the aesthetics of Paris' streets. An eventual bike path of the Champs-Élysées would therefore be especially scrutinized. The architects have shown themselves to be very sensitive to the "symmetry" of the main avenues. It is therefore not imaginable that a simple downhill path would be created on an inclined avenue, with different developments on the uphill side.

The plan which also includes measures to encourage bicycle tourists to ride across the capital, as well as the renewal of subsidizing electric bicycle purchases, is subject to two dangers. In the coming weeks it must be presented to twenty city councillors and remain within the municipal budget. The sum allotted to the bike by the Socialist majority for 2008-2014 amounts to twenty-five million euro, which Najdovski labeled "negligible." As an example, during the same period the Nantes metropole with a population of 600,000 people devoted 40 million euro to bicycle infrastructure.


The bicycle activists who attended the presentation of plan on September 16 remain skeptical. "If they really want to reach 15% of cyclists in 2020, they need to make room," protested Kiki Lambert of the organization Mieux se déplacer à bicyclette. "It is more of a transition plan than a new strategy," elaborates Pierre Japhet, an official in charge of transportation in the 11 arrondissement's local government.

How is bicycle infrastructure improving in your community? What factors make cities in Northern Europe meccas for bicycle use? Is infrastructure a major contributor? 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

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