Bienvenue à Paris: Welcome to the city that makes things easy.
15.08.2023 | Mobility
The French capital has completed what many major cities only dream of – not overnight, but at a breathtaking pace: Paris has reorganised its public transport, limited motorised vehicles to major routes, created new living spaces in the heart of the city, and made cycling attractive to thousands of people in everyday life.
It is clear how Paris has reinvented itself in the Rue de Rivoli, not far from the Seine, between the Rue de Sévigné and the Place de la Concorde. If you stand here, close your eyes and listen carefully, you will not hear the roaring and rumbling of cars, mopeds or small trucks.
The engine noises and honking have given way to a mix of the sounds of derailleur gears, bike bells and the coasting of city bikes. Very occasionally an electric scooter, taxi or bus zips by.
Something has changed. The typical traffic noise of a major city has practically disappeared on this road formerly busy with traffic. All of a sudden, you can even hear people’s conversations again.
The Rue de Rivoli, a good three-kilometre-long straight commercial street and one of the most important transverse axes through Paris, has been car-free since the summer of 2020. The street – and with it many others in Paris – has been converted to a massive double-lane bike route.
The remaining traffic – taxis, buses and vans – is restricted to a single lane. This distribution of the public space is just one part of a whole series of measures that Paris intends to implement under its Plan Vélo. In the coming years, non-essential through traffic will be banned from the city centre. It is expected that this will eliminate about half of all car journeys through the city centre.
Others are undertaking long-winded pilot projects – Paris is getting on and doing it
The amazing thing about Paris is how quickly this change has taken place. People on bikes literally appeared overnight, as soon as appropriate bike paths had been created on an ad-hoc basis. It looks as if many of them will remain. What happened here in Paris was not a coincidence, but the result of a clear vision, strict leadership and decisions made by people.
The clear driver of this change is Mayor Anne Hidalgo. She is tirelessly committed to creating a city of short distances, where Parisians can reach everything they need within 15 minutes.
The vision: a 100% bicycle-friendly Paris that is even denser, more mixed and more connected. The means to this end: wider pavements, new exclusive bike highways, school grounds that double as weekend gardens, crossroads that will become neighbourhood meeting points and car parking spaces that will give way to bike parking spaces. Paris has understood: cities have to provide space for people, not for cars.
This has already succeeded in the Rue de Rivoli; elsewhere there are still some snags, as not everywhere is moving at the same pace. There is still no cycling infrastructure at all in many districts and on routes dominated by cars. Inn addition, inaccuracies in traffic management and signage continue to cause some bother. These are problems caused by the rapid change to the infrastructure.
While other cities are conducting long-winded pilot projects, Paris is getting on and doing it. This might not always be ideal. But cities are changing dynamically, with the needs of people and traffic, and cannot change overnight.
But Paris is determined to keep going and is doing the best it can.
“Bikes make people independent.”
Paris has changed dramatically in recent years. When did you first become aware of this?
When people massively switched from public transport to bikes during the lockdowns. The COVID pandemic clearly changed the mentality of people living in big cities. I first noticed it cycling around the city – and later through customers coming to my shop with new requirements.
What were these new requirements?
Very few now wanted bikes to go for trips around the world or cycling holidays. Instead, there was a boom in bikes for around town and for commuting to work, i.e. for short distances. There were also more and more people who wanted to replace their car or were looking for an alternative to the underground and buses. Some have also rediscovered a mode of transport on their bikes that makes them more independent from social changes and upheaval. We are also noticing that people would prefer to take their entire family with them on their bike – Cargo Bikes are hugely popular; the Multicharger is our best-selling bike at the moment. And the trend is clearly towards E-Bikes.
How has the Parisian cycling community changed?
Triggered by public transport strikes, the cycling community had already grown before the pandemic, but it virtually exploded during the COVID lockdowns. Since then, it seems to be growing steadily. One reason is certainly the amazing network of cycle paths created by Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Politics has really helped to give bikes more space in the city. I think the trend is unabated and is linked to a change in people’s mentality.
Imagine that you could be mayor of Paris for a year. What would be the first thing you changed?
First of all, I would ensure greater safety in road traffic. It’s a real challenge for everyone to stay safe with all the scooters, electric scooters and skateboards. A lot of cyclists are complaining they don’t feel comfortable or safe on cycling lanes. So changing the mentality and optimising safety on the roads would be my priority. The fact that more and more people are choosing to cycle also requires some adaptation on the part of those who have been cycling for a long time. Every cyclist needs to find their own pace. And we also need to pay greater attention to pedestrians, as they can no longer safely cross the road in many places.
What is your personal mission?
To get as many people on bikes as possible and provide them with just the right support. I bike because … cycling is freedom!