Can Paris Become The World Capitol Of Cycling?

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Can Paris become world’s cycling capital? That’s exactly what it intends to do by implementing a new $164,000,000 plan for infrastructure improvements designed to make cycling in the city safer and more convenient. New bikeways will be completely separated from vehicular traffic to reduce the risk of collisions between two and four wheel vehicles.

The plan begins with 5 dedicated, two-way bicycle highways that will crisscross the city from east to west and north to south. Two of those new routes will hug the banks of the Seine. An expanded bike rental program will encourage tourists to take advantage of the scenic views available while pedaling along either side of the river instead of taking taxis or tour buses.

According to a story in Wired, the plan contains a number of coordinated strategies designed to work in harmony with each other. Paris is encircled by a ring road that diverts most through traffic away from the city center. But it also acts as a barrier to those who want to get into or out of the city to the suburbs on foot or on two wheels. New crossings will be constructed to make that process safer and more convenient.

Within the city, up to 7,000 intersections will be reconfigured to allow those on bicycles to turn right at any time. Riders will also be given priority at all traffic lights. The speed limit in the city will be decreased to 18 mph to reduce the speed differential between motorists and bicycle riders. Speeds on the major arteries  around the city will be dropped to just 30 mph. Paris will also construct 10,000 new secure parking areas for bicyclists. The city already has a robust bicycle sharing program that costs only $35 a year for residents. Now, it will help people who want to buy a bike by subsidizing part of the initial cost. For an electric bicycle, that subsidy can be as high as $450.

Paris was shocked last month when the iconic Eiffel tower was obscured by a shroud of smog. For several days, its pollution levels were worse than those usually found in China’s major cities. Emergency measures were taken, including banning all cars with license plates ending in an odd number from driving in the city. Paris will be host to the next global conference on climate change in December and it hardly wants the delegates to be inundated by a brown miasma of carcinogenic air.

The Paris experience could serve as a guide for American cities that want to encourage bicycle commuting. Geoff Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America, a coalition opposed to urban sprawl, says, “Way too many places are just thinking about cycling in terms of individual facilities, rather than as integrated systems. If you look at any transportation survey, people don’t think that the answer to congestion is building more roads. They think of it as more transit, more biking, more walking, more choices.”

Paris wants to increase bicycle commuting from 5% today to 15% by 2020. That’s still far less than the 43% claimed by Amsterdam. Paris transit and public space secretary Christophe Najdovski told The Atlantic recently that his city still has a long climb ahead of it. “It’s a long haul job,” he says. “The Netherlands has been working on it since the ‘70s. We’ve got a lot of work to do to reach their stage, but we’re optimistic.”

Image: MN Studios / Shutterstock

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.