06 September 2017

Paris In The Bike Lane

If you were to ask, "What is the world's most bicycle-friendly city?", the answers you'd most commonly hear probably would be "Copenhagen" and "Amsterdam".

It would be difficult to argue against either.  And, although it's more bikeable than most American cities, not many people would put Paris ahead of either the Danish or Dutch capitals.

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I thoroughly enjoyed cycling in the City of Light.  That is not to say, however, that there isn't room for making it an even better place for cyclists than it is.  Mayor Anne Hidalgo recognizes as much, and has said that she wants not only to improve the cycling experience in her city, but to make the French capital into "the world's cycling capital".

Although one sees many bicycles and cyclists along the banks of the Seine, the portion of the population that rides regularly, let alone every day, is still fairly low, at least in comparison to places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam.  Nearly everyone agrees that one of the goals in making a city more "bike friendly" is to get people out of their cars and onto bike for their commutes, and to shop and visit the sights of the city.  That can be done when cycling is made available, affordable, safe and practical for those who are not, and do not wish to become, hard-core cyclists.

From what I can see, Paris has succeeded with the first two priorities:  You don't have to go very far to find a Velib station (or other bikes to rent or buy), and rental rates and purchase prices  are relatively reasonable.  The availability of Velib even well beyond city limits at least partially addresses the practicality issue.  But another part of it ties in with safety:  a coherent scheme of bike routes that cyclists can actually use to get to work, school or anyplace else from their homes and is physically separated from vehicular traffic.

The new Paris bike expressway.  Photo from a tweet by Marie Fugain.

Such networks are what separates Copenhagen and Amsterdam from nearly all other cities, according to Mikael Colville-Andersen,a  planner who regularly works with cities around the world to improve cycling conditions.  Of his native city, Copenhagen, he says, "Visitors who come for the first time will easily find their way around by bike because the network is uniform. That is not the case in Paris," where he points to "incoherent" choices like putting buses and bikes in the same lane on some roads.  Then there are "utterly stupid" ideas, he says, like the bicycle lane in the middle of the Champs-Elysees that is scheduled for completion next year.  "It will fail," he pronounces, because it will "lead to accidents" which will "give ammunition to the bike haters."

He does, however, see signs of improvement, like the new bike expressway" along the right bank of the Seine.  The route was created by taking two lanes from the Voie Georges Pompidou, a motorway that winds past the Louvre and the garden of the Tuileries, across the river from the Eiffel Tower.  This new "expressway" meets the standards of "Copenhagenization" in that it runs in a continuous axis in both directions, has enough room for cyclists to pass each other and has a separator between the bike and auto lanes, according to Colville-Andersen.

He says it could be the start of a bicycle network that could take its inspiration from another network for which Paris is justly renowned: its Metro.


  1. Andersen has virtually NO credibility with me after his helmet rant, recounted at https://dfwptp.blogspot.com/2011/03/myth-4-bike-helmets.html . The guy is an ideologue, pure and simple. Period.

  2. Steve--I forgot all about that rant. It is indeed nonsense, and the man is an ideologue. However, ideologues are occasionally right about one thing or another, and I think he was right about bike networks.

  3. Your point is very valid. Thankfully, you DO have the credibility he lacks.