Alex Davies, April 7, 2015
Paris has a pollution problem. Instead of the smoke from Gauloise cigarettes and the aroma of freshly baked bread, the air is packed with smog, an issue that got so bad one day last month, the city forcibly halved traffic by allowing only cars with odd-number plates to drive.
Paris is working toward less authoritarian, more considered solutions, including a program that gives drivers up to $11,400 if they trade in an old diesel for an electric car. It changed its public transit fare system to charge passengers equally, whether they’re staying in the city center or commuting in from the far suburbs.
And this week, the City of Lights unveiled a bold, $164 million plan to make itself “the cycling capital of the world” by 2020. The goal of the plan, which goes to the city council for approval April 13, is to triple the share of all trips made by bike from 5 to 15 percent. To get there, in the next five years, it wants to double its network of bike lanes to 870 miles (partly by making many lanes two-way) and drop speed limits on many streets to 18 mph. It would create 10,000 secure bike parking spaces and offer financial incentives for those buying electric and conventional bikes.
Becoming the cycling capital of the world may be out of reach—cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen are well ahead of Paris when it comes to share of trips made by bike—but the plan deserves credit for both for its scale and its scope. And there’s plenty American cities can learn from it, says Evan Corey, a senior associate at transportation planning firm Nelson\Nygaard.
“It’s ambitious,” Corey says, which isn’t surprising for this city. Paris has one of the world’s largest bike share systems, and it’s been rolling out extensive pro-pedestrian initiatives in recent years. This new plan looks to improve just about every aspect of the cycling experience, and backs it up with the necessary cash.
Providing a good cyclist experience—so pedaling around the city feels safe and comfortable—is key, says Geoff Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America, a coalition that works against sprawl. More bike lanes should do that, especially the five proposed “highways” that will be almost entirely protected from car traffic, on some of the city’s biggest corridors, including the Champs-Elysées.