Paris Puts the Bicyclette First

Paris threw open nearly one thousand one-way streets to two-way traffic this week -- that is, for travelers willing to pedal. Whereas other cities such as Boulder and London have created a handful of designated counterflow bike lanes, the new rules taking effect in Paris this week allow bicyclists to cycle upstream against automobile traffic within all of the city's 30 kilometer-per-hour zones.

Generally speaking these 30-kph zones comprise knots of narrow streets serving primarily neighborhood traffic. But Paris city hall expects a big impact for cyclists. According to Paris planners the move will expand route options for cyclists and may also (seemingly against all odds) improve safety. The mayor's office notes that on some streets cyclists heading upstream will be further from parked cars, minimizing their risk of 'winning a door prize' from innattentive automobile users stepping out onto the roadway.

Counterflow cycling is part of a long-running push by Parti Socialiste mayor Bertrand Delanoe to pump up bicycling's role in Paris transport, and their second major innovation. Their first was Vélib, which brought bike sharing to the big cycle on a previously unheard-of scale. Parisians (and the millions of tourists that visit the city annually) can grab and drop bikes from any of 1800 parking spots across the city.

Reporting by the New York Times last year left many Americans with the impression that Vélib was on the brink, its bikes paralyzed by rampant vandalism. That's not what this visitor to Paris is seeing. And it's not what London sees. That city is in the process of rolling out a bike share of its own this summer.

Up next in Delanoe's urban transport innovation program: an electric car share system dubbed Autolib that the city hopes to launch next year. Paris envisions 3000 electric cars available at 1000 locations in the Paris metro region. City hall is in the process of choosing between the three finalists for the contract to launch and operate the system. 

The New York Times ran a suprisingly optimistic report on Autolib last month, despite starting the article with yet another misleading swipe at Vélib.

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