Paris Puts the Bicyclette First

Parisians get new pedal powers with road rules that authorize them to cycle upstream

2 min read
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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To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

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EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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