Faire du vélo à Paris!
In the early 19th century, Paris was said to be a dark, filthy and overcrowded city. This densely-populated city was susceptible to various epidemics like cholera which ravaged the city in 1832 and 1848. Traffic was another issue in the city as its narrow streets would clog because of the wagons, carriages and carts. Plans for rebuilding the city were proposed by many since the 18th century but the actual work for rebuilding Paris only began in the early 1850’s.
When Baron Haussmann began his work on rebuilding Paris, he was instructed by Napoléon III to aérer, unifier, et embellir Paris- to make the city open and airy, to connect different parts of the city together into one whole and to beautify the city. This beautified Paris was built for approximately bike-sized horses which means that Paris was made to be a cycling city long before it became one! However, the dawn of automation forced Paris to try and cram in larger vehicles like cars and lorries in its narrow streets.
A non-Parisian’s imagination paints a picture of the city that looks somewhat like this- quaint Parisian buildings, ‘des jolis cafés Parisiens’ streets lined with lush green trees and so on. Something that resembles this:
Image courtesy: The Streets of Paris
While this is an image from an actual Parisian street, not all the roads in Paris are fortunate enough to be so lovely. The reality for many Parisian roads looks like this:
Image courtesy: New Paris Car Ban Will Target Through Traffic – Bloomberg
And this is nowhere near the gorgeous Paris that most of us imagined!
But a much sought after change is now happening in this romantic city — and maybe, this change will do something to reverse the Paris Syndrome!
Vive le vélo!
Mayor Anne Hidalgo has started a campaign to ban most of the motor vehicular traffic crossing the heart of Paris by 2022. And this move comes after her administration previously banned older diesel cars within the city’s beltway, reduced car access on several major streets and expanded green areas, sidewalks in the city. Her administration also introduced several bike lanes, summing up to almost 50 km in length, taking advantage of the reduced traffic during the pandemic. The move to take up cycling was also boosted by France’s transport strike in 2019 which was then followed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Subsidies were introduced for some bike models and a bike-repair scheme was rolled out for some time to popularise cycling. Rental bicycles also became quite common following this move. Furthermore, the fear of using public transport during the pandemic also helped promote the scheme.
Making cyclable and walkable cities is a great way to make cities liveable. Because, cities were designed for people and not for motor vehicles to live in!
Il y a toujours un mais!
While cycling around with a baguette and flowers in the basket sounds amazing, the reality is somewhat different- and slightly dismal. A sudden surge of cyclists, many of whom aren’t following the rules, has caused a mayhem in the city. The number of bicycle accidents resulting in injuries and deaths has gone up. Legal enforcement is also awry, which adds fuel to the fire. Cycle thefts are rampant and many stolen cycles are also being exported! The chaotic in-progress cycling infrastructure is pretty confusing and thus is a major concern for the riders and pedestrians alike.
L’avenir s’annonce radieux, mes amis.
While the aforementioned concerns are yet to be addressed, things are indeed looking up for the new cyclable Paris. Improved legal and physical cycling infrastructure will hopefully make the dream of ‘safely cycling around Paris with a baguette and flowers in the basket’ come true!
The road to a sustainable future is not that smooth. But, bien commencé est à moitié fait!
Thank you Vishpala Bhakare (SYBSc Div-2; 2020-23) for adding all the ‘French aesthetics’. Because, Je ne parle pas français!