New circular route around city core would improve suburb-to-suburb commuting
Last night, Christian Blanc, France’s minister of Development in the Capital Region announced that the state would invest 15-20 billion Euros over the next 10 years for the construction of the world’s longest automated rapid transit line, at 130 km and with 60 stations. The minister made the announcement of the state’s commitment at a day-long presentation of proposals by architects for “Le Grand Paris,” an attempt to unite the city and the surrounding suburbs through governmental reforms and infrastructure improvements. The Paris’ city core is currently cut off from its suburbs by a ring road.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about the potential for a new transit line that would circle the city without entering it because of the growing number of suburb-to-suburb commutes, the continued development of the dynamic business center at La Défense on the west side of the city, the creation of science and technology cores in the south at Saclay and in the north at Le Bourget, and the continued need for improving the social equity between the poor northeastern sections of the suburbs and the wealthy western areas. RATP, the city’s mass transit authority, has proposed a project called Métrophérique, and the region of Ile-de-France has proposed the Arc Express; both projects would ring relatively closely to the city’s outer limits and hit the densest areas of the suburbs.
The state’s commitment seems assured based on Mr. Blanc’s speech, which argued that the project could be completed by 2020. He said that some private funds would be used to fund the lines, though it was left unsaid whether “private” actually means a commitment from the state-controlled but organizationally private RATP and SNCF (state railways). But President Nicholas Sarkozy’s endorsement of the project is the first major state action for improved mass transit in the Paris region since the creation of the RER program, whose first phase of regional rail tunnels through central Paris was inaugurated in 1969.
Mr. Blanc’s proposal, which would cost far more than the region’s less lengthy plans, would focus on connecting La Défense with the city’s three airports and the scientific/university zone in the southwest suburbs. The lack of investment in the close-suburbs has angered some in the regional legislative body, who argue that the areas of the region with the most need for improved transport are those suburbs near to the city. Mr. Blanc’s plan would steer towards connecting the region as a whole, a job already fulfilled by the RER. The problem is that those existing regional trains all head into Paris, something that this plan purposefully avoids.
The map above shows the region’s plan and the state’s plan superimposed on top of the existing and planned RER network. There are significant arguments for Mr. Blanc’s ideas – the two Parisian airports need better connections to La Défense; and the Saclay and Noisy subclusters, as well, will benefit from more transit access. Additionally, both plans provide increased levels of service to La Plaine, north of Paris, a growing business district in one of the region’s poorest neighborhoods. But the region’s plan serves areas that are far more dense than the far southwestern and northeastern areas that would be served by Mr. Blanc’s.
Even so, a state commitment for up to 20 billion euros in investment is incredible. The French, who for years have failed to invest in the infrastructure of the Parisian suburbs, are finally making a big commitment rivaling any transit project in the world. For hundreds of thousands of people throughout the region, this plan will dramatically improve commutes.
To make the project even more useful, the Ile-de-France region has been investing dramatically in smaller capacity expansions on the RER, tramway, and métro throughout the region. As shown in the map below, the city is planning four métro extensions, one RER expansion, and nine tramways. Many of those projects are already in construction. The sum total of all of these projects being built is a far better-connected region in which people living outside of the city of Paris will be able to take advantage of transit options that are just as efficient and reliable as those within Paris itself.