» Two major axes will service 65 “biking neighborhoods” throughout the city. Dedicated bike lanes will increase from 273 miles today to 435 miles by 2014.
If Velib’ has changed the face of Paris by providing it the largest bike sharing system in the world with 1,800 stations and more than 20,000 bikes, there’s still plenty of work to be done in the French capital. After nine years of slow but steady improvements originating from an environmentally minded city hall, Paris is about to hit the accelerator pedal.
The new plan, to be presented in early June to the city council, where it is virtually guaranteed passage, will increase the number of bike lanes within this 40.7 square mile city from 273 miles today (most built since 2001) to 435 miles in 2014. Two major axes — one running east-west from the Bois de Vincennes to the Bois de Boulogne and the other north-south, will be designed for heavy traffic. One thousand new bike parking spaces will be added to the city’s streets every year, and bike boxes, allowing cyclists to get priority treatment at intersections, will be painted in across the city. Connections to the suburbs will be reinforced through the reconstruction of ten city “gates.” And starting this July, 65 neighborhoods, making up about half the city’s land area, will be converted to prioritize biking, with two-way travel allowed even on streets reserved for one-way car traffic.
By 2020, most of the city’s major streets will have dedicated bike lanes and the network will begin to extend out into the near suburbs.
Paris’ project, led by Mayor Bertrand Delanöe, is not revolutionary in concept — most of what is being done has been done in parts of the city before — but rather in scale. The sheer size of the city’s investments, which will bring bike infrastructure within feet of all of the city’s residents, is likely to continue the increase in the mode share of alternative transportation.
And the city is developing a social strategy to encourage cycling even more. A “maison du vélo” will welcome inhabitants who have questions specifically about getting around by bike; kids in elementary school will be exposed to cycling in tours and classes; the city’s employees will be encouraged to make their trips by bike, with 400 vehicles already dedicated for the purpose; and a new Villes Velib’ cooperative will encourage a dialogue between Paris and its suburban peers in an attempt to integrate the region by bike.
Paris’ Sunday street program, which has already resulted in the closing of several neighborhoods to motorized traffic on Sundays and holidays, is planned to be generalized throughout the “biking neighborhoods,” where maximum travel speeds of 19 mph will be enforced. Parks, some of which had been closed to cyclists, are now all open to bike travel.
There is no guaranteed way to increase the number of people using bicycles and other low-impact transportation modes in a city. But the wholehearted embrace of the mode through a dedicated plan for infrastructure that prioritizes bicycles, funded and guaranteed by a focused city council, is sure to encourage it. Now that American cities have begun to follow Paris with similar bike sharing programs, we need to see similar initiatives here.
Image above: Paris Bike Plan, from Ville de Paris