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Metro strike shows Paris could become a cycling city (once the roadworks end)

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Metro strike shows Paris could become a cycling city (once the roadworks end)
Cyclists head to work during Friday's strike. But will they stick to two wheels? Photo: AFP
19:18 CEST+02:00
The one positive outcome of Friday's strike-induced travel misery in Paris is that a record number of commuters took to their bikes instead. That spelled good news for the embattled mayor Anne Hidalgo's plan to go green. But will it last?

Anne Hidalgo, the currently much maligned mayor of Paris (or at least by her critics), would be forgiven for giving a wry smile on Friday morning as workers faced travel chaos caused by a major transport strike.

The site of thousands of cyclists heading across the city to work by bike, many more than on a normal day, according to observers, would have given Hidalgo a much-needed shot in the arm with local elections on the horizon.

Commuters snapped up the city's Vélib' bikes as well as the dockless electric bikes that have been rolled out by companies such as Uber.

But most cyclists were on their own bikes, or perhaps borrowed ones, as they navigated across the city. Their journeys were made trickier by the fact that many commuters had also decided to come to work in their cars. 

A spokesperson for Paris City Hall told The Local they were celebrating the record number of cyclists taking to the city's bike lanes. On the Rue de Rivoli cycle lane alone there were 5, 670 cyclists.

Hidalgo has been heavily criticised by opponents for spending millions tearing up the city's roads and installing "express" cycle lanes.

It's not so much the cost that has led to fierce criticism from motorists and many residents but the scale of the road works  that has left the capital's streets clogged up with traffic, dust and those unsightly green and grey barriers.

But Hidalgo stands by her "Bike plan" which she launched in 2015.

Her aim was originally to double to number of cycle lanes in Paris from 700km to 1,400km by 2020 although those plans have been revised down and she now hopes there will be around 1,000km of lanes established by next year's spring local elections.

"It will mark a significant contribution to cutting pollution," Hidalgo told journalists recently on an organised cycle around Paris to highlight her "Plan Velo".

"It will also encourage the city towards adopting another method of transport, which is obviously a lot more environmentally friendly".

Over the summer some 25km of new two-way express cycle lanes opened in Paris and more are planned.

Cycle groups estimate some 35 percent of the new lanes have been completed and 50 percent of the planned lanes should be completed by next spring.

This is good news for a city, which is often hit by spikes in air pollution.

Although the mayor will have to ensure that motorists and delivery drivers do not use the cycle lanes to park their vehicles, as they do now and moped riders are forced to stick to the main roads rather than blend in with cyclists.

 

 

In August plans were also released to the public for the creation of suburban cycle network that will make it easier for commuters from the suburbs, many of whom have to rely on cars because of a lack of public transport.

The RER V cycle network, named after the RER train networks that links Paris and the suburbs, aims to expand the cycle paths so that cycling to work is a viable option for people who live outside the Paris ring road.
 
Paris will still be a long way behind cities like Berlin or Copenhagen, where 62 percent of workers get to work by bike.
 
But the French capital definitely felt and looked like a cycling city on Friday morning. The question is how many of those commuters will stick to their bikes? 
 
With more transport strikes against the pension reforms planned and the possibility of rolling industrial action until December, perhaps commuters will have no choice but to stick to two wheels.
 
That could be good news for Hidalgo and her chances of re-election, not to mention the quality of the city's air.
 
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