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LATEST: How close is Paris to its goal of being a 100% cycle-friendly city?

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
LATEST: How close is Paris to its goal of being a 100% cycle-friendly city?
A woman rides a bicycle on a dedicated lane in Paris on April 5, 2022. (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)

As Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo congratulates her team on the construction of 52 new bike lanes this summer, we take a look at how close the French capital is to achieving its ambition of becoming 100 percent cycle-friendly.

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Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo announced on Tuesday that the city had constructed 52 new bicycle lanes over the summer, as part of an ongoing goal (plan vélo) to make France's capital '100 percent bicycle-friendly by 2026'.

Some of the new cycle paths that were opened include those along the busy boulevards of Montmartre, Bonne Nouvelle and Saint-Denis, while other work involved making previous temporary bike lanes - the 'coronapistes' which were set up during the pandemic - permanent by adding concrete lane markers.

Bicycle lane construction across the city is set to at least into 2024.

The plan vélo

In 2021 a plan known as '100 percent cyclable city' set the goal of encouraging Parisians to cycle more by building 180 kilometres of additional permanent bicycle lanes - made up of 130km of new bicycle lanes and 52 kilometres of coronapistes made permanent. 

Credit: Paris Town Hall

In the map above, the Paris town hall has laid out their plans for expanding and adding to existing bicycle infrastructure, with the solid lines showing previous lanes and the dotted ones showing anticipated expansion.

As part of the bike plan, which has a budget of €250 million, the city promised to triple the number of bike parking spaces, adding more than 180,000 to the 60,000 that were in existence in 2021. Several thousand of those were set to be secure spaces, such as lock-up boxes near Metro and RER stations. 

The money was also intended to be used for an education campaign to teach Parisian children how to ride bicycles and obey the rules of the road. 

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English-language media have fawned over the 'bike boom', with headlines asking whether Paris could become 'One of the Most Bike Friendly Cities in the World' by 2026 and even if it could 'become the world's bicycle capital'?

But a large bulk of the efforts to expand bicycle lanes in the city began prior to the 2021 plan, with the initial phase of plan vélo.

In 2015, shortly after socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo was elected on a programme of making the city more environmentally friendly and green, the city announced that €150 million would be spent to turn Paris into a "world cycling capital".

The first five-year plan included goals to double the number of existing bicycle lanes in Paris from 700 to 1,400km, creating 10,000 parking spots (eg. bike racks), and upgrading the Vélib' city bike system which had at the time fallen into disrepair. 

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The investment paid off, leading to Paris rising five slots and being ranked in 8th place by the Copenhagenize Index for bicycle friendly cities around Europe in 2019.

City officials even instituted a tracking device at the popular Rue de Rivoli bicycle lane to count the number of cyclists that pass by, and in July 2020 it surpassed one million. 

In terms of the reason behind adding more bicycle lanes, there are environmental reasons but also social ones. Anne Hidalgo's deputy mayor, David Belliard, told Slate: “The redistribution of public space is a policy of social redistribution.

“50 percent of public space is occupied by private cars, which are used mostly by the richest, and mostly by men, because it’s mostly men who drive, and so in total, the richest men are using half the public space. So if we give the space to walking, biking, and public transit, you give back public space to the categories of people who today are deprived."

Current results

According to the Paris town hall, cycling has been steadily gaining popularity in the city. The number of people using hire bikes like the Vélib' city bikes increased by 12.9 percent in the final quarter of 2022.

As for the number of daily bike path users, there was an increase in 18.6 percent between 2021 and 2022. 

Credit: City of Paris

In the city's 2022 review of transportation, it also found that seven percent of all journeys are made by bicycle, compared to less than five percent prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and the start of the second phase of plan vélo.

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Despite the increase in cyclists, some bicycle organisations complained in 2022 about the slow pace of construction. The association Paris en selle (Paris in the saddle) told Actu France that as of October 2022 (one year after the plan was announced) only 15 percent of the promised infrastructure had come into fruition.

Paris en selle's bicycle plan observatory found that only 1.5km of new lanes had been built and 13.5km of the coronapistes made permanent in the plan's first year. 

As of May 2023, prior to the summer, the observatory reported that those numbers had risen to 3.6km of new lanes built and 19.8km of coronapistes made permanent. 

However, the capital appears to have picked up the pace, in part with the goal of preparing to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, according to Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

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