Now Paris Wants to Become the 'World Capital of Cycling'

Lower speed limits, subsidies and loads more bike lanes are all forthcoming. Will it be enough?

Image REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Paris is destined to become the “world capital of cycling,” or at least, that's the grand ambition declared recently by Paris City Hall.

While Amsterdam and Copenhagen may not be sweating it just yet, the French capital is indeed taking bicycle transportation more seriously than ever before. To underscore that effort, the city has just announced a €150 million ($164.5 million) program over the next five years that aims to make Paris far easier, safer and more attractive for cyclists.

At the heart of the project are plans to double the city's bike lanes. Between now and 2020, Paris will add 80 kilometers (roughly 50 miles) of new, improved routes. The crown jewels of this new network will be a grid of five bike highways that will be bi-directional and almost entirely protected from automobile traffic by barriers. Three of the new lanes will be axial—two bisecting the city north to south and one east to west—while a further two will follow the banks of the River Seine as closely as possible. Quite apart from their value for commuters, the tourist potential for these alone is huge. Visitors on rental bikes will soon be able to amble down the Champs-Élysées and along the Seine Quays without braving traffic.

The overhaul isn’t just sticking to tourist spots, however. Paris will also focus on overcoming obstacles that hamper cyclists from crossing the Boulevard Périphérique beltway. Separating the city core from its suburbs, routes across this barrier will be smoothed, easing the transition through Paris’s traffic-filled, potentially dangerous “city gates.” And off the express network, things should get easier too. Junctions with traffic lights will be equipped with 7,000 new alternative corner crossings that allow cyclists to turn without waiting for lights to turn green. Where these are not in place, cyclists will benefit from priority at all lights.

People who ride bicycles in Paris should also stand to benefit from an ongoing plan to cut the citywide speed limit to 30 kilometers (18 miles) per hour, with only major roads rising to 50 kilometers (30 miles). And finally, when they arrive at their destination, cyclists will have more places to put their bikes, as Paris will fund 10,000 new parking spots for bicycles.

Improved infrastructure is great, but it won’t mean much without lots more cyclists to use it. Paris is clearly aware of this. In a bid to coax bike riders onto the road who don’t necessarily want to arrive at their destination sweaty, the city is also providing financial help for electric bike purchases. Parisians can now get reimbursed for 33 percent of the cost of an electric bike, with the upper cap set at €400.

These are radical, healthy changes indeed, but they won’t make Paris a cyclist’s paradise overnight. The new plan’s ambitions to get 15 percent of Parisians commuting on bikes by 2020 still sets it target far below matching the 43 percent of Amsterdammers who already do. Paris transit and public space secretary Christophe Najdovski acknowledges Paris still has a long climb ahead of it.

It’s a long-haul job, he says. The Netherlands has been working on it since the ‘70s. We’ve got a lot of work to do to reach their stage, but we’re optimistic.”

About the Author

  • Feargus O'Sullivan is a London-based contributing writer to CityLab, with a focus on Europe.