French, Paris, Traffic calming, Translation

How about we start by widening the sidewalks, Ms. Hidalgo?

Et si on commençait par élargir les trottoirs, Madame Hidalgo?” December 8, 2014. Le Monde. By Olivier Razemon, translated by Angus B. Grieve-Smith. View the original post for full-size images.

Trottoirs-Paris-10-091943Banning diesel vehicles, partially pedestrianizing the four central districts, bike paths, routes dedicated to “environmentally friendly” vehicles… The Mayor of Paris seems to have realized the danger that air pollution poses to people who spend time in the Paris region, whether they live there or not (details here).

These steps, which will be debated at upcoming City Council meetings, will be attacked by various lobbies and may become a political football. Anne Hidalgo knows a thing or two about that. Her Tour Triangle project was defeated last november by an ad hoc coalition in the chamber. The next round of residential parking rate increases, which the administration is quietly promoting, is still being debated by the ruling coalition. City Hall is worried that the Communist city council members will refuse to touch it, perceiving it as an attack on low-income households.

Piétons-sacrifiés-2859Discouraged pedestrians. So to bring down pollution, but also noise and frustration, while easing commutes, what if we started by widening the sidewalks? When you think about the street space available, when we encourage one mode of transportation, in this case walking, we discourage the others. Take a look at the photo above. To cross the intersection you’d be better off on a motorcycle than trying on foot. Pedestrians deserve better: according to a study by Insee, half of all trips in the capital are made on foot.

Potelets-ParisA little strip of asphalt. In small streets, a sliver barely a meter wide is left for pedestrians, whether they’re traveling solo, with others, with a stroller, in a wheelchair, or pulling a suitcase. The lane is wide enough that a speeding car or motorcyle can terrorize passersby, sending them running for their little strip of asphalt.

Trottoirs-Paris10-019King Bollard. Bollards, metal ones in particular, are installed to prevent sidewalk parking, but wind up limiting the movement of pedestrians. But that’s not all: green trash cans, angle-parked motorcycles, café tables and chairs, loose trash, yellow trash cans, and so on. There’s a lot going on on a Parisian sidewalk.

Trottoirs-Paris-18-161725All it takes is one irritant. In a lot of our streets, particularly at certain times of day, pedestrians have no choice but to walk in the street. This is not always dangerous, because drivers slow down automatically, but it’s inconvenient for everyone. A single car on a quasi-pedestrian street can upset fifty pedestrians, just like a single train passenger yelling into a cell phone at the expense of everyone else’s peace and quiet.

Paris-piéton-3282Like a racetrack. For pedestrians it is impossible to cross certain intersections in one light, thanks to barriers placed by the city. What you see in the photo above sends the message: Streets are sacred, like a racetrack, no trespassing. When we install these protections we forget that people who move with their bodies like to move fast too. If we freed pedestrians from the confines of these sidewalks we would at the same time cut down on the speed of cars, and eventually on unnecessary car use.

Trottoirs-Paris-2001Let’s talk business. On the Grands Boulevards, in many places, there is still a lane across the sidewalk to allow drivers to access the parking areas. Sure they do it slowly, but they push pedestrians aside, behind bollards. And this hurts businesses! Despite what you may hear from developers, and even from some business people, the best customers for local businesses are pedestrians and cyclists. They may buy less per visit, but they shop more often – as long as they feel comfortable on the street.

Trottoir-disparaîtSidewalks erased. Sometimes when people are doing construction they will close the sidewalk, but not the bike lane. You might think they do it on purpose, to set up the kinds of conflicts so beloved by the tabloids. This might be a good place to note that in calmer cities dedicated bicycle infrastructure is no longer necessary: bikes ride in the street, leaving plenty of space on the sidewalk for pedestrians.

Barrière-piétons-4176That pointless barricade. Sometimes we just can’t figure out the rationale behind certain installations. In the above photo, at the exit of the Colonel-Fabien metro station, this little barricade obstructs the flow of people leaving the metro and waiting to cross the street. What is the point of this piece of steel? There must once have been one, but it has been forgotten by everyone, including the transportation department.

Commentary, cycling, Paris

Shuddering to imagine

Photo: Paul Metivier / Flickr

If you haven’t been following the unfolding story of the Prospect Park West bike lane, here’s a quick summary by Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors:

A diverse group of residents and neighborhood advocates first raised the need to calm traffic on Prospect Park West, which was plagued by speeding, at a Park Slope Civic Council forum in March 2006. The local Community Board, Brooklyn Community Board Six, wrote to then-new Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Khan in June of 2007, requesting that NYCDOT take steps to calm traffic on Prospect Park West, and even suggested exactly what was eventually implemented: the replacement of one of three travel lanes with a protected bicycle path. In the spring of 2009, Park Slope Neighbors presented NYCDOT with 1,300 signatures on a petition asking for a similar treatment. NYCDOT presented the Community Board Six Transportation Committee with an initial proposal in April 2009, which the committee endorsed, and the full board voted to approve the project by an 18-9 vote in May 2009. The project’s implementation, originally scheduled for September 2009, was then delayed nine months, reportedly due to pressure from the Borough President.

In June of this year, the DOT finally went ahead with the plan, but the opponents have continued their campaign. On October 21, residents held dueling rallies along the avenue, with the pro-lane event attracting 200-300 people and the anti group attracting well under 100.

The fight over this lane is really a clash of the titans (or perhaps it may be the Olympians overthrowing the Titans), with the pro-lane faction including Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek, the progressive group Park Slope Neighbors, and many current and former staff members and advisors of Transportation Alternatives, and the anti-lane faction including Borough President Marty Markowitz and former Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel. Although they have been downplaying their participation, it is widely known that the previous Transportation Commissioner, Iris Weinshall, is an active member of the anti-lane group, and her husband, Chuck Schumer, the senior Senator from New York, is rumored to be exerting his influence against the lane, despite his often-touted fondness for recreational cycling. Civic hatchetman Richard Lipsky recently weighed in, prompting speculation as to whether he had been hired by the anti-lane group.

Shortly before the rallies last week, the anti-lane group drafted a long, heavily footnoted letter to Sadik-Khan’s boss, Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, asking him to intervene. Park Slope Neighbors President Eric McClure obtained a copy of the letter, which he annotated with his own corrections and responses, and Streetsblog published it on Thursday.

Eric does a good job of demolishing most of the anti-bike lane arguments, but there’s one particular point where I felt I could lend my expertise:

A final issue also merits consideration: the altogether unhappy aesthetic effect of the garishly painted, plastic-pyloned bike lanes on the serene beauty of what is one of the most gracious boulevards in the city, the stately boundary between graceful Prospect Park and one of Brooklyn’s finest historic districts. And the parking lane in the middle of the street destroys the previously unfettered vista culminating in the magnificent Grand Army Plaza memorial at the pivot of Prospect Park West, Prospect Park, and Eastern Parkway. (One shudders to imagine how a Parisian might view the encrustation of the view down the Champs Elysées through the Arc de Triomphe.)

Image: bitchcakes / Flickr
Image: bitchcakes / Flickr

The last parenthetical remark struck me. It seems that our Titans have not been to Paris recently, or they would know that the city has become much friendlier to pedestrians, transit users and especially cyclists under the Socialist/Green coalition government that has ruled it for the past nine years than it was under Jacques Chirac. So I did a little googling, and what do you know, they are planning to put bike lanes right up the Champs-Elysées. I have translated the article for the benefit of those who do not read French.

The most bizarre thing about that sentence was the idea that “a Parisian” never rides a bicycle, which has never been close to the truth. The letter was also full of complaints about process, which was telling considering that the process of implementing street configuration changes under Weinshall was less inclusive and more open to domination by big players like Schumer and Markowitz. In his blog post, Lipsky appealed to City Council Transportation Chair Jimmy Vacca, who has in the past complained about Sadik-Khan’s outreach process.

In Paris, however, there do not seem to be any problems with the process: the bicycle plan was passed unanimously by the 163-member City Council. To be sure, this includes Green Party leaders like Jacques Boutault, who is Mayor of the Second District that contains the Rue de Rivoli – District Mayor is a post that combines the best features held by a Borough President, District Manager and Community Board Chair here in New York. But it also includes François Lebel, Mayor of the Eighth District that contains the Champs-Elysées, who represents the center-right UMP party. If anyone were to think of bike lanes on the Champs-Elysées as an “encrustation” worth shuddering over, it would probably be someone associated with the UMP, and at least one of the 51 UMP council members would probably have voted against it. Either there’s some serious dealmaking and tight party discipline in that council, or else bike lanes on the Champs-Elysées are widely supported.

Background, cycling, French, Paris

Bicycles will take over the Champs-Elysées

Translation of Michelon, Vincent. June 8, 2010. Le vélo colonisera les Champs-Elysées.

The bicycle plan, which envisions extensions of bicycle lanes, was passed on Tuesday by the Paris City Council. Four years from now, the Champs-Elysées will have two lanes reserved for cyclists.

The frustration of drivers will be the pleasure of cyclists. The bicycle plan, which unanimously passed the Paris City Council on Tuesday, had been upgraded at the urging of the Green Party. The Greens won a symbolic victory: the creation of a bicycle lane within four years along three kilometers on each side of the Champs-Elysées.

“This lane will be taken from the roadway,” explained Jacques Boutault, who was elected on the Green Party line as Mayor of the Second District. “Bicycles should not be taking space from pedestrians when cars are occupying 80% of the street.” The plan envisions a continuous route along the Rue de Rivoli and the Champs-Elysées. “This means that there will be a bicycle route across the Place de la Concorde,” Boutault suggested. The city’s bicycle network will be expanded from 440 kilometers to 700 by 2014.

Another Green Party proposal that was included in the plan is the creation of 2000 bicycle parking spots per year, instead of the 1000 per year originally envisioned. Half of these spaces will be on city property, in the courtyards of public housing projects, and the other half will take up road space, if necessary from automobile parking, as was done in 2007 for the 1400 Vélib’ stations.

“The message is clear: the car is not welcome in the central city,” explained Mayor Boutault. “People who travel by car will have to use private facilities.” In the central districts, a quarter of households own at least one car.

cycling, elections, Paris, streetcar

Paris is Pledged to Incumbent Mayor Delanoë, Rising Star of the Left

Source: AFP

Translated by Angus B. GRIEVE-SMITH

Bertrand DelanoëThe Socialist Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, who has led an energetic campaign to transform the city, appeared to be guaranteed a comfortable reelection, thanks to a divided right-wing opposition that has been reduced to accusing him of using the capital as a platform for his national ambitions.

Mr. Delanoë, 57, and his left-wing electoral list were estimated to receive 43% of votes in the first round on March 9 and 57% in the second round on March 16, according to a poll by CSA published at the end of February.

In order to gain the maximum number of seats in the 20 districts of Paris – each one also electing its own mayor – Mr. Delanoë will have to manage a complicated coalition strategy with the Green Party, his rebellious allies estimated to receive 5% of votes. He must also take into account the centrist Mouvement Démocrate party, which has made inroads with an estimated 9% of votes.

Facing a mayor who is sure of himself, who claims to be “neither anxious nor euphoric,” Françoise de Panafieu, 59, the candidate of the right-wing UMP party, which holds power in the national government, has largely conceded defeat.

Acknowledging a “difficult” campaign, she claims to be challenging “not the incumbent mayor,” but “the candidate for general secretary of the Socialist Party,” who will make the city “a weapon against the government.”

Mr. Delanoë, who has until now refuced to confirm it, is widely considered the likely challenger to Ségolène Royal to take the leadership of the Socialists and run for President of the country in 2012.

A landslide victory in the mayoral election will reinforce his stature. Former President Jacques Chirac, who ran the capital for almost 20 years, had used Paris as a stepping stone to national office.

The first left-wing mayor of Paris, elected in 2001, Mr. Delanoë has run an activist campaign.

In response to those who accused him of allowing Paris to become a city of “rich people” because of the housing crisis, he implemented measures to protect public spaces and promised to relieve the apartment shortage by removing the prohibition against high-rise buildings.

During his first term, he attracted attention by imposing a drastic reduction of lanes dedicated to car traffic in favor of mass transit and bicycle routes, and opened a streetcar line along the southern edge of the city.

Mr. Delanoë, one of the first politicians to acknowledge his homosexuality, was able to satisfy the aspirations of upper-class “bobos” (“bourgeois-bohèmes,” or yuppies). His detractors accused him of being authoritarian and autocratic.

He staked his repuation on media-friendly initiatives like “Paris Plage,” the summer-long transformation of the highways along the Seine into car-free recreation areas, and Velib’, the bicycle rental system popular with Parisians.

The right wing has had little success in attacking the Mayor on this urban policy shared by many large European cities. According to a recent poll, more than 60% of self-identified conservatives claimed to be satisfied with the results that Delanoë had achieved.

In an attempt to draw this conservative support away from Delanoë, the UMP is running celebrity candidates like Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Justice Minister Rachida Dati. But these efforts could backfire thanks to resulting accusations of “carpetbagging” and creation of dissident electoral lists.

In fact, the UMP, which now holds only eight district mayoralties out of 20, could lose many of them in this city of two million where the mayoral election has always been more than a local contest.

Original: Paris promise au maire sortant Delanoë, étoile montante de la gauche, March 5, 2008. Image: © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Metro, Paris, privacy

It will cost more to ride the Metro incognito

Photo: phverant / Flickr

  • The new “Discovery” version of the Navigo card, which guarantees the confidentiality of its user’s movements, will be available for an additional five euros.
  • Privacy activists are protesting this surcharge.

Olivier LEVARD

Translated by Angus B. GRIEVE-SMITH

“Why pay more to take advantage of a fundamental right?” demands the organization Privacy International. A new version of the Navigo card that will allow public transit passengers in the Ile-de-France region to travel anonymously starting September first will cost its users five euros more, according to a source close to the agency. The reason given is that unlike with the classic Navigo card, the STIF (the public company charged with organizing public transports in the Ile-de-France) will not be required to pay the card’s distribution costs. Dubbed the “Passe découverte” or “Discovery card,” this contactless computerized card will not contain any of the traveler’s personal information, because the validation will not be connected to an identification number. (See sidebar.)

When contacted by, a representative of the privacy defense organization Privacy International was not ready to cheer. “It’s taken us six years to get this. This is not a victory. It’s a natural, normal step to take.” He was particularly stunned by the surcharge connected with the choice of pass. “Citizens are being forced to make a financial choice in order to exercise a fundamental right!” (more…)

congestion pricing, Paris

Parisian Reluctance over Congestion Pricing

Translated, annotated and hyperlinked by Angus B. Grieve-Smith, February 13, 2007.

The Mobility Plan for Paris that will be debated [and adopted] by Parisian elected officials on February 12 and 13 hinges on the proposals to close (partially at least) the Georges Pompidou expressway, to install a lane reserved for buses, taxis and emergency vehicles on the Boulevard Périphérique [an eight-lane limited-access highway], and to limit automobile circulation in the center of Paris. However, there is no explicit mention of the implementation of “congestion pricing.”

London, Oslo, Stockholm and Singapore have all used this technique to limit access to their downtowns. Milan is expected to do the same in March 2007. In Paris the subject provokes, at this point, strong opposition. The suggestion of the Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, on November 13, to “request input on” the implementation of congestion pricing in Paris has met with unanimous opposition, even from the UMP [his own center-right party].

Françoise de Panafieu, conservative candidate for the next mayoral elections in the capital, has concluded that “a toll at the gates of Paris would not be possible.” Jean-Paul Huchon, Socialist president of the Ile de France [the greater Paris region], has declared himself to be “firmly against” the idea, arguing that it amounts to “a national avoidance of responsibility,” and “an admission of impotence” in transit finance. Paris’s Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, has concluded that this plan would antagonize elected officials from nearby municipalities “from the right and the left.”

Eight days after the Prime Minister’s speech, the Regional Infrastructure District of the Ile de France (Dreif), in the context of its new management plan, published a study of traffic in the Ile de France, taking a position in support of a toll for entering Paris. For Francis Rol Tanguy, director of the Dreif, the idea “should no longer be taboo.” The goal of the Dreif is to reduce automobile traffic and bring in funds to accelerate the rollout of mass transit across the region. (more…)