A remarkable thing has happened in Paris. What could its bold, strategic micro-mobility vision do for cities in the UK?

 
Dedicated cycle routes now seem to be a default option on any route in Paris

 
As the world grapples with lockdowns, economic disruption and public health challenges, there is a longing to return to ‘normal’. But what does a return to normal actually look like? These are global issues and there is not a single trajectory to the post-Covid situation. Covid has also accelerated or disrupted existing trends in certain societies that were already changing behaviour, such as home shopping, relative declines in high street shopping, growth of urban cores, increasing interest in micro-mobility, etc.

Micro-mobility, and particularly cycling, is one of the new modes that has received particular attention in order to support social distancing, facilitate local mobility, provide an alternative to public transport – which many people feel is required – as well as capture some of the newly realised, albeit temporary, reductions in urban air pollution. In particular, the mobility need is to provide alternatives to choosing to drive personal cars in congested cities and towns. In this article, I will generally refer to “cyclists” and “cycling”, but much of the infrastructure that I discuss is equally relevant to most micro-mobility modes including e-scooters – as are allowed in your local city.

Most global cities are progressing, to some degree, the development and implementation of cycling infrastructure. The UK government has historically been supporting these initiatives and the Covid crisis has led to the release of several new funding opportunities for local authorities to rapidly expand cycling infrastructure. Much progress is being made across the UK.

However, I would like to highlight the situation in Paris, France. I have been a regular traveller to the city over a number of years – for both business and leisure. I have regularly cycled in Paris for leisure over a number of years. I was also one of those UK residents who had a holiday booked in France in late August 2020 as the self isolation rules on return to the UK were imposed, but nevertheless, travelled to the continent.
A remarkable thing has happened in Paris! Like many European cities, cycling over the last 10 years has moved from being a slight oddity to the mainstream and much infrastructure is in place. Currently 3 to 5% of commuter trips are made by cycle in the inner areas of Paris and 1.5% across the wider Ile-de-France region. Seven hundred kilometres of cycle lanes are present. There are ambitious plans to increase these figures.

xpansion of cycling has become a key political differentiator in the city, and many political candidates in this year’s mayoral election tried to “outbid” each other in terms of what they could do for cyclists

However, particularly over the last year as evidenced by my visit in August, I have seen an extensive transformation. This is not just about Covid-19, but also as a result of a series of labour disputes and service disruptions on the Paris public transport system over the last few years and critically a core part of local politics. Expansion of cycling has become a key political differentiator in the city, and many political candidates in this year’s mayoral election tried to “outbid” each other in terms of what they could do for cyclists. The election eventually led to the return of mayor Anne Hidalgo.

The cycling culture in Paris is supported by a city-led shared cycle scheme as well as various independent shared cycling services, e-scooter services, private cycling, kick scooters and e-scooter ownership. A long term e-cycle lease scheme supported by local authorities is also available. What is most remarkable is both the expansion in cycling road space as well as the growth in cycling usage. Equally important for the growth in cycling culture is the wide range of types of people cycling – male and female, sport and leisure, across ages as well as for clearly different trip purposes. All of this creates the culture to encourage further increases in use of cycling.

Paris also seems to have dealt with the key challenge of inserting substantial space for cycling within the historic confines of a city and thus, inevitably removing substantial space from general car traffic, as well as from bus, taxi, parking and deliveries as well as potentially pedestrians. This change in road space is so often missing in many cities and thus, does not provide the spatial support to make cycling a realistic option that “appears” safe for many potential users.

While much progress has been made in allocating space for cycling in UK cities, and in my home city of London, substantially more needs to be done on a widespread basis and in particular outside of the central area. This seems to be being addressed in the Paris cycling revolution. One of the most remarkable things about a contemporary visit to the city as a cyclist is that dedicated cycle routes are no longer only available on selected key routes, but have been widely constructed across so many routes that they increasingly seem to be a default option on any route!

The growth in cycling infrastructure in an historic city like Paris also challenges the pre-conception that inserting cycling infrastructure into historic cities is not possible. Needless to say there are clearly many compromises and complexities in delivering these cycling routes and in many cases space has had to be removed from other modes or shared spaces created.

What does this mean for UK cities? What is needed is an increasingly bold strategic vision for micro-mobility that supports wider sustainable mobility goals! Historic congested cities are not a barrier to the creation of a pervasive series of connected and continuous routes that follow natural desire lines for travel. Allocation of road space and removal of space from other modes is essential – this does not only result in removing space from cars, but also leads to compromises with bus traffic and pedestrian spaces. Space for cyclists as well as other micro-mobility modes is a continuous transition, but can lead to the longer term trend for the generation of substantial demand for micro-mobility and sustainable travel.

Finally, while the reinvention of cycling in Paris is an exciting and impressive transformation, it is not without very visible controversy! In just a few hours of travelling in Paris in August I noticed a series of confrontations and conflicts between the various modes as motorists adjusted to the widespread presence of micro-mobility, the restrictions in road space for motorised vehicles, pedestrians trying to navigate safely the pavements, and cyclists at times taking many liberties with their new found dominance. For many motorised vehicle drivers the restrictions were clearly confusing and complex and they were struggling to adapt.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Giles K Bailey is a Director at Stratageeb, a London based consultancy assisting businesses think about their strategic vision and innovation. Previously, he had spent nine years as Head of Marketing Strategy at Transport for London.

 
This article appears inside issue 233 of Passenger Transport.

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