Despite becoming one of the most bike-friendly cities of the world, Paris lost over 85 per cent of its cycle traffic since lockdown was imposed on March 17. Regulatory measures resulted in tens of thousand cyclists disappearing from the streets as only professional and essential trips were allowed by the government decree that forced most of the sports and recreational cyclists to leave their bikes at home.

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According to Le Parisien’s website, only 140 bike trips were recorded at the 33 rue des Champs-Elysées the last week of March, compared to almost 7,000 in days preceding the outbreak. This is in great contradiction with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo’s policy, which caused more people to cycle than take the most frequented Metro line prior to the epidemic. Pushing cycling as a more environmentally friendly alternative was one of the main goals of the historically first woman in the office who succeeded in extending the city’s cycle path network. Despite the displeasure of some drivers, the Spanish-born politician announced a programme focused on combating air pollution, which included banning cars from certain parts of the city shortly after her election in 2015.

Parisians cope with coronavirus lockdown. © Mehdi Chebil / Polaris / Profimedia

According to the mayor’s office, the number of Parisians using a bike daily increased by 54 per cent just between September 2018 and 2019. Improved and extended cycle paths, bike share programme and motor traffic restrictions were among the most cited reasons. Cyclists took 840,000 trips a day, which outnumbered motorbikes and scooters.

Under Hidalgo’s mandate, Paris skipped over from the 13th to the 9th position on the Wired mag’s chart of the most bike-friendly cities. The mayor’s Plan Velo promised every road to have its cycle lane, every bridge a protected cycleway and all residents to have an opportunity to get a bike and cycle everywhere without feeling threatened by the surrounding traffic. In a further step, Hidalgo declared the intention to remove 72 per cent of car parking places and turn them into the bike lanes, green zones and playgrounds. Her plan for the greener city was adopted by most of the contenders for the mayoralty.

Instead of supporting the bike share program, Hidalgo pushed through a philosophy of funding the protected cycling lanes and creating thousands of parking places for bikes. In 2015, she proposed to invest 150 million Euros into cycling infrastructure to double its total length from 700 to 1,400 kilometres before 2020. Even though only half of the plan has been implemented so far, the refined bike lane network encouraged many Parisians to reconsider their travel habits and start commuting every day.

An Uber Eats delivery man cycles in Paris, France, 21 April 2020. © IAN LANGSDON / EPA / Profimedia

Simultaneously, an impressive e-bike program was introduced to help turn more car trips to bike ones. Since two-thirds of drivers in Paris are men, Anne Hidalgo had to face lots of criticism for turning main roads into construction sites. When Paris was hit by the transit strike and some of the major roads were obstructed, however, the bike lanes proved to be an advantageous alternative for many residents.

It’s difficult to predict now what will happen when the restrictions will slacken and cyclists will be allowed to travel freely. Will Anne Hidalgo be re-elected in the Paris municipal election that has been rescheduled and postponed following the coronavirus pandemic? Would she get the mandate to extend the city’s bike network into the suburbs? Guess we’re about to find out.

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