PARIS – On a recent afternoon, Rue de Rivoli looked like this: cyclists going through red traffic lights in two directions. Delivery cyclists look at their cell phones. Electric scooters crossing lanes. Jaywalkers and nervous pedestrians fighting like in a video game.
Sarah Famery, a 20-year-old resident of the Marais neighborhood, braced herself for the tumult. She looked left, then right, then left, and right again before venturing into a crosswalk, only to begin a spiel-filled race when two cyclists came within inches of brushing against her.
“It’s chaos!” exclaimed Ms Famery, shaking a fist at the swarm of bicycles that have displaced cars on Rue de Rivoli since it was remade into a multi-lane. highway for cyclists last year. “Politicians want to make Paris a cycling city, but nobody follows any rules,” he said. “It’s getting risky just crossing the street!”
The chaos on Rue de Rivoli, a major traffic artery that runs from the Bastille through the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde, is unfolding on the streets of Paris as authorities pursue the ambitious goal of turning the city into a European cycling capital by 2024.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is campaigning For the French presidency, she has been honing her credentials as an eco-minded socialist candidate. He has won both admirers and enemies alike with a daring program to transform greater Paris into the world leader. environmentally sustainable metropolis, reclaiming vast swaths of the city from cars for parks, pedestrians and a Copenhagen style cycling revolution.
He has made roads along the Seine car-free and last year, during the coronavirus lockdowns, oversaw the creation of more than 100 miles of new bike lanes. She plans limit cars in 2022 in the heart of the city, along the middle of the Right Bank and along Boulevard Saint Germain.
Parisians have heard the call: a million people in a metropolis of 10 million now pedal daily. And Paris is now among the world’s top 10 cycling cities,
But with the success there have been major growth problems.
“It’s like Paris is in anarchy,” said Jean-Conrad LeMaitre, a former banker who recently went for a walk down Rue de Rivoli. “We need to reduce pollution and improve the environment,” he said. “But everyone is doing what they want. There are no police, there are no fines, there is no training and there is no respect ”.
At City Hall, those responsible for the transformation recognized the need to find solutions to the burning tensions, accidents and even deaths that have resulted from wrestling in the streets. Anger over the reckless use of electric scooters, in particular, boiled over after a 31-year-old woman was killed this summer in a hit-and-run along the Seine.
“We are in the middle of a new era in which bicycles and pedestrians are at the center of a policy to fight climate change,” he said David belliard, Deputy Mayor for Transport in Paris and contact person overseeing the metamorphosis. “But only recently have people started riding bikes in droves, and it will take time to adapt.”
Belliard hopes Parisians can be persuaded to comply with the laws, in part by adding more police to impose 135-euro ($ 158) fines on unruly cyclists and teaching school-age children about bicycle safety. Electric scooters have been restricted to a speed of 10 kilometers per hour (just over 6 mph) in crowded areas, and could be banned by the end of 2022 if the dangerous use is not stopped.
The city is also planning talks with delivery companies like Uber Eats, whose couriers charge per delivery and are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to breaking traffic rules. “Their economic model is part of the problem,” Belliard said.
However, probably the biggest challenge is that Paris does not yet have an ingrained cycling culture.
The permanent French sense of “liberté” is on display in the streets at all hours, where Parisians, young and old, recklessly cross almost every opportunity. It seems they brought that carefree spirit to their bikes.
“In Denmark, which has a decades-long cycling culture, the mentality is, ‘Don’t go if the light is red,’” said Christine Melchoir, a Danish woman who has lived in Paris for 30 years and commutes by bike every day. “But for a Parisian, the mentality is, ‘Do it!'”
Urban planners say that better bike infrastructure could help control bad behavior.
Copenhagen, the model Paris aspires to, has efficient bike lane designs that allow bicycles, pedestrians and cars to coexist within a hierarchy of space. Citizens are taught from an early age to follow the rules of the road.
In Paris, parts of the 1000-kilometer cycle network throughout the city (approximately 620 miles) can lead cyclists into dangerous interactions with cars, pedestrians and other cyclists. At the Bastille, a once-huge roundabout that took over part of cars, a tangle of bike lanes weaves through traffic. Cyclists following the signs can take up to four minutes to cross.
“Paris has the right ideas and is absolutely the top city to watch out for on the planet, because no one is close to them for their general visions of urban transformation,” said Mikael Colville-Andersen, a Copenhagen-based urban designer who advises to cities on Integration of bicycles in urban transport.
“But the infrastructure is like spaghetti,” he continued. “It is chaotic, it does not connect and there is no cohesive network. If you can get it right, it will eliminate a lot of confusion. “
Belliard, the deputy mayor, said Paris would soon unveil a plan to improve infrastructure. But for now, the tumult continues. On a recent afternoon, eight cyclists ran a red light en masse on Boulevard de Sébastopol, a major north-south artery. Cautious pedestrians cowered until one dared to try to cross, causing a close collision.
Back on Rue de Rivoli, the cyclists swerved to avoid pedestrians playing chicken with oncoming bicycles. “Pay attention!” a cyclist in a red safety vest and goggles yelled at three women crossing against a red light, when he almost crashed in the rain.
Cyclists say Paris has not done enough to make cycling safe. Bicycle accidents increased 35 percent last year, from 2019. Paris en Selle, a cycling organization, has held protests calling for road safety after several cyclists were killed in collisions with motorists, including, recently, a 2-year-old boy. who was traveling with his vehicle. father who died near the Louvre when a truck collided with them.
A small but growing number of riders say they are too nervous to continue riding.
“I am afraid of being crushed,” said Paul Michel Casabelle, 44, superintendent of the Maison de Danmark, a Danish cultural institute.
On a recent Sunday, Ingrid Juratowitch had to talk to her daughter Saskia safely through the bike lanes near the Saint Paul subway station while holding her two other young daughters a safe distance from the street.
“Be careful, there are bikes coming from the left and right,” said Ms Juratowitch, who has lived in Paris for 14 years. She is increasingly reluctant to let her children walk to school for fear of reckless cyclists. Another is coming. Okay, now you can go! “
“From an environmental standpoint, we don’t want the city to go back to cars,” Juratowitch said. “But it is not safe. It’s as if bicycles and pedestrians don’t know how to coexist ”.
Saskia, 12, chimed in. “It’s not the bikes, it’s the cyclists,” he said. “They think the rules apply to everyone except them.”