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Rethinking Streets in Paris

Back in July I made a video about Paris' public bicycle system, Velib. Its success must in part be credited to the provisions made for safe cycling and the understood "street code," where users are responsible for others whose vehicles are lighter than their own.

This video explores traffic calming amenities Paris has installed. For example, in several areas of Paris curbs have been removed and bikes, pedestrians, buses and taxis coexist at low speeds. On wider roads bikes share the BRT lanes with buses and taxis. Counter-flow bike lanes expand the bike network. Raised crosswalks and neckdowns slow traffic and make pedestrians more visible at intersections. Watch for more.

Elizabeth Press: [00:10] In general Paris is moving away from dividing users on the street.

Eric Britton: [00:16] What we call the new mobility agenda is based on people, it’s based on our concept of slowth, which is things that seem to be going slowly but at the end of the day in an urban context are even faster.

Emmanuel Martin: [00:32] The street code relies on two main points I think. It’s the first one is that you are responsible for all users that are lighter than you are, so the cyclist is responsible for the pedestrians, well the cars are responsible for the cyclists and the trucks are responsible for the cars, etc. And so you have to take into account all the other users.

Didier Couval: [00:55] We will try to organise new traffic coming areas.

Eric Britton: [[01:00] And the only way to slow down the car is not through the police, it is not through the radar, but is through getting rid of the straight lines and through making the street surface sufficiently irregular so that the car simply will slow down to, as they say in Italian, el passo [unintelligible 01:16], to the pace of a person, to make it a human system.

Caroline Samponaro: [01:20] For example in the centre of Paris, there’s a section of about four blocks that has completely been transformed to accommodate buses, pedestrians and cyclists.

Emmanuel Martin: [01:32] We have a metro station with many, many people coming out. We have Velib. We have three or four bus lines. We have a huge number of pedestrians.

Caroline Samponaro: [01:43] Kerbs have been removed. The surface is cobblestone to slow speeds down, and there’s signage indicating that the pedestrians have priority.

Emmanuel Martin: [01:52] It’s not possible, we don’t have space enough to have one line for the buses, one line for the cyclists, enough space for the pedestrians, enough space for the cars, etc. So we’ll put everyone together. As you don’t have a classical road there, you have to take into account all the other users and you get much more respectful I think.

Didier Couval: [02:12] We have different kind of lanes or bicycle ways.

Elizabeth Press: [02:16] On busy boulevards bikes are actually sharing space with buses. Buses have a protected lane that’s separate from moving traffic and they share that space with bicycles, taxi cabs. What this means is that although bikes aren’t alone and they don’t have their own protected space there’s far less traffic, and buses and bicycles and taxis are learning better how to work together to get safely around the city. We’ve even seen that there’s a bicycle bell on the buses so, you know, you don’t have to be startled when you’re riding your bike and a bus wants to let you know that there’s coming behind you. And then there’s the traditional stripes bike lane which we have in New York City.

Eric Britton: [02:53] This is an example of a bicycle path sharing a sidewalk.

Didier Couval: [02:58] With in a one-way street more possibilities for cyclists to use this street in two ways. We say that we do contra flow lanes. It’s very difficult to convince people that is a good measure, because people who don’t ride a bicycle don’t understand and say that it’s very dangerous. But it’s not dangerous because cyclists are in front of all the car drivers.

Elizabeth Press: [03:29] Streets here are broken down into 50, 30 or 15 kilometre per hour streets. So almost all of the 30 and 15 kilometre per hour streets meet major boulevards with raised crosswalks, and neck downs which indicates to drivers they need to slow their speeds down and creates added protection for pedestrians and cyclists that are travelling on these streets. Behind us is one of the 15 and there’s a lot of interesting things happening. The first is that the texture is actually cobblestone so right away cars have to slow down. It’s a shared space between buses and bicycles, but bicycles are coming against traffic, and the great thing about these bike lanes is they make the bike network much bigger and they allow bicycles to get around in a more sensible way. But they also have a traffic calming affect because the streets have been redesigned or designed so that cars can only go a certain speed and having bicycles there moving against them is just one of those ways that that’s happening. And then where we’re standing now we have actually a physically separated bike lane for cyclists so that because they’re going to be heading against traffic for this portion, they have extra protected space. And when they reach the busy boulevard ahead, they actually are linking up to the bigger bike networks. So this little short block is kind of like a shortcut, but it’s a creative way to expand the bike network.

Eric Britton: [04:53] The Paris learning experience is now something like 35 years old, and it started in the early 1970’s when some public groups blocked some major building projects to build new roads and very large parking facilities in Paris. And we became aware, collectively became aware, of what is important is not the throughput of vehicles within a system but the throughput of people, and the conditions of the throughput.

Elizabeth Press: [05:22] Paris also has a lot of new intersection markings, you know intersections are obviously a really important place to make cyclists more visible and whether be a different colour or a green coloured bike box, chequerboard, shared marking, Paris has it all.

Eric Britton: [05:40] The first thing you have to do is technically step away from the car, think in terms of the people who are inside the car, is that the best environment for them to be in within the geometry of the city, or are they inside an elephant in the bedroom. It is through this process of focusing on people rather than vehicles that you are able to move toward the system. So New Mobility aims at a human system, old mobility aims at a car system.


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  • http://www.cyclox.org James Styring

    The film cuts out after about 1 minute (the guy is talking about street hierarchy) and goes back to the start. I tried 4 times. Maybe it needs fixing?

  • http://www.stevegs.com Steve GS

    Answer to James (above)

    It's due to slow download speeds - ie. broadband that isn't!

  • http://pedalofilo.wordpress.com Joao

    Hello! Enjoyed your movie that found out through other people.
    Took the liberty to transcript it and the subtitling it to Portuguese.

    available here: http://dotsub.com/view/93442963-47f2-4057-a519-db8e2174a520

    I'm having still a problem with translating technical terms 😉

  • Unreal

    This is a terrible idea...you're just creating more traffic congestion causing car to have to slow down for cyclist sharing the same road. Its also dangerous. Im all for special bike lanes as long as they are seperate from the main lanes of cars....this seems to be more an anti car movement

  • Jackie C

    I like how this system appears to offer smooth transitions between different types of bicycle facilities. In places where bicycle facilities are typically separate, and cyclists are met with impatience from drivers when traveling in the "vehicle" lane, these transitions can be intimidating.

  • Mike O

    While I appreciate the ambition of the Paris Velib program, I'd really like to see some hard statistics on both safety and cost. For example, how many cyclists have reported accidents due to which causes, and with what degree of seriousness (death, concussion, broken bone{s}, just damage to the bike)?
    Also, can something be done to improve the downtown lack of parking spaces for those who would like to return or switch bikes in less than 30 minutes?

  • Robert

    What? Some of it makes more sense than others. But forcing drivers slower doesn't usually result in a major increase in driver's journey times. It also makes ANY street safer. These streets are probably safer than having a 45 mph street with segregated cycling infrastructure in many cases. I don't see the problems here.

  • Robert

    I'm very sympathetic with your parking problem. I wonder if maybe you could put through a petition to the city of Paris? This might allow for some improvements.