Written by PUBLIC founder, Rob Forbes
“We are leading a more global fight against the monopoly held by cars in our city and in our lives,” declares Hidalgo. “We want to create a peaceful city, free from the hegemony of private cars, to give public transit, bicycles, and pedestrians their rightful places. Reducing car traffic will help make Paris more pleasant and more full of life.”
– Anne Hidalgo, Major of Paris, France
I just returned from Paris having not been there for almost ten years. I went to see the sights, check-in on the Parisian biking scene and see how the Velib city bike sharing program was holding up. When Velib launched in 2007 it was radical and exciting. It became a model for many cities to follow and was one of my biggest inspirations for PUBLIC bikes.
In the ten years since its launch, the Velib system has done nothing but improve. In my opinion, it leads the modern world in age, reach, efficiency and elegance. When you’re biking around Paris you see people of all ages and backgrounds using the Velib bikes in all corners of the city. The amount and diversity of riders in Paris is also likely because the bike lanes there are more extensive and respected there.
The Velib bikes themselves, as well as the stations they are housed in, are kept in great shape. The bikes are neutral in color which keeps them from becoming an eyesore. When you are in Paris you want to look at the public spaces, architecture, parks, fashionable Parisians, not at the bikes.
Like fashion and architecture, why does Paris pull off the city bike system so well when other cities can’t get it right?
There are numerous cultural and historic reasons. Paris is blessed with an amazing urban design and a democratic public consciousness that dates back to the 19th century when Napoleon III gave Baron Hausmann the nod to redesign the city. Paris is respected internationally for its layout like no other modern city. It enforces strict building codes and constraints that help keep capitalist developers in check. Parisians are lovers of beauty and fiercely protective of their “look and feel.”
That said, in the late 20th century, Paris suffered mightily from the influx of cars and suburban commuters that brought a surge of traffic and pollution to the city. Thus, in 2007 Paris embarked on various campaigns to take back the city. It implemented bike lanes to help improve traffic congestion, continued the growth of its elegant and cheap Metro, reserved parking for e-cars, built special taxi-only lanes and so on.
The city even closed some major central thoroughfares to improve the pedestrian flow and rallied behind other initiatives such as the “reconquest of the Seine” led by mayor Anne Hidalgo, the first woman elected mayor of Paris. Hidalgo was elected in 2014 and has earned broad respect across political lines despite her Socialist background. She’s doing for Paris what Michael Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Khan did for New York .
Today, France is undergoing much of the same political uncertainty that we’re facing in the USA, and it has a major election coming up in April. But seeing the positive social change that is taking place in Paris reminds us that acting locally may be the best solution to this uncertainty. Mayors make a difference.