Paris: the city of love, light and, apparently, infrastructure-based acrimony. In attempting to double the current amount of cycle lanes in Paris, the city’s mayor Anne Hidalgo has been embroiled into a war of words with police commissioner Michel Delpuech. This morning Le Monde dubbed the dispute “the battle of the bike”.
The reality, however, is actually far more mundane. Hidalgo wants to create a new two-way cycle lane from Place de la Bastille in the east of the city to Place de la Concorde in the west, running parallel to the river Seine. The new cycle route, which officials have said will be “one of the city’s centrepieces” when it’s completed in 2020, would massively open up the city centre to cyclists who must currently tussle with wide and unforgiving roads.
The proposed cycle route, in a very fetching yellow. Image: Google/CityMetric.
But it would also, police say, cause a safety risk to the public. That’s because the proposed cycle lanes would require getting rid of one lane of traffic on Paris’ major road Rue de Rivoli. Police fear that this would lead to a more congested traffic flow, slowing down emergency services on code blue. In Delpuech’s words when he took the story to Le Monde, the proposal “sets alarm bells ringing”.
There’s a wider issue here. Président Macron has already positioned himself as the world’s environmental saviour, following that divisive, Trump-baiting, Microsoft Paint-designed ‘Make Our Planet Great Again’ tweet.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) June 1, 2017
His early policies reflect that. Ecology minister Nicolas Hulot recently announced the government’s intention to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040. It’s a position that’s been widely praised, so when it comes to both bikes and cars, change is inevitably coming to Paris’ roads.
It’s not just the roads that are set to be transformed. Macron allegedly wants to revive a cost for hefty CO2 emissions for power utilities, while the new government is set to refuse new licenses for exploration of new oil and gas. Clearly, boosting the space for cyclists on Paris’ roads would help this new push for environmental conscientiousness which Macron is exploiting to position France as a world leader.
But as with any major infrastructure change, there’s a conservative fightback underway. Hidalgo’s plans now face an inconvenient police roadblock. What might frustrate green campaigners in France is the possibility Delpuech’s fears are justified: to lose a lane of traffic without a phasing-out period on one of Paris’ busiest roads will justifiably cause worries about whether traffic and emergency services will be able to effectively cut through.
Hidalgo, as yet, has not been able to allay the commissioner’s fears. In a secret back-and-forth correspondence over the final week of July, Delpuech voiced his concern to the mayor, and as yet remains unsatisfied – hence his going public.
The timing is damaging – and almost certainly deliberate. Construction on the new cycle route, which was approved unanimously back in 2015, was set to begin this month. Whether the commissioner can halt the project is unclear, but he has certainly timed his complaint well to cause the maximum possible headache.
En Marche, Hidalgo, and environmentalists in France will be hoping that this doesn’t foreshadow a conservative pushback to come from French infrastructures bracing themselves for change.