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The bicycle has long had a place in French culture, mostly for sport or leisure use, but following an initiative by Paris’s mayor Anne Hidalgo to increase the city’s cycle lanes – under the name Plan Vélo – cycling is now growing as a commuter activity. Hidalgo initially promised a doubling of the existing 700km of lanes to 1,400km by March 2020; she has since revised that down to a total of 1,000km, and just under 40% had been built by the end of 2019.
Following the installation in September of electric meters to monitor the amount of cycle usage, the city can now give more accurate figures for levels of cycling in Paris. The figure of a 54% increase covers the period between September 2018 and September 2019. In the central district of Île de France, meters recorded 840,000 bike journeys per day. That is still well below the total for car trips of 14.8 million, but car trips are down 5% since 2010.
Research shows the most common reason for cycling is commuting by bike. In fact there is a word for it in everyday Parisian vocabulary: ‘vélotaf’. That also explains why money has been invested in the so-called RER-V cycle network, which aims to expand cycle paths outside the ‘Périphique’ Paris ring road so cycling to work is a viable option for people in the suburbs. The mayor’s office says the RER-V network is intended to enable cyclists ‘to ride without doubt, without danger and over long distances’.
However, parking for bicycles remains limited in Paris, and while the French government is also making money available for municipalities to improve infrastructure that makes cycling safer, gaps within the Greater Paris area still need to be addressed. T&E’s French member, Réseau Action Climat (RAC), says the cycling budget that is allocated by the government to municipalities is falling short on what’s needed.
Hidalgo’s Plan Vélo has faced opposition from the oil and car industries, and from motorists who complain that road space has been reduced to make way for cycle lanes. Cycle commuting still only accounts for 3% of commuting in France, while 70% of the French working population commutes by car.