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Two lanes in the middle of this Parisian avenue have been set aside for the exclusive use of buses, bikes and taxis. Private automobiles have been squeezed into the margins.

Serge Schemman has a great little essay on Parisian transportation and public space policy on the editorial page of today's New York Times. I was recently in Paris as well and was struck by the remarkable transformation currently underway in that city. London's congestion pricing system is held up as the model for New York City but the Parisian policy of re-allocating street space to buses, bikes, pedestrians and taxis could be done, for the most part, without going to Albany for permission. Schemman offers a nice summary:

Now that Michael Moore has broken a taboo by holding up France as a model for national health care, maybe it’s safe to point out other things France seems to do right. Like how Paris is trying to manage traffic and auto pollution.

What Paris has done right is to make it awful to get around by car and awfully easy to get around by public transportation or by bike. Any tourist in a rent-a-car who’s circumnavigated the Arc de Triomphe most likely will never drive in Paris again. But there are plenty of Parisians who do it all the time — far too many, in fact. So Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, a Socialist, vowed in coming to office in 2001 to reduce car traffic by 40 percent by 2020.

He’s serious about it. I live near the Boulevard St. Michel, and two years ago the city laid down a granite divider between the bus-only lane and the cars, squeezing private cars from three lanes to two. Taxis and bicycles may use the bus lane.

At the same time, every bus stop was newly equipped with a screen that told you how long the wait was for the bus. During rush hour, when the cars stand still along Boul’ Mich, there’s nothing better than zooming past them in a bus.

Read on...

Photo: Aaron Naparstek, Parisian Bus Rapid Transit lane, March 19, 2007

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