French Revolution

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

  • Zab

    How about more photos? They tell it like it is.

  • John Hunka

    The photo shows two lanes in the middle of a boulevard devoted exclusivly for buses, bikes and taxis. If I’m not mistaken, DOT rejected the proposal to put Class I bike lanes in the middle of Houston Street because it would endanger cyclists. I think this photo clearly shows that it is feasible to create a class I bike lanes in the middle of a street like Houston and, further, that a street like Houston can be re-engineered in such a way that intersectional conflicts between motorists and cyclists can be avoided.

  • ddartley

    My sketches for a Center-of-Ave, Bike-plus-Fire Lane are quite similar, but two questions:

    -Do bikes and buses get a green light before the cars around them do? If so, that would make intersections and turning a lot safer. (That’s a feature of “my” bike+fire+bus lane.)

    -Are motorists somehow able to cross from one side of such streets to another, while they’re on those avenues? “My” design DOES allow motorists to do so, because it doesn’t physically separate, like the pictured Paris model.

    Three reasons my design doesn’t contain physical separation:

    1. I figured the concession to motorists described above would make them more realistic politically. (Sure, if I were King, I would push cars off to the side, but I submit the designs to NYC officials, not the gods)

    2. I figured that without phys. separation, they’d be easier, cheaper, and faster to install

    3. There are some places where physical separation is just not feasible–e.g., areas where it could hinder emergency response vehicles.

    BUT, heck, if NYCDOT really might actually consider a lane like the Paris one above, believe me, I’d be very happy. It would certainly be nice for Broadway in Manhattan, esp. through Times Square.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Here are some photos for Zab:

    And everyone likes streaming video, right?

    Ddartley, I’m not sure what you mean by motorists crossing from one side of the street to another. These are mostly on large boulevards where you can go for more than a “long NYC block” without a left turn, and the lanes don’t change that.

    The boulevards that these bus/bike/taxi lanes are installed on are much wider than Broadway in Midtown. Some of them might be almost as wide as all of Times Square. Think Broadway on the Upper West Side or Park Avenue, but to put the Mobilien lanes in you’d have to tear up the medians.

    I personally think they’d be perfect for some of the wider boulevards in the outer boroughs: the Grand Concourse, Queens Boulevard or Fourth Avenue. It’d be a hard sell, though: they wouldn’t even do it on Pelham Parkway for the “BRT” pilot.

  • Ed Crotch

    Folks, America has been and will always be ruled by the car. What’s good for General Motors is good for America. That’s how it always will be. Why do you think we’re fighting a war? It’s sad, but politicians are ruled by big business in America so do you actually think they car about bicycles and buses? They care abouot getting each driving age individual into a vehicle of their own no matter how crowded the roads get.

  • ddartley

    Ed, your typo makes a nice bumper sticker for unashamed hummer drivers:

    “I car about bicycles and buses.”

  • Brit Pop

    So, Ed, given that GM is now basically bankrupt, where does that leave America?

    It’s not the 1950s anymore. A growing number of Americans, including many involved in “big business,” are coming to recognize that auto-dominated cities and auto-dependent lifestyles are not good for mobility, public health, long-term sustainability, even personal happiness and “big business.”

    Here in NYC, for example, big business, represented by the Parternship for NYC, has embraced the idea that automobile traffic is costing the city $13 billion per year.

  • Ed Crotch

    Doesn’t really matter what has happened to GM. GM still has stock at about $32 a share. Oh, did you see the market crash today, that’s what’s happening in America. Lots of people looking to make a quick buck and getting burnt.

    Politicians are still in the pockets of big business. They are bought and sold. Look at Bridsky and his parking garage contributors. It doesn’t matter what level you are on, you are being paid by someone. Campaign finance reform has been a joke. If this country wasn’t ruled by car and oil companies, Brooklyn would still have trolleys! Penn Station (the nice one) would still exist! And there would be an electric car and we wouldn’t be fighting this war.

    Don’t ever think that America can be as good as Europe, the people do not think like europeans. Americans think about themselves, Europeans think about their country. You can wave the stars and stripes as much as you want but you still worship the honky dollar.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    “America has been and will always be ruled by the car.” Funny, I think they said the same thing about Conestoga wagons 150 years ago, and about trains 100 years ago.

    America’s “love affair with the automobile” only started about sixty years ago, fueled by the Interstate Highway System. Take away the subsidies, and that love affair will sour pretty quick.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I have to mention that I honestly wasn’t that impressed with the pedestrian environment in Paris when I was there last summer. The Rue de Vaugirard was the same deadly, high-speed, narrow-sidewalked nightmare that I remembered from previous visits five and fifteen years before. Parking on sidewalks is an institution.

    Some of the sidewalks are literally two feet wide, so two tires of a van can make them completely impassible. But others, like the Boulevard du Montparnasse, have humungous sidewalks (really, 20-30 feet wide) that have actually been turned into parking lots, with some kind of muni-meter, by previous administrations. Imagine fifty Citroens on one of the Ocean Parkway malls, and you begin to get the idea. These are lovely tree-lined Parisian streets, but nobody hangs out there, because who wants to look at a parking lot?

    Of course in a lot of ways it’s still better than NYC, and it had improved in the previous five years. The Quartier vert car-free zones were nice. I’m not knocking the improvements at all, only saying that they still have a ways to go. Hopefully it’s gotten better since then and will continue to improve.

  • ddartley

    Really, at red lights (or whatever stop signal they use) do buses/bikes/taxis get to proceed BEFORE the cars? That would make intersections on these streets a lot safer.

  • Ed Crotch

    “America’s “love affair with the automobile” only started about sixty years ago, fueled by the Interstate Highway System. Take away the subsidies, and that love affair will sour pretty quick.”

    Please, enlighten me to as to how you get away from the city?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I take buses, trains or planes. Travel is really much more relaxing when you don’t have to constantly worry about killing yourself or somebody else.

  • Ed Crotch

    Sure you do.

    Then you walk from the train station/bus depot/airport to your hotel/motel/campsite.


  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Yes, Ed, believe it or not, there are plenty of places, even in the US, where you can get to, from and around without a car. I’ve had pleasant vacations in Amherst, MA; Norwalk, CT; Westport, NY; Frenchtown, NJ and Richmond, VA without setting foot in a private car, just to name a few. That’s not counting all the big cities that have convenient public transportation.

    I’ve posted these books on Streetsblog before:

    So Ed, are you in favor of liveable streets, or do you just come here to get into arguments?

  • Ed Crotch

    Amherst, MA; Norwalk, CT; Westport, NY; Frenchtown, NJ and Richmond, VA.


  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    So I guess I’ll take that as “I’m just here to troll, not do anything constructive”?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Well, if you’re going to doubt my word, I don’t know why I should bother writing. I do take the bus on vacation, and I’ve taken buses all over the country. They’re not my favorite mode of transport, but they work.

    If you weren’t sealed in your own worldview, you might actually check things out and find that there are exciting places to go without a car. Just because the towns I mentioned aren’t interesting to you doesn’t mean that there aren’t places out there that you’d find interesting. And yes, there are plenty of rural places and campsites that are accessible by bus or train.

    I wouldn’t do this if it were just about saving the planet. Honestly, I find road trips both boring and stressful at the same time. I’ve taken plenty of them; one particular drive to Mesa Verde National Park was really unpleasant because I had to spend about half the time behind the wheel. But you can keep telling yourself you’re having fun too, as you’re frustrated by highway traffic for hours, and then too fatigued to do anything once you arrive.

    Anyway, what does this have to do with Paris, or even with driving subsidies in the US? In France, in fact, you can get to some really rural places by bus and train, because there are enough people without cars to make it worth the money to run the buses and trains.


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