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 While NYC Talks Policy,
 Paris Basks on the Seine
                  nly a few years back,
                  Paris, like New York, was
                  a city overtaken by private
                  cars. It was also fast losing its
                  luster to bicycle and pedes-
 trian-friendly European cities such as Copen-
 hagen and Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague.
 Czech-French novelist Milan Kundera found
 in Paris the inspiration to write Immortality, a
 novel featuring two friends who sneak out at
 night to slash car tires.
    Then, in 2001, with the election of Mayor
 Bertrand Delanoë, Paris changed direction.
 Delanoë campaigned on the promise to “fight,
 with all the means at my disposal, against the
 harmful, ever-increasing and unacceptable              Paris-Plage	is	more	
 hegemony of the automobile.” He meant what             than	an	emblem	for	
 he said and proved it by appointing Denis              livable	streets,	it	
 Baupin, a resolute Green Party councilman,             touches	the	lives	
 as Deputy-Mayor for Transportation.                    of	Parisians	on	a	
    Over the next six years, under their watch,         personal	level.
 the streets of the city have been overhauled.

 The first three lines of a brand new Bus
 Rapid Transit system and one line of tram
 have opened. The bicycle network doubled in          relentless determination in the face of stiff     tions have become the great new icons of the
 length with some 150 new miles built, for the        opposition. But most importantly, it took the     good life in Paris. Both make great places to
 most part protected from car traffic.                talent of Delanoë, a pragmatic Socialist with     seek contact with (and amongst) the locals;
    Major thoroughfares have been rebuilt. On         a flare for publicity. Delanoë successfully       the city echoes with the love stories that
 the Boulevard de Magenta, an equivalent to           staged the drama of reclaiming the public         began there. The successful transformation
 New York’s deadly Queens Boulevard, hap-             sphere from the auto-dominated city. He suc-      of the transportation system has clearly been
 less pedestrians used to be run down and             ceeded in making people dream of convert-         enabled by the concrete and visible projects of
 speeding traffic blighted the adjacent proper-       ing their nasty roads into public spaces where    the new public realm, and the renewed public
 ties. Under the new administration, Magenta,         human interaction and spectacle live.             urban culture they support.
 and several other major roads were completely           As a symbol of the changes to come, in the        New York, meanwhile, has been trying
 redesigned as state of the art complete streets.     summer of 2002, Delanoë closed the Georges        hard to emulate congestion pricing à la Sin-
 They feature bike lanes, bus lanes, new trees        Pompidou expressway along the right bank          gapore and London. Both of these cities have
 and improved pedestrian facilities.                  of the Seine River in the heart of Paris and      impressively reduced automobile emissions
    Neighborhood life between the thorough-           turned it into a beach. “Paris-Plage” was com-    and dominance over street space. But reforms
 fares has also been transformed. Some 25             plete with sand, palm trees, beach volleyball,    that talk of transit funding and traffic man-
 Quartier Verts (Green Neighborhoods) have            open-air cafés and dance halls. It angered        agement, however important, don’t truly
 been completed so far. Widened sidewalks             motorists but it was nonetheless a smashing       capture the public’s imagination or build
 replaced surface parking slots. Streetscapes         popular success. It attracts 4 million visitors   an enduring consensus around more livable
 were redesigned, public spaces improved,             each summer. There is now serious talk of         streets. What is missing in New York is the
 trees planted, and sharp new street furniture        closing the Georges Pompidou for good.            drama unfolding on Paris’ streets, and in the
 installed. The Quartier Verts were made into            In July 2007, the city launched the Vélib’     panache of Paris-Plage and Vélib’. These are
 traffic cells, with street directions revised so     (freedom) bike share program. It turned           the icons that successfully transform the way
 that cars can enter, but not pass through, a         thousands of parking spaces into Vélib bike       people interact with each other and their city.
 neighborhood. Speed limits were lowered              parking stations. With Vélib’, Parisians no       If we are to really galvanize New Yorkers’
 to 18 miles an hour and cyclists allowed to          longer need to own a car; they also don’t         will to reclaim their streets, the highly visible
 run freely, including counter-flow, along the        necessarily need to own a bike of their own       changes to the public realm taking place cross
 traffic-calmed streets. A new system of styl-        to ride around the city. With an average of       the English Channel merit a closer look. o
 ish low-floor microbuses enhanced pedestrian         80,000 Vélib’ rides per day, and peaks above
 movement inside each neighborhood.                   150,000, total bicycle ridership in the city      Luc Nadal is the Technical Director of Urban Develop-
    None of the above transformations were            has increased by half.                            ment for the Institute for Transportation and Development
 trivial or easy to pull off. It took Baupin’s           In the end, Paris-Plage and the Vélib’ sta-    Policy.

	    W inter   2008                                                            

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