Left: Velib System, Right Mayor Anne Hidalgo
I just returned from a trip to Paris, the first in almost ten years. I went especially to see how their city bike system – the Velib – was holding up. The Velib launched in 2007 as the first major City Bike program in Europe, and quickly became an example for other cities to follow. It was very inspirational in my decision to start PUBLIC bikes. The Velib city bikes today, ten years later, are clean, ubiquitous, well maintained, and ridden by all ages in an ever-expanding network of bike lanes. It is the largest city bike system outside China. One of the nicest details is their neutral palette which allows the bikes to blend in to the urban background. (When in Paris you want to look at the architecture, fashion, and people, not the bikes.)
The Metro, the city’s other low-impact mode of transportation, has gotten even better in my absence: more extensive, faster, and still costs still costs under $2.00 to ride. The upholstery looks like Paul Smith had a hand in it. Paris feels amazingly free from traffic snarls compared to ten years ago, at least partially because of these systems. The city also provides parking for e-cars, special taxi lanes, and other initiatives to improve air quality and mobility.
Left: Metro Upholstery, Right: L’île de la Cité
How and why do all these systems work so well in Paris today? History and tradition play a part (Parisians demand a beautiful, usable city), but the reason Paris is so cool today results from the leadership of Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Hidalgo, a woman of Spanish descent, was elected in 2014 as the first woman to hold this position. She has been making bold changes to improve Paris, behaving a like a socialist version Michael Bloomberg. The most dramatic example of her initiatives is the closing down of roadways on the right bank of the Seine in what has been referred to as “the Reconquest of the Seine.”
Her actions have not pleased all parties of course, as no one likes to give up parking and have their daily routes messed with. But she manages to get support from both left and right political parties. And in our era of partisan gridlock it is refreshing to see that a person of values, integrity, can forward an enlightened “populist” agenda despite riots, bombings and an antithetical populist nationalism similar to what we are experiencing in the US.
Beyond the upgrades in mobility, the sidewalks, parks, museums, and public spaces in Paris are all well maintained with access to all. There is no major city in the western world that is as elegant and where the Public is well taken care of and respected. Paris is not flawless. You will see some homeless street people. And I was staying in the gentrified central areas that do not have the same problems as the outlying districts and suburbs. But the beauty seen for the streets is remarkable. I cannot help but think that anyone visiting Paris by foot, bike, or Metro or car would be inspired if not astounded.
Optimism: Paris reminds us that all politics are local.
There is a major election coming next month in France, with powerful forces from the left and right colliding over similar globalization and immigration issues as we see at play in the US. Whatever the outcome, Paris will be Paris, rolling along elegantly, a model for many other cities. A strong smart mayor with a commitment to the public good can transcend national politics and give us some sense of control.
Trump’s friend Jim feels differently about Paris
I just finished writing this and then came across this New Yorker article. Please read Who is Trumps Friend Jim? It’s a comical investigation into the “substantial guy” who told the Trump that “Paris is no longer Paris.” Looks like Paris’s Eiffel Tower is safe from competition