The mayor of Paris wants to build a new cycle route – but the police aren’t having it

A velo. Image: Getty.

Paris: the city of love, light and, apparently, infrastructure-based acrimony. In attempting to double the current amount of cycle lanes in Paris, the city’s mayor Anne Hidalgo has been embroiled into a war of words with police commissioner Michel Delpuech. This morning Le Monde dubbed the dispute “the battle of the bike”.

The reality, however, is actually far more mundane. Hidalgo wants to create a new two-way cycle lane from Place de la Bastille in the east of the city to Place de la Concorde in the west, running parallel to the river Seine. The new cycle route, which officials have said will be “one of the city’s centrepieces” when it’s completed in 2020, would massively open up the city centre to cyclists who must currently tussle with wide and unforgiving roads.

The proposed cycle route, in a very fetching yellow. Image: Google/CityMetric. 

But it would also, police say, cause a safety risk to the public. That’s because the proposed cycle lanes would require getting rid of one lane of traffic on Paris’ major road Rue de Rivoli. Police fear that this would lead to a more congested traffic flow, slowing down emergency services on code blue. In Delpuech’s words when he took the story to Le Monde, the proposal “sets alarm bells ringing”.

There’s a wider issue here. Président Macron has already positioned himself as the world’s environmental saviour, following that divisive, Trump-baiting, Microsoft Paint-designed ‘Make Our Planet Great Again’ tweet.

His early policies reflect that. Ecology minister Nicolas Hulot recently announced the government’s intention to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040. It’s a position that’s been widely praised, so when it comes to both bikes and cars, change is inevitably coming to Paris’ roads.

It’s not just the roads that are set to be transformed. Macron allegedly wants to revive a cost for hefty CO2 emissions for power utilities, while the new government is set to refuse new licenses for exploration of new oil and gas. Clearly, boosting the space for cyclists on Paris’ roads would help this new push for environmental conscientiousness which Macron is exploiting to position France as a world leader.

But as with any major infrastructure change, there’s a conservative fightback underway. Hidalgo’s plans now face an inconvenient police roadblock. What might frustrate green campaigners in France is the possibility Delpuech’s fears are justified: to lose a lane of traffic without a phasing-out period on one of Paris’ busiest roads will justifiably cause worries about whether traffic and emergency services will be able to effectively cut through.


Hidalgo, as yet, has not been able to allay the commissioner’s fears. In a secret back-and-forth correspondence over the final week of July, Delpuech voiced his concern to the mayor, and as yet remains unsatisfied – hence his going public.

The timing is damaging – and almost certainly deliberate. Construction on the new cycle route, which was approved unanimously back in 2015, was set to begin this month. Whether the commissioner can halt the project is unclear, but he has certainly timed his complaint well to cause the maximum possible headache.

En Marche, Hidalgo, and environmentalists in France will be hoping that this doesn’t foreshadow a conservative pushback to come from French infrastructures bracing themselves for change.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook