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.

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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.