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 up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther

The Black Panther promotional poster. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Black Panther is one of the best reviewed superhero films of all time. It’s instantly become a cultural touchstone for black representation in movies, while shining a positive light on a continent almost totally ignored by Hollywood. But never mind all that – what about the trains?

The film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, a small, technologically advanced nation whose power comes from its main natural resource: huge supplies of a magical metal called vibranium. As is often the case in sci-fi, “technologically advanced” here means “full of skyscrapers and trains”. In other words, perfect Citymetric territory.

Here’s a mostly spoiler-free guide to Black Panther’s urbanism and transport.

City planning

It’s to the credit of Black Panther’s crew that there’s anything to talk about here at all. Fictional cities in previous Marvel films, such as Asgard from the Thor films or Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces.

Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city.

It’s almost a real city. Image: Marvel/Disney

We only really see one area close-up: Steptown, which according to designer Ruth Carter is the city’s hipster district. How the Golden City ended up with a bohemian area is never explained. In many cities, these formed where immigrants, artists and students arrived to take advantage of lower rents, but this seems unlikely with Wakanda’s stable economy and zero migration. Did the Golden City gentrify?

Urban transport

When we get out and about, things get a bit weirder. The narrow pedestrianised sand-paved street is crowded and lined with market stalls on both sides, yet a futuristic tram runs right down the middle. The tram’s resemblance to the chunky San Francisco BART trains is not a coincidence – director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland.

Steptown Streetcar, with a hyperloop train passing overhead. Image: Marvel/Disney.

People have to dodge around the tram, and the street is far too narrow for a second tram to pass the other way. This could be a single-track shuttle (like the former Southport Pier Tram), a one-way loop (like the Detroit People Mover) or a diversion through narrow streets (like the Dublin Luas Cross City extension). But no matter what, it’s a slow and inefficient way to get people around a major city. Hopefully there’s an underground station lurking somewhere out of shot.


Over the street runs a *shudder* hyperloop. If you’re concerned that Elon Musk’s scheme has made its way to Wakanda, don’t worry – this train bears no resemblance to Musk’s design. Rather, it’s a flying train that levitates between hoops in the open air. It travels very fast – too fast for urban transport, since it crosses a whole neighbourhood in a couple of seconds – and it doesn’t seem to have many stops, even at logical interchange points where the lines cross. Its main purpose is probably to bring people from outlying suburbs into the centre quickly.

There’s one other urban transport system seen in the film: as befitting a major riverside city, it has a ferry or waterbus system. We get a good look at the barges carrying tribal leaders to the ceremonial waterfalls, but overhead shots show other boats on the more mundane business of shuttling people up and down the river.

Transport outside the city

Unfortunately there’s less to say here. Away from the city, we only see people riding horses, following cattle-drawn sleds, or simply walking long distances. This is understandable given Wakanda’s masquerading as a developing country, but it makes the country very urban centric. Perhaps that’s why the Jabari hate the other tribes so much – poor transport investment means the only way to reach them is a narrow, winding mountain pass.

The one exception is in freight transport. Wakanda has a ridiculously developed maglev network for transporting vibranium ore. This actually follows a pattern seen in a lot of real African countries: take a look at a map of the continent and you’ll see most railways run to the coast.

Image: Bucksy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are primarily freight railways built to transport resources from mines and plantations to ports, with passenger transport an afterthought.

A high-speed maglev seems like overkill for carrying ore, especially as the film goes out of its way to point out that vibranium is too unstable to take on high-speed trains without careful safety precautions. Nevertheless, the scene where Shuri and Ross geek out about these maglevs might just be the single most relatable in any Marvel movie.

A very extravagant freight line. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Perhaps this all makes sense though. Wakanda is still an absolute monarchy, and without democratic input its king is naturally going to choose exciting hyperloop and maglev projects over boring local and regional transport links.

Here’s hoping the next Black Panther film sees T’Challa reforming Wakanda’s government, and then getting really stuck into double-track improvements to the Steptown Streetcar.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray tweets as @stejormur.

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