“What are the top 3 things Paris has done in the last 10 years to deliver a genuinely sustainable transport system?”

The other day the phone rang and I heard the voice of my long time friend and valued collaborator Professor John Whitelegg telling me: “on 8th November I am giving a presentation in London at a conference organised by SNCF.  It’s all about London and Paris and what the cities can learn from each other.  I will go further (as usual) and argue that both can make a lot more progress on things like bike use, traffic reduction, getting rid of air pollution, zero deaths  and injuries  etc if they get a lot bolder and start engaging with the vision thing.  I will say that Paris can learn from London on congestion charging but I want  something quite big that I can say in what ways London can learn from Paris.  What are the top 3 things  that Paris has done in the last 10 years to deliver a genuinely sustainable transport system?”

Hmm. Let’s see:  “something quite big that I can say about what ways London can learn from Paris”?  Well, what about . . .

Forget London — and for sure forget about old-fashioned congestion pricing as a strategy for Paris. There are better ways of getting cars out of town and the Paris team have looked at just about all of them (and wisely not done most of them)  But now to answer your questions.

First there are not 3 but closer to 300  “top things  that Paris has done in the last 10 years . . . “.  What I am trying to say with that is that our Parisian friends  are taking a “Complex Disorganized Systems” approach (“disorganized” in this context is not a bad word) and it really has a huge number of individual pieces and parts.  And at the helm they more or less are able to keep all the details rolling in pretty much the same broad directions.

So before I go on look at some specifics of practice, let me share with you my understanding of the first three important policy points that need to be understood in this respect. they are critical to the success of the program as a whole.

1. Modesty: They cannot be said to be delivering a “genuinely sustainable transport system”.  To the best of my knowledge, no one is. But they are doing a pretty damn good job of it and deserve to be counted as among the world leaders.  But they are neither  “genuinely sustainable” nor perfect. They are just making their city a great place to live and get around.  But not perfect and still much to be done.

2. Continuity: The most important feature of their work and accomplishments of all is their ability to maintain CONTINUITY, and along with that CONSISTENCY.  There is of course the inevitable start and stop (and slower than first expected happenings), but overall they are maintaining course with a minimum of discursive political side-tracking.

3. Politics: I would credit this to the Paris city team’s strong continuing commitment which is the result of a certain creative tension over the last decade between the Socialist majority and their decision to work with the Greens (even when they hate them. Hey, it may be Paris but it’s still politics.). This has made for a steady hand at the helm.  (On the other hand they do not have the fun of the Ken and Boris show which you all seem to enjoy so much. But then again British humor evades me.)

So now for your “something quite big” projects?  Well as I say there are hundreds of candidates, but here are a few that definitely come to mind.

1. Vélib’: The rule-breaking world-first mega public bike project which worked well out of the box on the first day it was introduced and which is, to this day, a great, convenient and cheap way to get around in the city. Moreover, the PBS is supported by consistently improving conditions for safe cycling all over the city. Is it Amsterdam yet? Nope, but as a couple of hundred thousand city cycling Parisians will attest it’s a pretty good roll in the right direction.

2. Mobilien: The Mobilien and all the rest of their reserved lanes bus priority system.  Again, continuity has been wisely combined with persistent innovation (and modesty) here. They started with serious work on priority for buses in the early seventies, at a time when London was just playing around with the concept. They then built, improved and extended them to this day.  The Mobilien is, in my view, the BRT that every city in the world should be studying (pace TransMilenio and Curitiba).

3. Parking: Someone somewhere in the administration must have figured out that this is the poor man’s congestion charge. The parking garrote is tightened in a steady and behavior changing way, as this would be occasional city driver can attest. It just hurts too much, so forget it and take a better way to get there.

4. Go slow: Now, how is it possibly that I have run by the city’s considerable and continuing accomplishment to slow down traffic and create safe zones, in some cases down to 15 kph.  There are many parts to this, but the overall trend is to slow down top speeds, and in most cases to sue street architecture to make sure that they are respected.

I have to stop now, but I guess at the end of the day the mayor and his team have learned from the example of ex-Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who said, when it comes to dealing with car drivers with a sustainable transport policy, “Don’t you understand Eric? They are supposed to scream”.

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The following thought-provoking table from EPOMM ‘s excellent collaborative Modal Split Tool at www.epomm.eu/tems/index.phtml shows how the city of Paris  is doing:

To which someone may reasonably suggest that, well Paris is a small, densely populated rich city (2.1 million people living in a space of 104 Sq Km) making all of this just that much easier. No problem. But that was not the question asked, and what is most important anyway is that virtually all of those indicators are moving in the right direction.  Not surprising, eh? after all they have a plan and are executing it.  QED.

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eb-about the editor - 9mar14

2 thoughts on ““What are the top 3 things Paris has done in the last 10 years to deliver a genuinely sustainable transport system?”

  1. Eric, I think you have touched on the basic philosophy of the “disorganized plans”. The consistency in the vision of the plans that evolved the transport system in the desired direction. In India, I think we concentrate too much on the “plans”(which is important) but somehow lose track of the vision (why, what is that we want to achieve/see in our cities) attached to these plans.

  2. Pingback: What is Paris Teaching the World about Sustainable Transportation? « Pollution Free Cities

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