Paris Once Had Too Many Cars, Now It Has Too Many Bikes

    29 September 2023

    Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has long worked to make her city less dependent on cars. She wanted to see more people using bicycles, or bikes, to get around.

    Over a number of years, the city government put in restrictions on cars and increased the amount of bike lanes from 200 kilometers to over 1,000 kilometers.

    Now, her effort seems to have paid off.

    People ride on Rivoli street in Paris, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/John Leicester)
    People ride on Rivoli street in Paris, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/John Leicester)

    This year, Parisians are not complaining about too much automobile traffic. Instead, they say there are too many bikes.

    Thibault Quere is a spokesperson for France's Federation of Bicycle Users. He said he remembered seeing "traffic jams all over the place" when he traveled by car as a child.

    "Now, it's really like a bike traffic jam," he said. "It's kind of a good difficulty to have, especially when we think about what Paris used to be."

    Some famous roads along the River Seine are completely closed to cars. Now you see people riding bikes, running, and walking with their families along the river.

    In another part of Paris, a bike path on Sebastopol Boulevard is one of the busiest in Europe, after opening in 2019. In one week in early September, it recorded a record high of 124,000 riders.

    Paris en Selle is a volunteer organization supporting cycling in the city. It says the French capital's bike paths are busier than some popular ones in London and almost as busy as some in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is known for its high bike usage.

    Experts say the revolution will continue. Instead of the honking of horns and pollutive gas from cars, Paris will become known for cyclists, they say.

    The city will host the summer Olympics in 2024 and plans to add more bike lanes by then. Paris wants to reduce its pollution by half during the games, even as visitors from around the world will be in the city for the event. Organizers say all of the competition sites will be reachable by bike through a 60-kilometer network of bike lanes.

    The change to Paris, however, has not been easy. With more people using bikes, more people are making mistakes. Some of them are new to cycling and disobey traffic rules.

    Michel Gelernt rode through the Place de la Concorde in the central part of the city.

    "Paris has become unlivable," he said. "No one can stand each other."

    Gelernt, who is retired and in his 70s, said he often used public transportation and for-hire motorized scooters. But he changed to cycling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    He said he uses Paris' bike-sharing system for 80 percent of his trips. He still has complaints.

    "Everyone behaves selfishly ... the traffic is a lot worse than it was," he said.

    But the environment may be improving. Cycling is good exercise and helps reduce pollution, which is still a problem for the large city. The French government blames atmospheric pollution for 48,000 early deaths in the country each year.

    Hidalgo was re-elected in 2020 and plans to keep making what she calls a "Paris that breathes." Her newest five-year bike plan includes over $250 million for more bike paths and bike parking. The new budget is an increase of over $100 million from her first five-year plan.

    I'm Dan Friedell.

    Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    complain –v. to speak badly about the condition of something

    traffic jam –n. a situation where too many cars are on the road at once

    honk –v. to press on an instrument to create a warning sound

    horn –n. an instrument that makes a warning sound

    selfish –adj. something that a person does without thinking of others first