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How Paris is Beating Traffic Without Congestion Pricing

by Ben Fried

Biking by the Seine during car-free hours on the Georges Pompidou Expressway.

The mayor of a global metropolis, elected to his first term in 2001, set out to reduce driving and promote greener
modes of transportation in his city. Congestion pricing turned out to be unfeasible, because influential political forces
in the suburbs believed, rightly or wrongly, that charging people to drive into the urban core was regressive.
Undaunted, the mayor found other means to achieve his transportation agenda.
The mayor is Bertrand Delano, and the city is Paris, where private auto use has dropped 20 percent in a few short
As Mayor Bloomberg and the team at DOT chart a way forward without London-style congestion charging, it's worth
noting that for all the differences between New York and Paris, Delano also confronted a vocal car culture
while winning huge victories for pedestrians, bikes, and transit. To get a better sense of how New York can apply the
lessons of Paris, Streetsblog spoke to Luc Nadal and Aime Gauthier of the Institute for Transportation and
Development Policy about the hurdles faced by Delano and his deputy mayor for transportation, Denis Baupin.
To begin with, congestion pricing was considered completely untenable from a political point of view. Paris proper is
not much larger than the proposed congestion zone in New York, and like Manhattan it is increasingly seen as the

domain of the prosperous. Levying a fee perceived mainly to affect the working-class suburbs "would be very difficult
to sell politically," said Nadal. "Mayor Delano put that solution aside from the beginning."
Delano and Baupin decided instead to rethink how the public right-of-way was divvied up on Paris streets. In 2002,
they launched Quartiers Verts ("Green Neighborhoods"), an initiative to improve pedestrian space and reduce traffic
in residential areas. The administration anticipated especially strong opposition to the parking policies in the plan -higher rates, a reduction in the amount of on-street parking, and the elimination of free parking altogether. To
counteract the expected outcry, the city tied those reforms to the introduction of residential parking permits, which are
now available for a nominal yearly fee. With RPP still fresh in New Yorkers' minds following the congestion pricing
debate, could permits be an effective carrot in a similar overhaul of parking policy here?
Delano's next major initiative -- Espaces Civiliss ("Civilized Spaces") -- took aim at Paris's most car-friendly
boulevards. The first such project, on Boulevard de Magenta, trimmed a six-lane road down to two traffic lanes and
two bus lanes, with the remainder going to sidewalks and street trees. This substantial redistribution of space did not
happen overnight. Launched in 2002, Espaces Civiliss yielded its first finished boulevard in 2005. About half a dozen
such transformations have been completed so far, with plans for another on the way.

Separate bus and bike lanes on Boulevard Rochechouart, one of Paris's new "civilized spaces."

As DOT embarks on a roughly similar project for 34th Street, Paris offers some insight about what to expect from the
public and the press. "Theres been widespread satisfaction on the part of the public at large, and the local
communities," said Nadal. "However, theres been a lot of media activity around the congestion that some of these
projects have caused during construction and after." The media fixation on slower traffic flows was picked up by
Delano's political opposition, though Nadal notes it didn't find much traction. "They tried to use it as best they could,"
he said, but Delano was re-elected to a second six-year term last fall, garnering 58 percent of the vote.
The construction of physically separated lanes for buses and bikes also set off concerns about business deliveries.
The great majority of new bus lanes are curbside, so the city identified places to reserve for delivery parking, Nadal
said. A new type of permit was issued for store owners, contractors, and other businesses who need short-term
parking for trucks and vans. Vehicles with the delivery permit can park in the special slots for up to 30 minutes at no

A delivery zone set off from a separated bus lane. At four meters wide, the lanes are designed to allow buses to pass bicycles and
half-parked delivery vehicles (photo: Luc Nadal).

The Quartiers Verts and Espaces Civiliss initiatives helped generate a 50 percent increase in bicycle modeshare,
but the boost wasn't visible enough to justify the expense of the bike infrastructure. Then cameVlib, the city's
ambitious bikeshare system. Part of the motivation behind Vlib, said Gauthier, was to make better use of existing
bikeways. Providing public access to more than 10,000 bikes that anyone can ride for a pittance has doubled the
number of bike trips made on Paris streets. Bicycle modeshare now stands at about three percent.
This transformative leap has come at a minimal perceived cost to the city, thanks to a deal with JCDecaux, the
outdoor advertising giant. "The Vlib program was a really innovative way of packaging a deal so it didn't cost a lot of

money," said Gauthier. "They worked with Decaux to implement the whole system. Total investment and operation
costs are covered by Decaux. In return they get the right to do public advertising. That way it doesn't feel like it's
taxpayer expense." While Decaux retains the revenue from billboards, bus shelters, and other advertising in public
spaces, the city pockets the fares paid by Vlib customers, estimated to exceed 30 million euros per year (even
though the first 30 minutes of bike rental are free). For more details on the Vlib contract, fee structure, and other
aspects of the Paris mobility plan, see the 2007 edition [PDF] of ITDP's magazine, Sustainable Transport.

The Vlib station on Rue Louis Blanc. Most stations have replaced on-street parking spaces, adding up to thousands of fewer
spaces for cars by the time of full implementation.

"Vlib has been a smashing success politically and in the media," said Nadal. After seeing Vlib in action, Paris's
inner-ring suburbs -- the rough equivalent of New York's outer boroughs -- clamored for their own piece of it. Already,
a few municipalities have partially implemented some form of bikeshare. The Paris experience suggests that, in New
York, launching an intensive pilot program with stations clustered in a dense network in one part of the city -- the
band between 14th and Houston, say -- could set the stage for an incremental but steady buy-in from other
The expansion of Vlib has not come without challenges. For one, Paris's suburbs have their own contracts with
outdoor advertising firms. To integrate with the Paris system, each would have to reach an agreement with
JCDecaux, raising legal questions of unfair competition. Putting aside the vagaries of French anti-trust law, the
pertinent issue for New York is that Paris and its metro region must also cope with problems of disjointed jurisdiction

and bureaucratic silos. Nowhere is this more instructive than in the case of the Mobilien, the BRT-esque system
launched by Delano and Baupin.

Paris has built dedicated busways for the Mobilien. Expanding enhanced bus service region-wide will require complex
negotiations between the regional transportation authority and different municipalities.

Featuring dedicated bus corridors, signal priority, and raised stations, the Mobilien required the city to make
significant changes to the infrastructure of Paris streets, including the conversion of on-street parking to bus right-ofway. At first, of course, there was an outcry. In the neighborhood of Montparnasse on the Left Bank, the locals held a
funeral procession for the neighborhood and flew flags that read, "Le Mort de Montparnasse" ("The Death of
Montparnasse"). The owner of the famous Caf Select worried that the loss of parking space would kill his business.
Now most of his employees have a reliable bus to get them to work, and it's nicer to sit at a sidewalk caf on a street
that isn't choked with traffic. "We've come to love it," he said.
Taking the Mobilien across city limits, however, is proving trickier than winning over public opinion. The bus network is
planned by a regional authority that negotiates routes with each municipality. "Decisionmaking can be protracted and
political," said Nadal, especially since some suburbs are much more car-oriented than Paris. In last year's local
elections, candidates debated whether to streamline this process by creating a new municipal jurisdiction that would
include the first ring of suburbs. By comparison, some of the inter-agency cooperation that would most benefit New
York -- like having the MTA agree to let DOT's BRT routes cross East River bridges -- looks like a walk in the park.
Along with expanding Vlib, the Mobilien, and a new network of tramways ringing the city, Delano plans to use his
second term to launch a system of car-sharing, or, to use the French term, "autopartage." Renting a public car will
cost significantly more than a Vlib bike, though regular use would add up to much less, of course, than maintaining a
car of one's own. While the network of car-sharing stations -- located mostly in existing garages -- is intended to

actually reduce car ownership, the administration has cannily pitched it as proof that Delano is not out to get
motorists. "He can say that he is not anti-car, but for a rational use of cars when there's really a need," said Nadal.
Appeasing and outfoxing the auto lobby in one fell swoop -- that's the kind of deft maneuver Delano has relied on
more than any innate Parisian antipathy to the car. Something to keep in mind the next time someone says they can
do it Paris but never in New York.

Paris Wins the ITDP Sustainable Transport Award

by Jason Varone

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy has chosen Paris for its 2008 Sustainable Transportation
Award. In a letter from the ITDP Board of Directors to Paris Mayor Bertrand Delano, the Institute praises the French
capitol's recent transportation policies, most notably the Vlib project:
Under your leadership, Paris has implemented a range of innovative mobility solutions with vision, commitment and
vigor. Vlib, the boldest bicycle share program to date, makes the city a leader in the implementation of a new form of
individual mass transit. Programs such as Quartier verts, Espace civiliss, 'Rseau vert' shared streets, and the
growing network of quality cycling facilities have made strides in reclaiming street space for people. The new
'Mobilien' Bus Rapid Transit, and 'Traverses' Microbus neighborhood loops have increased transportation service and
scope. All these achievements stand as new symbols of the priority of walking, cycling, and riding public
transportation over private cars in urban space.

It is because of these innovative efforts that we wish to award Paris the 2008 Sustainable Transport Award. London
will also be receiving the Award in recognition of its expanded congestion charging zone, implementing a low
emissions zone, and t2025, the city's 20 year transport plan.