Mayor Anne Hidalgo started the transformation of the city a few years back and Paris is currently on a good path to become ‘a city where people can breathe’. You’ll instantly realise these changes when you get there. Arriving at one of the 30 platforms in the busy train station ‘Gare de l’Est’ provides you the feeling of being in a real big city. The train - on time. The taxi stand is not too busy but plenty of Toyota Mirai Hydrogen cars waiting for you. I am personally not a big fan of hydrogen in passenger vehicles, but Paris is a testing ground for such technology and the first of these vehicles I saw last year when we spent time in Paris seeing Christo’s wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe.
Nevertheless, I’ll choose to walk and absorb the vibes of the French capital. The streets are buzzing and full of vehicles of all types, however the mood seems to have changed: French car drivers were notoriously known for their ‘aggressive’ driving in the city. Now the majority of vehicles I see are sharing bikes and e-scooters. On the streets as much as on separate and secure lanes for micro-mobility vehicles. Even the pedestrians seem to have accepted that these lanes for cargo-bikes, E-Scooters, E-Bikes, bikes and other urban vehicles are sacred - there is a certain ease of cohabitation on Paris’ streets today. Maybe it just takes time, I reflect, to get inhabitants to get used to infrastructure changes. For me as a visitor these are clearly visible, moving through the city happens much more at ease than in former years.
Effective urban traffic requires a well functioning public transport system
Needless to say that any effective urban traffic solution requires a well functioning public transport system. In Paris this is based on underground transport and public buses. For the first time I see these buses being electric here, quietly, gracefully and without any smell they find their way through city traffic. The tube, or as the French say Métro, is the best means of transport when it comes to travelling across the city while avoiding traffic jams. My favourite line doesn’t have a driver, it’s automated and our ride from Champs Élysées Clemenceau to Avenue George V in the poche XVIth arrondissement is as smooth as you could dream about. Every station is sealed by glass walls - its glass doors automatically opening when it is safe to enter the train.
With the Olympics coming up in 2024, I decided to take a closer look at the sustainability of our half marathon too. The question is: How do you manage an event with 45,000 runners and avoid the piles of garbage such a massive group of people (running) produces. The race started from Pont de Sully down the quays of the Seine and the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand on its way to the Bois de Vincennes and its famous Château. All runners then headed back to the centre of Paris via Avenue Daumesnil before pouring into the majestic Place de la Bastille. 45,000 runners means a lot of drinks, bananas, other fruit, cakes, nuts - all to be distributed and leftovers to be collected.
Here are my main findings of why this event was sustainable
-->At the starting scene, recycling bins were placed for those that wanted to leave their jumper or jacket behind - the organisers in Paris collected a significant number of mostly warm clothing this way, which will now be used for poorer families or the homeless.
-->Distribution points for water, fruit and cakes were spread out over a long way - a total of 200 huge bins helped collect everything which was not needed, including empty drinks bottles and the like. The waste management at this major event was really well organised.
The number of helping hands at the Paris run was huge - some took this event as a trial for the Olympics next year.
-->The organisers opened a special tent for those runners that planned to leave their own micro-mobility vehicles while running. Safely stored, all to be collected with your starting number - no need for keys or locks.
-->Public transport was available and the bikes sharing companies made sure that enough bikes were available travelling to and from the event. Paris has shown that these smaller micro vehicles are part of the mobility mix in the city, whether as a sharing vehicle or while bringing your own.
Let me finish off by quoting this slogan I saw on a board in the city:
“If you want to run, run a kilometre. If you want to change your life, run a marathon.” A half-marathon was a good start and the French capital proved ready for the big event next year - mobility solutions included.
Photos courtesy of Michael Brecht.