Paris bicycle revolution: COVID accelerates Paris going Green

Bicycle riding on the streets of Paris used to frighten me.  Cycling is not new in Paris. The COVID lockdown and subsequent economic slowdown have created an opportunity for Mayor Anne Hidalgo to expeditiously add 400 miles of bike lanes to an already extensive network that she began in 2015. 

A number of thoroughfares in Paris are now closed to automobile traffic, allowing only cyclists and pedestrians to gain access.  Despite being called ‘transitional’, many believe these ‘COVID’ lanes are here to stay.

Paris bicycle revolution: COVID accelerates Paris going Green

The Greening of Paris began in earnest with Mayor Hidalgo

Socialist Anne Hidalgo, supported by the Green Party, defeated her more conservative opponents to become the Mayor of Paris.  Her platform was a promise to reduce carbon emissions by dramatically increasing the availability of bicycle lanes, and by reducing automobile and bus lanes. This was just before the Global Summit and the Paris Climate Accord of 2015.

Hidalgo’s platform melded perfectly with the 2015 Ecological Transition Law which mandated alternate energy sources.


  • subsequent problems with the city’s bike-sharing program (Vélib),
  • anger from the automobile lobby group and
  • widespread frustration with a citywide construction plan (for the creation of these lanes),
  • Hidalgo’s vision of a Paris free from harmful carbon emissions appeared to be popular as she set about delivering on her promise.

Fast forward toward the end of 2019, just before the world learned of something called COVID. Paris was immobilized by transit strikes due to protests against President Macron’s pension reform plan.

Paris bicycle revolution: COVID accelerates Paris going Green

Suddenly, the availability of Hidalgo’s networks of bicycle lanes created an explosion in cycling!

In January of 2020, Hidalgo announced her Ville de Quart D’Heure plan. Residents could get to banks, doctors, grocery stores, and other necessary locations within 15 minutes of leaving home and without driving a car. 

Paris bicycle revolution: COVID accelerates Paris going Green

This urban reorganization would come at the expense of 72% of Paris’ on-street parking.  Not everyone was happy with Hidalgo’s plan — the feud with automobile drivers was heating up.

A ‘greener, greater Paris’

Only days before the World Health Organization announcement of a COVID Worldwide Pandemic (on March 11 this year), a distinguished group of Industry and Political leaders assembled for their 2020 Global Cities Makers Forum in Paris. 

The theme this year:
Urban Branding. Promoting a greener, greater Paris would mean promoting an innovative geo-thermal greater Paris brand.

Among the numerous urban planning projects being discussed was improving the co-existence between pedestrians and cyclists. 

It’s worth noting here that another ongoing project, Europe’s largest urban project to date:
– ‘The Grand Paris Express’, was also on the agenda. 
COVID was not.

Paris reduced to bicycle pedal power

As early as 2010, Paris had approved plans for its metro expansion. ‘The Grand Paris Express’ is a comprehensive plan to connect all of Paris with the most sophisticated rail technology available.  It has many moving parts including 68 new metro stations and 200 km of ‘extra-automated’ metro lines.  Construction, which began in 2016, was to continue all the way to 2030.  A big motivation for its partial completion was the upcoming 2024 Olympic and Para-Olympic games which would be hosted in Paris. 

As Catherine Lescure, Directrice Régionale, Ile-de-France EDF said:

We must consider the …Games as an opportunity to showcase our improvements and to communicate them to the general public. 

Meanwhile, the metro’s use had been declining rapidly in Paris (and around the world), with public transport down by 80% in some cities.  As COVID, spread to become a worldwide pandemic, reluctance towards metro use grew.  On April 8, the ‘Société du Grand Paris‘ – the body charged with delivering The Grand Paris Express, pulled the plug on all these projects for an indefinite period of time.’

So, the project sits completely idle.
The four new lines (15 (basically circling Paris), 16, 17 and 18), two extensions (11 and 14) and 68 new stations across the region are halted

Hidalgo anticipates… and acts

Simultaneously, automobile usage began to rise within Paris, as it was considered a more socially distant, safe method of travel for those who still commuted to work. 

Would this trend continue even after workers left their homes for the office (assuming the pandemic subsides)?  Mayor Hidalgo believed it very well might.  Seizing the opportunity, Hidalgo ramped up efforts under the cloak of night. 

She not only created 400 miles of new bike lanes, she used paint to create the appearance of permanence.

  • In June of this year, two newsworthy events occurred almost simultaneously in Paris: 
  • First, a Paris automobile lobbying group filed with France’s highest administrative court against the city’s ‘anti-car approach’ which, they said “prevented people from using their preferred mode of transportation – namely, driving…” 
  • The second event that month was the re-election of Anne Hidalgo for a second term as the Mayor of Paris

Is the Bicycle in Paris the ‘New Normal’?

At least for the moment, the answer is yes

While the metro in Paris will most certainly always be a component of commuter choice, it can be daunting for some.  Furthermore, COVID has necessitated restrictions making it slower than before.  One day, world travelers will return to the beautiful City of Light.  Will we, the visitors, accept the challenge of circulating in the City by bicycle?

How about walking in Paris?

Walking the streets of Paris never gets old

Paris bicycle revolution: COVID accelerates Paris going Green

Mayor Hidalgo has included provisions to accommodate pedestrians and indeed, to enhance the experience. 

However, Paris is a thriving metropolis and one can never see it all.   

Depending upon your time constraints, a fun bicycle ride on Hidalgo’s new bike lanes might be pleasant instead of frightening, like it used to be.  In fact, some major thoroughfares such as Rue de Rivoli, adjacent to the Louvre have already been closed to automobile traffic altogether.

How can we prepare for our next Paris trip?
We could brush up on our bicycle skills at our local park before we travel,
Study route maps to learn new routes in Paris, and
when in Paris start by taking short trips on new bike lanes to gain confidence.

Paris bicycle revolution: what is your opinion?

Over the Summer months of 2020, Restaurants and Cafés were encouraged to open. They expanded their outdoor space in order to cope with the COVID restrictions.  Many restaurants credit this move with saving their livelihood.

However, one Parisian driver had this to say:

If we drive out all cars, and it hits businesses… I fear we will see the desertification of the city centre… it will become nothing more than a theme park for tourists.

Have you ever ridden a bicycle in Paris? What do you think of the Paris bicycle revolution? Will you try the new bike lanes when next in Paris? Share your views with us in the comments section below.

1. Vélibgate: The rise and fall of Paris’s bike-sharing program via France 24
2. Corona Virus Accelerates plans to put Urban Commuters on Bicycles via Wall Street Journal
3. The Greening of Paris makes its Mayor more than a few Enemies via The New York Times
4. How Paris became a cycling success story—and built a roadmap for other cities. The City of Light became the City of Bike, and U.S. cities should take notice
5. The Grand Paris Express: A Transport Project Serving the Residents of the Paris Region and the Capital’s Development via Railway News
6. Country Report: France via KHL Construction Europe
7. Paris est la ville la plus verte d’Europe via Vanity Fair
8. How to survive the Paris Metro via MyFrenchLife
9. Cycling in the City of Style via MyFrenchLife

Image credits:
1. Bike lanes Paris via @annehidalgo on Instagram
2. 100% Greening Paris via @annehidalgo on Twitter
3. Ville de Quart D’Heure by @micael_dessin via @annehidalgo on Instagram
4. Greenest Cities Mapped via Essential
5. Les Efforts des plus grandes villes francaise via @annehidalgo via Instagram
6. Walking in Paris by Nicolas Lafargue via Unsplash
7-13 Cycling in Paris via @annehidalgo via Instagram

About the Contributor

Annette Cripps

I obtained my second degree (after Finance in 1980) in French/Arts and Humanities in 2017.  I love golf (sometimes), tennis (usually), my family (always) ... and France, toujours.

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