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Biking in Bordeaux: COVID-19 spurs urban greening

In Bordeaux as in many other French cities, leaders are initiating serious city ‘greening’ to help residents live in a COVID world, including the improvement of new and extended bike infrastructure. These initiatives are improving the quality of city living and in particular biking in Bordeaux. To understand the context of these initiatives, let’s look further afield and then return to Bordeaux.

The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc around the world.  People are ill and dying of the Corona Virus, economies are enormously and negatively impacted. As if that’s not enough, there is also an extraordinary and concerning increase of mental health problems. However, the pandemic seems to have had one positive effect on cities around the world.

Lockdown in France was strict nationwide

On 16 March 2020, Emmanuel Macron declared the guerre sanitaire which locked down the country until 11 May. The rules of lockdown were severe and included:

  • Only essential outings permitted.
  • Outings must be alone, one-hour maximum, once per day, and in a radius of one kilometer from the residence. 
  • Must have a signed attestation stating the reason for outing.
  • Work must be done from home if possible.

Police and gendarmes circulated the streets. Failure to carry a signed form or comply with the rules resulted in a fine.

Biking in Bordeaux: COVID spurs urban greening

I spent the confinement in a small apartment in Bordeaux. Everything I loved about city life was suddenly gone. Once lively streets were eerily empty and lined with shut down businesses. I wanted to escape into nature, but my one-kilometer radius only included buildings and pavement.

Even during regular times, having an outdoor space has been shown to improve mental health. A 2016 study by the University of Exeter revealed that people with access to an outdoor space such as a yard or garden had higher psychological wellbeing.

Biking in Bordeaux: COVID spurs urban greening

While city dwellers normally have access to parks and gardens, the confinement restricted access to these green spaces and in turn contributed to mental health challenges.

COVID-19 has changed city life

City life certainly isn’t for everyone. But those who love cities often thrive on the sense of community, connectivity and interactivity. COVID has destroyed what many know and love about cities. Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times states:

The very notion of streets, shared housing and public spaces stemmed from and fostered a kind of collective affirmation, a sense that people are all in this together. Pandemics prey on this relentlessly. They are anti-urban. They exploit our impulse to congregate. And our response so far — social distancing — not only runs up against our fundamental desires to interact but also against the way we have built our cities and plazas, subways and skyscrapers.

How will cities come back after the pandemic is over? Many leaders are contemplating how we can learn from the pandemic experience to change and improve cities so that they are still attractive and livable in light of environmental factors such as climate change and the pandemic.

COVID has prompted city leaders worldwide to adopt an increased ‘green’ mindset as they rebuild their economies devastated by COVID. For example, the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, hopes for ‘green stimulus’ money to continue funding in the city’s transition to low emission cars.

In France, the prime minister Jean Castex has announced a €100bn coronavirus recovery plan known as ‘Relaunch France’ which includes a key initiative: making the economy greener. 

Green wave sweeps France

In 2014 the Green party only seized one municipal election in France. However, the Green party won 2020 municipal elections in Lyon, Strasbourg, Tours, Annecy, Besançon, Poitiers, Marseille, and remarkably Bordeaux after 73 years of conservative mayors.

The COVID epidemic has inadvertently aided the green party agenda in France. Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, has been a longtime leader in creating sustainable cities. Until last year she chaired C40, an organization that supports the greening of cities around the world. Her transformation of Paris began with her election in 2014.

Biking in Bordeaux: COVID spurs urban greening

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s green Paris projects

The green initiatives instigated by Anne Hidalgo:

  • Constructing around 870 miles of bike lanes around Paris
  • Eliminating parking spaces and shutting off certain streets to cars.
  • Making buildings around the city more energy efficient with better insulation and ventilation
  • Relaxing certain city codes that prohibited residents from planting trees in their neighborhoods

Hidalgo joins other city leaders around the globe in ambitious changes to urban life, more recently, in part thanks to COVID. Despite previous pushback from Parisian drivers over making Paris more bike friendly, Hidalgo took advantage of lockdown in France to further expand cycling infrastructure.

Hidalgo turned 31 miles of road into more bike lanes and plans to continue transforming Parisian life.

COVID-19 aids Bordeaux Mayor agenda

Just before the virus hit France, I picked out a bike from the fleet of colorful bikes offered by the city of Bordeaux at the ‘maison de mobilite’.

Every household in Bordeaux can borrow a bike for up to 10 months at no charge. I instantly loved getting around the city on my purple bike marked with the words Bordeaux Metropole. With the pandemic, I came to appreciate my city bike even more as it allows me to avoid public transportation. Post confinement and with the virus still circulating in Bordeaux, public transportation can get fairly crowded despite the city’s efforts to provide more frequent buses and trams.  

Even before the pandemic, Bordeaux ranked high as a bike friendly city. Changes to promote biking in Bordeaux began in 1997, and notably in 2018 the closing of the Pont de Pierre to vehicles allowed pedestrians and cyclists to move more easily across the Garonne river.

Biking in Bordeaux—cycling incentives

The new mayor of Bordeaux, Pierre Hurmic, expanded the selection of bikes at the ‘maison de mobilite’ during the confinement.

This was one of several initiatives during the pandemic to promote biking in Bordeaux.

In order to ease congestion on public transport, Hurmic launched an emergency plan to expand cycling infrastructure in the city. These include:

  • Adding 78 kilometers of bike lanes in Bordeaux and surrounding areas
  • Widening existing bike lanes
  • Designating low speed zones for cars
  • Creating 1000 new bike parking spots

Bordeaux is also encouraging cyclists by matching the 50 euro incentive offered by the French government to those who purchase an electric bike.


The future of Bordeaux is looking green and great for cycling. Will you be biking in Bordeaux when there next time? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.


Sources:
1. Bordeaux unveils emergency cycling plan to combat COVID-19 via handshakecycling
2. Copenhagenize index – Bordeaux
3. City Mayor stimulus Corona-Virus climate change via insideclimatenews.org
4. French PM says jobs and green via The Gauardian
5. Paris Green City via time.com
6. After Green Wave in local elections is France’s left back on track via france24.com
7. Spending time in the garden linked to better health and wellbeing via exeter.ac.uk
8. Corona Virus City Life via nytimes.com
9. Paris bicycle revolution COVID accellerater via myfrenchlife.org
10. One day Bordeaux Guide via myfrenchlife.org
11. Bordeaux green movement challenged: how far is too far? via myfrenchlife.org

Image credits:
1. Police at le miroir d’eau, Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux by Clovis Wood via unsplash
2. Green Bordeaux via @bordeauxmaville via Instagram
3-4. Stunning Parks and Gardens in Bordeaux via theculturetrip.com
5. Greenest Cities Mapped via Essential Living.co.uk
6. Les Efforts des plus grandes villes francaise via @annehidalgo via Instagram
7. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo via Wikimedia
8. Bike lanes Paris via @annehidalgo on Instagram
9. Cycling in Paris via @annehidalgo via Instagram
10. Bordeaux, Girl on a Bike, wearing a mask by Clement Falize via Unsplash
11. Bordeaux, le Pont de Pierre, person riding on bike via Pikrepo.com
12-13. Pierre Hurmic, Mayor of Bordeaux, @pierrehurmic via Instagram



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