How Paris showed me the future of mobility
I recently was in Paris on a city trip. It is one of my favorite places in Europe in which I typically use Uber a lot. This time I was accompanied by a good friend who is a bit more adventurous than I am. Already during our first walk, we noticed the multitude of shared e-scooters from different brands like Lime and Jump, … My adventurous friend challenged me to use them, and although my first reaction was something like “what do you mean, driving a scooter in Paris, are you suicidal?” we decided to give it a try. We downloaded the Lime app, scanned our credit cards and where all set and done.
A half an hour later, my life had changed completely. The sensation of driving an electric scooter through the center of a city like Paris was unlike anything I’ve done before. After just a few rides, I was addicted to the feeling of freedom and being connected to the city in a unique way. It feels a bit like walking on steroids: the speed of 20 km/h allows you to travel fast from one place to another, but you actually feel part of the city, connected to other users of the public space.
The thing I realized was that Paris is very bike-friendly, also facilitating other forms of micro-mobility like the e-scooters. It’s something you only notice when you are using it yourself. Many streets are one-way, yet allowing micro-mobility to go all directions. Even the large boulevards have dedicated bike lanes, often alongside a special lane for buses that also allows bikes. The result is that old-school cars are pushed back to only use a very limited part of the available space. In most cases, the only investment Paris had to do was use paint, a lot of paint. By simple markings on the streets, it’s very easy to know where you can drive.
We both remembered Paris as a very busy city crammed with cars, honking at each other, and aggressively trying to get into that one hole in traffic that would make them move forward just a few meters. But we never had that feeling while we drove our scooters, it was as if there were substantially fewer cars in the streets. I dived into the numbers and I found the facts: over the last two decades traffic had actually decreased with 45% and in the last couple of years the number of cyclists exploded with 1000%. The use of public transportation increased by 30% and the number of traffic fatalities dropped by 40% in less than a decade.
All of this was a policy that the city had been developing of the years: push back cars and slowly give the city back to the people. It’s one of the things I describe in my book The World Is Round (currently only available in Dutch as De Wereld Is Rond): cities have the power to change the lives of people by executing rather simple measures. No doubt that every new measure (making the “quais” around La Seine carfree, or banning cars from the center on Sundays) was faced by initial resistance and protests, but slowly people see and experience the benefits of the change, and they accept it. The strength is that this kind of local change seems agnostic to political ideologies: it doesn’t matter if a mayor is more left or right, the actions taken remain similar.
Lastly, I noticed a remarkable thing: while I was driving my scooter through traffic, I connected to other people: I made eye contact with pedestrians, with other people on bikes and even with drivers from cars. I’ve nodded to people to show them they could cross the street safely. For a split second, I connected to complete strangers and that happened dozens of times. And they smiled. And I smiled. And I moved on. In my book, I describe that city-live can connect us to other people and make us more happy. This experience was for me first-hand proof it is true.
Luckily it was not raining that weekend ;-)