Narrow sidewalks

Since electing its first Socialist mayor in 2001, the city of Paris has made considerable progress in re-allocating public space: widening sidewalks, narrowing streets, creating bus and bicycle lanes and reducing the space devoted to cars.

But the problem is so widespread that numerous streets in Paris still have grotesquely narrow sidewalks and dangerously wide car lanes.

Rue Bonaparte

A case in point is Rue Bonaparte in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter of the 6th arrondissement. This popular neighborhood attracts large numbers of pedestrians, but the sidewalks are barely wide enough for two people to walk abreast, so people often spill off onto the street. The two car lanes, both northbound, are unnecessarily wide, so speeding is endemic. In some places, the sidewalks are protected by metal posts, to keep them from being completely blocked by parked cars.

Rue Bonaparte

The first Socialist mayor of Paris was Bertrand Delanoë. He was elected in 2001 and re-elected in 2008 on a clear platform of breaking the stranglehold that automobile traffic has long held on this otherwise beautiful city. In his first campaign, he repeatedly pointed out that “private motorists, who make up a quarter of road users, take up 94 per cent of Paris’s road surfaces”.

In March 2014 another Socialist, Anne Hidalgo, was elected as the new mayor of Paris. She is the first woman to hold this office. For thirteen years she was the first deputy mayor under Bertrand Delanoë, and she has continued his policy of reducing the space allotted to cars, in favor of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.

In the previous century, conservative politicians would have howled in protest over this sort of progress, but lately they have only been doing some perfunctory grumbling, because it hasn’t escaped their attention that these improvements are immensely popular. I’ve read somewhere that Paris is the least motorized city in France, which may seem like a ridiculous statement if you’ve ever been caught in city traffic, but what it means is that Paris has the lowest percentage of residents who actually own cars, so there are lots of Parisians who suffer from the noise and pollution of motor traffic without getting any benefit from it.

In 2020, despite the decline of the Socialist party nationally, Anne Hidalgo was re-elected as mayor of Paris. I understand that during the coronavirus pandemic she has stepped up the re-allocation of street space. I’m looking forward to returning to Paris, as soon as it is safe to do so, and trying out some of the new pedestrian areas and bicycle lanes.
(But Rue Bonaparte has not yet been changed, as far as I know.)

My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2020.

See also: Les bagnoles and The triumph of cars over people.

6 thoughts on “Narrow sidewalks”

  1. I hadn’t occurred to me that a wide street was an invitation to speed. We have both wide streets and unusually wide shoulders even on country roads because of a large Amish community with horse-drawn vehicles. During the spring and summer we had almost no automobile traffic. No commuters and no school buses. The problem here is almost no sidewalks. Not just narrow – none. There’s no sidewalk on the street in front of our house. But there’s really no place to walk to – the road dead-ends into a bay.

  2. We spend a lot of time in that area and you’re right, the sidewalks are narrow but we’ve never thought of it as a problem. If we were carrying something or had a baby stroller, it would be more difficult, but just walking, it works. Must admit I hate rainy days when we have umbrellas though. That’s a bit much for a narrow sidewalk . . . or even a much wider sidewalk.

    I love some of the things they’ve done in that past decade like the Berges of the Seine, all the work in the Tuileries and the new bike lanes. It really does make a difference.

  3. Ana Hidalgo from San Fernando province of Cadiz Andalucia, Spain. I know her personally. However, the changes are ok if the plans behind are. You cannot reduce street traffic in Paris because there is no space and very expensive, therefore, the pollution stays and the traffic jams increase all over. The solution was to do park and relay parking but that is another expensive idea in expensive land Paris. The problems will get worse and 15% of Parisians are moving out already before covid19!

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