As a Francophile raised in South Minneapolis, many of my favorite moments can be traced back to emulating Parisian aspirations here at home. The joys of my life are encapsulated in an espresso fueled bike ride to the local market in search of something for a chèvre spread. I’ve had the fortune to take advantage of every opportunity possible to jet set through the Charles de Galle airport, most recently returning from a November excursion. If you’ve visited yourself, you might be questioning one aspect of my joyful market imagery. Paris is beautiful in so many ways, but one thing it had previously not been was welcoming to bicycles.


Walking the banks of the Seine, a space dedicated to car parking and traffic until 2017

Returning to a snowy Minnesota, I’m ecstatic to report that Paris has embraced la bicyclette! Over the last 5 years, I’ve witnessed a transformation of the Parisian street. Once overtaken by cars from curb to curb, the city has reclaimed safe and sustainable streets remarkably quickly. Witnessing these changes, I began to investigate what was done to instigate culture shifts in such a dense historic city. The glaring evidence is found in Le Plan Velo, the 2015-2020 cycling plan that tripled the share of cycling trips in the city, installed over 10,000 bicycle parking spaces, and reached nearly 1,100 km of cycle paths, up from 200 km in 2001.


Multimodal transportation in the Marais neighborhoo
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Riding the bicycle’s political momentum, Paris’ Mayor Anne Hidalgo has centered the next step for Le Plan Vélo, Acte 2 as the crowned jewel for her new bid – the presidency. Capturing the vision of a ‘100% cycling city’, the plan sets forward to aggressively continue adapting street use towards a safer and more sustainable future. Key to facilitating this paradigm shift, Paris is expanding their path system to achieve a complete cycling network and shifting priority from a car traffic favored past. While Minneapolis might not be going as far as making it illegal to drive through the city center without stopping, you might be pleasantly surprised to see a similar mode shift vision in our city’s new Transportation Action Plan and Complete Streets Policy. While Paris expands their network, Minneapolis has similar (I would argue even better) visions in completing the All Ages and Abilities network. Parallel, our vision of a Complete Street now prioritizes pedestrians first, followed by bicycling and transit use, and lastly motor vehicle use.

              Let me return to my original Parisian fantasy, a ride to the market. If you find yourself planning a trip to Paris, please join the locals for food from the farm at Marché Bastille on Sunday morning! Promenading from Place de la Bastille, the market meanders down a wide boulevard, sandwiched between stories of picturesque Parisian architecture, with stalls of produce and dairy stretching 6 abreast. My advice is to always take a chance by planting yourself at the end of the longest line of folks who look like they probably don’t speak English! My go to backup is radishes with a spicy kick and a runny goat cheese to dip them in. The market is one of many reasons that draw me to stay a within a leisurely bike ride to the west.


Sunday morning at Marché Bastille

My favorite place to stay in Paris is somewhere lost between the 3rd and 11th arrondissements. The two districts meet in a dense urban confluence between the Bastille neighborhood’s park filled boulevards and the Marais’ tight streets of young hip cafes. Both ends of the spectrum alive with people walking, biking, and looking in store windows (just make sure you don’t stick out like a sore thumb by taking a drink or pastry to go while walking). My routine includes a morning run down Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, too many double shots at a café between Rue St-Denis and Rue Montorgueil, and late nights waiting for the metro to reopen in the Oberkampf neighborhood. You can tell that the city’s hipster cyclists, and more tourists than I like to admit, flock to the area.


Stopping for espresso served at a bike shop / Crowds at cafes, all of which require proof of vaccination

Getting from loft to market, Sunday morning took me on a Velib bike-share down Rue de Rivoli.  If you’ve done Paris tourism, you know the street. Running parallel the Seine, passing the Louvre, Tuileries gardens, Hotel de Ville, with high end shops to the west and scattered boulangeries to the east. Rue de Rivoli exemplifies the transformation of Paris’ streets. Originally adopted as a  pandemic response, the changes have been made permanent as commuters have embraced fresh clean air in the city and eternalized the street as a place that bicyclists and pedestrians can be safe. Don’t you miss Minneapolis’ social distancing closures when the parkway was wide and neighbors walked down the middle of safe streets?


Rue de Rivoli used by all modes night and day

Here’s how Rue de Rivoli has changed since the pandemic on the west running along Tuileries:

  • The lane usually reserved for buses and cabs is a mixed lane for buses, cabs, deliveries, storekeepers, medical staff, artisans, emergency vehicles,  people with disabilities and residents.
  • The main lane is now a bikeway
  • The existing bikeway remains a two-way bikeway

In plain English, what was formerly four full lanes dedicated to cars as recently as  2017, has been reduced to one single mixed motorized lane and a pair of full two way protected bike lanes. This is in addition to wide sidewalks along one of Paris’ busiest commercial boulevards lined with storefronts. You can see the stark comparison on google street view between 2017 and 2021.


Rue De Rivoli in 2017
Rue de Rivoli today

I rode east, joining the throng of cyclists, weaving alongside Parisians in the saddle dressed in intimidating style, ready for work or the 2pm aperitif hour, not a piece of lycra in sight. Riding away from the tourist destinations, the balance changes slightly with an additional bus lane joining the flow. This change comes alongside residential density and families descending narrow stairwells to street level retail whether for a baguette at Franprix, shampoo and a 3 euro bottle of wine from Monoprix, a covid test from the pharmacy or a dozen options of patio chairs for either caffeine or intoxicant all on the same block. Passing metro stops lined with stalls of parked bikes, bunching wheel to wheel at intersections, pausing for crowds of pedestrians as a train arrived every three minutes. If you are inspired to recreate my ride, be sure to make a pitstop at Place des Vosges, my favorite park in the city, one block north just before you reach the massive Bastille roundabout where my journey ends in radish and chevre.

Cyclists prioritized and integrated within traffic

The vision of cities making bicycling more inviting by reclaiming traffic lanes may seem radically European to some. However, we continue to see glimmers of progress here at home as Minneapolis moves to defend its position as the country’s best city for biking. If you’re looking for the comfort of similar protected infrastructure to inspire a commute into downtown Minneapolis, there are great things to look forward to! I was recently pleased to see that Minneapolis Public Works recommended a separated two-way bike path in addition to dedicated bus lanes and pedestrian improvements on Hennepin Avenue S. On my own daily commute, I keep an eye on construction of the Whittier/Lyndale bikeway which will extend protected lanes along my commute from South to Downtown. These additions build upon what you read in last month’s blog joining Catherine on her commute. I have always thought of Minneapolis as the Paris of the Midwest. Nowadays, living Parisian means finding a way to avoid driving to the market.


The author returning home with groceries and of course, coffee

Want to know what else Paris is doing to make cycling accessible beyond infrastructure?

  • Access and affordability
  • Paris’ car free day
    • Annually, the city removes traffic for a day as pedestrians and bicycles fill streets
      • You might have seen Move Minneapolis at Open Streets this year, Minneapolis car free street project
  • Cross city car restrictions
    • Would make it illegal to drive across the city center without stopping
    • Restrictions don’t reduce access to zone’s residents (including hotel guests), people with disabilities, vehicles used for public transit, deliveries and services
    • This traffic currently covers %55 of daily traffic
  • Bike theft
    • 80% say fear of bike theft is primary reason not to cycle
  • Drawing new cyclists
    • A 2020 study showed 45% of new temporary trail users had only cycled since the end of covid restrictions (Less than 3 months Follow youtuber Not Just Bikes as he discusses Rue de Rivoli

Follow youtuber Not Just Bikes as he discusses Rue de Rivoli:

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