Paris is the most densely-populated city in Europe. When we were last here, traffic jams ruled. Bikes split lanes, riding between cars idling in traffic. Buses and Métro de Paris were SRO.
Then came COVID. Mass transportation ridership plummeted. Impossibly, traffic got worse. Parking was as precious as platinum. Something had to be done, and it was bicycles that did the job—an estimated one million of them—and bicycle lanes. Over 400 miles of bicycle lanes were constructed in the city in 2020 alone, mostly at the expense of traffic lanes devoted to cars. The picture above, taken from our living-room window, shows two bicycle (and scooter) lanes created where cars used to travel.
The bike lanes remained after COVID, but a transportation upheaval didn’t occur until recently, with the arrival of affordable electric bikes and scooters.
Three years ago, when Louise and I embarked on an electric scooter tour of Paris, we were the only people on electric scooters in sight. Electric bikes were unachievably expensive, and electric mopeds were nothing but a gleam in Dean Kamen’s eye. (Kamen invented the Segway.) But today, electric vehicles are like preteens at a Billie Eilish concert: unruly, skittish, and thick as thieves. Today, then, a discussion of les électricités: the electrics.
- Cars & Buses. Of course there are thousands of electric cars and buses on the streets, but they’re hardly noticeable, blending in as they do. One interesting observation: the most frequently-encountered American car: Tesla. In Switzerland, Tesla was the only American brand I saw, and I was there for ten days.
Interestingly, cars built before 1997 are banned in Paris on weekdays (classics excepted: what would Paris be without the deux chevaux?). Diesels 25 years old and older are also forbidden. And yet another proposal is afoot (pun intended) to ban internal-combustion-engine (ICE) cars in their entirety by 2023. (Good luck with that!)
- Bikes. Lordy-lord! Electric bikes are everywhere! Bike estimates generally range in the one-million range, and as many as a third of those are electric. Vélib’ Métropole—roughly, “cycling freedom”—offers nearly 10,000 electric bikes for rent. Others include Bolt, Lime—even AirBnB.
And why not? E-bikes have access to all 400 miles of those bike lanes mentioned earlier, rent for about fifteen cents a minute, and are available everywhere. The scary days of bike riding in Paris are past. All you need is a credit card, a phone, and a good mapping app.
- Electric Scooters. OK, I fell off one once. In Paris. But it had small hard rubber tires and its “throttle” was either on or off. Today scooters have larger balloon tires and variable throttles—some even have suspension. They’re half the price of e-bikes and as easy to ride as a park bench. Consequently, they’re all over the place. The picture above was an attempt at a selfie in the Jardin du Luxembourg, photobombed by two green Lime scooters. Paris used to have rats; now it has scooters. Everywhere.
- Electric Unicycles. Wanna see goblins roaming the streets of Paris on electric unicycles at night? Click on this link. We don’t see too many of these (they’re expensive), but they’re mass-transportation friendly (they all have handles for carrying) and thus, perfect for commuters. They get to use bike lanes too.
The streets of Paris are a glimpse into the future of urban transportation, especially when you consider the future beyond 2023 (two years from now!) when ICE-powered cars may disappear. I say great! There’s no better city in the world for strolling, and with nothing but electric bikes and scooters (and, I suppose, a few electric cars), it will be even more of a Paradise than it already is.