Sustainability en France
Just back from a wonderful fortnight in France, featuring a week in the Pyrenees, a week in Brittany, with 3 nights in Paris interlacing those forays and our Eurostar entry/exit. I hired a bike for the first week and a car for the second – and the former was much more enjoyable! And as usual, I was soaking up all things Sustainability.
Paris boggled my mind. I first saw how Mayor Anne Hidalgo had been transforming the capital into a liveable, 15-minute city a couple of years ago, but the progress since has been incredible. Almost every street, from twisting lanes to wide boulevards, had either been changed to favour pedestrians and cyclists or was in the process of being transformed. Kerbside parking for private cars was pretty much limited to disabled parking bays and a few EV charging points. Most of the space previously used for parking had been given over to cycle/scooter parking, much for public hire schemes, and pavement cafés. Outside our hotel, one cafe was serving 50-60 customers in a space which had previously been marked out for 4-5 parking bays (see below) – an easy riposte to those who say restricting parking will damage business. It’s hard to judge Paris in August given it’s the holiday season for most, but traffic was very light and the cafés were bursting. Middle-aged ladies drifted past on e-bikes looking effortlessly sophisticated and cargo bikes delivered, er, deliveries.
Outside Paris, there was plenty of evidence of similar thinking but at an order of magnitude lower – the non-segregated cycle lanes (which do nothing for road safety) outnumbered segregated lanes in the cities, but there were some fantastic long distance low traffic national cycle routes used only by the occasional farmer. Cycle parking at railway stations were plentiful and spacious. Whether I was walking, on a bike or driving, I found the notoriously aggressive French driving of yore had gone – a subjective view of course!
Maybe it’s the dominance of nuclear and hydro-electric power in France, but renewable energy seemed limited to a few wind farms and very few roof mounted solar arrays compared to the UK or other European countries. On other Sustainability issues, recycling facilities were generally a bit better than what we have in the UK and there did seem to be a lot of interest in biodiversity – we saw an awful lot of insect hotels!
But the highlight was the sheer scale of transformation of Paris – remarkable given it wasn’t that long ago that the gilets jaunes led a revolt against a hike in fuel taxes. It shows what can be changed if you really try.