Unlike most Australian cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide, where the City Council area only covers a small, central city fraction of the total city, the Council of Paris is responsible for a 105 square kilometre area that his home to over 2.15 million residents. It covers the entire main city region, extending in all directions to just beyond the infamously congested ‘Boulevard Périphérique’ ring road, plus three major parks beyond.
Paris Mayors are elected for six year terms and oversee a multi-billion euro annual budget. So not surprisingly they typically have many candidates and intense election campaigns.
Incumbent Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo had long been labelled as ‘radical’ by many during her first term as Mayor.
Her decision to close the motorway along the banks of the Seine River through the heart of Paris and the subsequent prolonged legal challenges from opponents made international news.
The road, which was transformed into a promenade for walking and cycling, has become a hugely popular micromobility transport route and tourist attraction.
But this was one of many programs to improve infrastructure for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users during her first six year term.
In launching her re-election campaign in February 2020, Hidalgo announced that Paris needed to become a ‘15 Minute City’
More Paris road space would be given up to pedestrians and bikes, with car lanes further trimmed down or removed. Planning would try to give public and semi-public spaces multiple uses—so that, for example, daytime schoolyards could become night time sports facilities or simply places to cool off on hot summer nights.
In short, Hidalgo’s re-election platform made her previous ‘radical’ active transportation policies look timid.
You can see more about the comprehensive plan here. The total cycling investment is reported to be 350 million euros over six years (A$570 million), which equates to A$42.38 per resident per year. This is several times higher than the per capita spend on cycling in most Australian states.
Perhaps the most remarkable campaign policy was to remove 60,000 of the 83,500 on street parking spaces in Paris to make space for not just bike lands but wider footpaths, trees, parklets and other amenities.
Yet on 28th June Hidalgo won second round run-off for the 2020 election with an approximate 20% margin on her closest challenger, the conservative, Rachida Dati.
Clearly Paris is not a ‘normal’ western city, particularly by English speaking nation standards. It already has a higher population density and lower car ownership percentage than an Australian city for example.
But notwithstanding these differences, over time the consequences of this victory could extend well beyond Paris for the following three reasons:
Firstly, because, in a ‘normal’ non-Covid-19 world, Paris is a global city visited by millions each year, including potentially many more for the 2024 Paris Olympics, then infrastructure and transport mode shift changes in Paris are more likely to be seen and emulated than if they were in a lesser city.
Secondly, unlike many politicians who like to make themselves ‘small targets’ during election campaigns, Mayor Hidalgo campaigned on the most radical platform. For example most mayoral candidates around the world would not dare suggest that they reduce car parking, let alone almost three quarters of the entire city’s current spaces. Therefore this may give candidates in other electorates more courage to include at least on a relative scale for their location, pro-micromobility / liveable city policies that were traditionally thought of as political suicide.
Thirdly, if, after the implementation of Hidalgo’s program over the next six years, the results prove to be not only environmentally successful, but also economically, then Paris will become a compelling case study for other cities around the world to follow suit.
Small portions of this article were previously published in Forbes and Intelligent Transport.