Apewardly mobile: Une proposition modeste
"The wheels are turning, but the hamsters are all dead." – George Bernard Shaw
The rues less travelled – wouldn’t that be something? Not the way we experienced it a couple of years back, imposed by a spillover bug. By choice, by design. Because it’s a grinding, gruelling chaos every step of the way out there. All-hour rush hour, every street jammed, cars backed up for miles, every one of their single occupants on the phone, barely moving, spewing invective and particulates, honking every time the light changes because they’ve shifted only a few feet forward. Of course, just as bad are the cyclists dodging in and out between, sanctimonious bellringers who think they own the road and are above the law. Worse are the nervous newbies who bought bikes because of Covid, who dutifully wait in their shiny helmets for the lights to turn before wobbling off unsteadily into intersections, dozens at a go clogging up the cycle paths, rendering them impassable. The electric cyclists are worse still, worse even than the obnoxiously loud motorcyclists, as they think they’re somehow saving the planet by being so green, which is nonsense, and so quiet, and who smugly trundle past without breaking a sweat – why these fat-arsed layabouts get rebates from the government is beyond me. Of course, none are as bad as the loathsome motorists, who should be incarcerated, sent to re-education camps, forced to commute on pogo sticks. Ditto truck drivers, scooterists, monowheelers, gyropoders, hoverboarders and skateboarders. Buses, fine, but with their own lanes – and ideally not in the city proper, but on the periphery or in the suburbs. I’ll never get on one, but like metros they’re good for getting old people to and from their medical appointments.
But the most hateful, the most insidious, the most dangerous of all?
According to the Paris police prefect, three pedestrians a day were injured on streets and sidewalks in 2022. Of these, 1.19 a day were compensated because the City recognised its responsibility for the accidents: potholes, bumps and cracks in the pavement, bollards in the wrong place. The rest were smacked down by vehicles – cars, trucks, motorcycles, bikes and scooters, in that order – just for doing what Parisians do: protesting or flaneuring about aimlessly, gawking at pastries and lingerie, waiting for Fifi to finish her business, discussing Descartes two and three abreast or sexting with their extra-conjugales.
Of the 14 600 Parisian deaths last year, 18 were pedestrians within 30 days of a traffic accident. This number dwarfs the city’s other traffic fatalities in 2022 – one cyclist, two motorists, three electric scooterists and four motorcyclists.
In all, 28 needless deaths that on April 2, 2022, Parisians took the first step towards preventing from ever happening again.
Last Sunday, the Paris City Council held a referendum “for or against self-service scooters”, of which there are around 15,000 in Paris. Introduced in 2018 to encourage “soft travel”, the trottinettes quickly became a disruptive force. The government regulated them in 2019, passing by-laws that enforced a 20 km/h speed limit, one driver and on cycle paths only, and no parking on sidewalks.
Further regulations were added: a speed limit of 10 km/h in “slow zones” in the centre of Paris, in front of schools and areas with high pedestrian density.
And then, despite these efforts, in mid-June, a 32-year-old Italian woman was struck and killed by an electric scooter on a pedestrian path along the Seine.
The City decided it was time to call upon its citizens.
We wanted to ask Parisians to assess the regulation in place in 2020. The situation has improved since the arrival of free-floating scooters in Paris in 2018. At the time, there were more than twelve operators and an urban jungle phenomenon. We were the first city to use the system provided for in the 2019 law on the orientation of mobility: no more than three operators [Dott, Lime and Tier], 15,000 machines maximum, and as many parking spaces created. But too many problems remain. This is a matter of debate. It is not absurd to ask the inhabitants their opinion on this subject which concerns their daily lives.
Parisians responded, but not exactly in droves. A Harris Interactive poll showed that only 33% of 18-24-year-olds had “already heard of the vote” before Sunday, versus 77% of 50-64-year-olds and 90% of 65-year-olds and over.
“It doesn't matter how many there are,” the Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, told AFP. The “tools of participatory democracy improve by using them.”
Paris streets being the killing fields that they are, fewer than 8% of those eligible to vote dared teeter into a polling station and cast a ballot. Of those that did, almost 90% voted for a total ban.
This is a step in the right direction. It means that the 10,767,792 scooter rentals last year in Paris are a thing of the past, and the 400,000 people who use them each month – four times as many people as the 100,000 who voted to ban them – will have to find another way to snarl up city transport.
That almost three-quarters of these trottinette users are upstart hipster 18-35-year-olds who wouldn’t dream of shlepping out on a Sunday to a poorly advertised “votation citoyenne” (which only cost 390,000 euros to hold) because it would interfere with their brunch plans, makes this “écrasante” victory even more satisfying to a vieux schnock like yours truly.
Next, let’s take out the blasted bikes.
Forget the so-called “soft-travel” propaganda about biking in the countryside being more dangerous than the cities:
The Sunday sportsman, wearing Lycra shorts, a colourful jersey and a streamlined helmet, runs a much higher risk than the Nantes employee who rides a Bicloo, hair blowing in the wind, to get to the office. – Olivier Razemon, Le pouvoir de la pédale (2014)
Or that, as the unabashed pédalephile Razemon delights in pointing out, the more the number of bicycle users in an area increases, the more their relative mortality decreases, as well as that of pedestrians and motorists, because the balance of power on the road is reversed:
Cyclists contribute, by their very presence, to slowing down traffic. The more cyclists there are, the more they cause motorists and motorcyclists to slow down. This is what we call “safety in numbers.”
None of this matters. Even after the huge spike in bike purchases and rentals during the pandemic, cycling in French cities increased a further 34% in 2022, according to the French Road Safety Observatory (ONISR). More Parisians travel by bike than by car. More than 400 000 people have accounts with the city’s bike-sharing system Vélib'. More than 145 000 of these clunky eyesores were rented each day in 2022. Close to a million bikes are outright owned by Parisians. And one of them died on one last year – a human life, snuffed, because of a vehicle consisting of two wheels held in a frame one behind the other, propelled by pedals and steered with handlebars attached to the front wheel. This scourge must be stopped. And once it is, we will take out the rest of these gadfly drifters, these peripatetic vagrants, these unsettled, shiftless movers and shakers.
Regulation, law enforcement, public education? Pshaw. If people were meant to ride and drive things, God would have given them gear trains. The people’s place is not behind wheels, nor on top of them. The people’s place is in the home. Anything that tempts them, as individuals, to leave that sanctuary and congest the carriageways, be it wheels, pegs or legs, should be banned.
Except my Brompton.
Thank you for listening.
The squares win again