June 21, 2022

The Transformation of Rue de Rivoli

The first in a series on contemporary urbanism in European cities.

 

The Rue de Rivoli is one of the world’s great streets – ever since Haussmann’s transformation of Paris in the mid-19th century.

 

Today it has become a world leader in designing for new mobility in the mid-21st century.

 

Rue de Rivoli (seamlessly connected with Rue Saint-Antoine) provides a straight shot across classical and medieval Paris, from Place de la Concorde to Bastille, connecting some of the city’s greatest monuments, museums, department stores and public places.  Underneath is Metro Line 1 and the Châtelet transit hub.

 

For a good part of the late 20th century, it was one of the few east-west bypasses through central Paris.  Of course it got congested.

 

Today, that Rue de Rivoli no longer exists.  Why?  Well, the change accelerated with – ta da! – bike lanes, notably with a dramatic insertion of political will with the election of Mayor Anne Hidalgo in 2014.

First, Plan Velo in 2015 aimed to double the number of cycleways from 700-km to 1,400 km by 2020:

 

The first lanes appeared on Rue de Rivoli in 2018:

 

Then came a transit strike in 2019, where the lanes proved their worth by accommodating, overnight, thousands of instant cyclists – with long-lasting impact.

 

Then, in 2020, came the pandemic.

Paris used the opportunity to create 52 km of ‘coronapistes’ that (as Vancouver did on Beach Avenue) expanded room by appropriating adjacent lanes.  Literally overnight.

PARIS, June 2020 — As France eased one of Europe’s toughest coronavirus lockdowns last month, a small army of street workers fanned out across Paris in the dark of night. They dropped traffic barriers along car lanes and painted yellow bicycle symbols onto the asphalt. By morning, miles of pop-up “corona cycleways” had been laid, teeming with people heading back to work. …

The Rue de Rivoli, once one of the most traffic-snarled thoroughfares in central Paris, is now entirely reserved for bikes, buses and taxis. The pop-up paths are intended to be temporary, but Mr. Najdovski said the city could consider making them permanent “if they work.”

 

Making temporary lanes permanent?  Guess what happened?

 

Now, in 2022, the Rue de Rivoli is still carrying heavy traffic, including transit, taxis and delivery trucks, but mainly e-bikes and scooters (and other innovations of micromobility). Here’s what the traffic looks like in late afternoon in La Marais.

 

Notice the number of Velib bikeshare cyclists with the green and blue (for electric) carriers, the high percent of women, and the occasional helmet.

The first lane is for two-way cycling.  The second is ambiguous; it seems to have been used for cycling at the height of the pandemic, and then changed back – or at least for mixed use.  Transit and taxis run west-bound in the next lane over, with the taxis parked in the queue of black cars in the parking lane.

The Metro entrance is on the upper left, and pedestrians fill the granite-surfaced zone along with restaurant seating, street furniture, abundant tree planting and parking stations for bikes and scooters  (the latter increasingly limited on where they can park by geofencing).

Here’s the same view from a cafe across the street:

 

Transit also runs east along this stretch of the axis – but not in the way you’d anticipate.  Here is what happened as we were enjoying the morning croissant-and-espresso.

Imagine proposing anything similar in Vancouver, especially with a children’s carousel immediately adjacent.  Paris assumes people and vehicles can show mutual respect, which, by and large they do.  We rarely heard a honking horn and never saw a collision or accident.

Not that there weren’t complaints from Parisians as these changes were occurring.

With the reelection of Anne Hidalgo in 2020, the continuation of her agenda was assured, and the transformation of Rue de Rivoli continued.  The most dramatic conversion occurred, appropriately, just west City Hall, where the narrower bike lane to the east suddenly expands to encompass more of the street, leaving only one lane for west-bound vehicles – transit, taxis and delivery.

Before the lane widens:

 

One block later, where it widens – still designed with yellow bollards before the permanent changes were made:

 

Today, the priorities of Paris are expressed in this design: two thirds of Rue de Rivoli allocated for bikes and scooters as this great street passes by the Louvre.

 

This is about more than bike lanes; it’s about providing space for ‘micromobility’ – the rapidly increasing number of electrified options, from scooters to bikes to hybrids we don’t even have names for, moving at different speeds, with recreational, transportation and commercial needs, for people of different skills.  It’s not likely that a separated two-way bike lane, designed in the first decades of this century that has no provision for passing, will meet that demand.  As one commentator described it: ‘bike lanes are prisons’ if they assume that only non-electrified bikes will be using them.

So what are the lessons for Vancouver now that Council has approved an AAA bike route for Broadway – or at least the idea of one ?  What would that look like – and would it work?

 

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Comments

  1. Gord, this piece reminds me of when I was a young architecture graduate living and working in Paris and I tried to drive my little Austin Wolseley up rue de Rivoli heading east from Place de la Concorde (at the same spot as in that old photo from the 1950s above), the wrong way! Oops… A gendarme was unimpressed and I narrowly escaped a fine and having my car impounded. But that was the least of it: There are not too many things more terrifying than 6 lanes of fast Paris traffic bearing down on you! Lesson learned.

    1. Still challenging around Bastille and Republique, but nothing I like I remember from bad old days. (Like five years ago). I did scooter my way down Ave de l’Opera at rush hour, so got the necessary Adrenalin hit.

  2. Terrific article Gord. We have much to learn from Paris and an often “top-down” approach to planning where expertise is valued. I highly recommend “Paris Reborn” by Stephane Kirkland who documents the history of the 19th century transformation of Rue de Rivoli amongst many other wonders of this great city.

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