Monday, 20 December 2010

A Tale of Two Cities: Carfree in Paris and London

Last week saw two pieces of news which show some key differences between how things are done in two cities which, although only a couple of hundred miles apart, happen to be in different countries: London and Paris. London saw the “topping out” of the central core of the Shard of Glass. The Shard became the UK’s tallest building at 244 metres, compared with One Canada Square, the Canary Wharf tower, which is just 235 metres high. shard-of-glass When finished, the Shard will be Europe’s tallest commercial building, at 310 sky scraping metres, or 72 storeys. The Shard sits practically on top of London Bridge station, and, with its hotel, viewing floors, apartments and offices, will generate thousands of new journeys – like the other megabuildings that are now popping up all over central London. The irony is that the Shard is scheduled to be finished in 2012, but the improvements to the Thameslink rail line that runs next to it through London Bridge Station, have just been postponed until 2018. (See previous post).  Compare and contrast with Paris. Here, RER rail lines cross the city as Thameslink does and Crossrail will. And then last week came even more down to earth news: a contract has now been let to provide the four seater electric Autolib, a four wheeled version of Paris’s popular Velib pedal-powered bike hire scheme. The scheme will be launched in Autumn 2011, and means that it will be even easier to be carfree in Paris, as locals will be able to rent an electric vehicle from a fleet of 3,000 whenever they want to.

According to the US National Public Radio, “Paris' pedestrians and cyclists have had a lot to celebrate in a decade of pro-green policies. Since 2001, traffic in the city has dropped nearly 25 percent because of better public transport and restrictions on automobiles.” Whilst electric cars are quieter and less polluting than their fossil fuel equivalents they do not have a zero carbon footprint (see previous post). But this scheme will be another piece in the jigsaw of integrated transport, while London continues to pursue policies where supply always lags demand.   So, London, which eventually caught up with Paris and many other cities which now run bike hire schemes, with the Barclays Bike Hire scheme, has again been overtaken by Paris. Note to Mayor of London Boris Johnson: Are You Listening, Boris?

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