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Streets for walking and biking only

A Tale of Three Cities – Paris: Meeting the Step Goal

In a Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” However, in my Tale of Three Cities, it was only the best of times. In March 2017, I spent a week visiting three cities in Europe thanks to a flight deal to Paris, France. My friend and I flew into Paris and stayed there for a few days. Then we took the train to Brussels, Belgium, followed later by another train to Amsterdam, Netherlands, and eventually made our way back to Paris. As followers of this blog, you know about my passion for transportation even on vacation. In a multiple part series, I will reflect on my experience biking, walking, and using public transit (rail and bus) in each city. For the first post, I will discuss moving around Paris.

During my time in Paris, I mostly walked and used public transit. Although Paris has a bikeshare system with stations every few blocks, I chose not to bike while I was there because walking was more convenient and people drive aggressively. The popular tourist locations are spread around the city in different arrodissements (political districts) and the easiest way to move between the tourist areas was transit. When I wasn’t on public transit, I was walking to get to the museum or tourist location. Each day, I walked over 20,000 steps according to my phone app.

My transportation takeaways from Paris are:

Make it Easy for Visitors

Unlike other tourists’ cities that I have visited or lived including the District of Columbia, Paris makes it easy for visitors to move around.  Prior to arriving I purchased a 48-hour Paris Pass, which included unlimited rides on the transit system. For the time my pass was activated, it made using the transit system seamless. I did not have to worry about loading any money or trying to figure out the cost of my fare. It also encouraged me to use transit over taxis or rideshare to be able to take advantage of my pass.

Despite not speaking French beyond basic greetings, I easily navigated the transit system. Like other transit systems, multiple train lines with different destinations serviced the same platform. In Paris, real time digital transit signs provided information on all the stops on the next train’s route to prevent people from getting on the wrong train. In addition, it gave an actual time of arrival versus a generic 5 minutes as seen in most cities’ transit systems.

Although the wayfinding through the transit stations was overkill, I didn’t get lost, so they met their objective. In all the transit stations, the exits were numbered. Therefore, when GoogleMaps directions told me to use exit 5, all I had to do was look for exit 5. While that seems like a minor detail, when you don’t know the country’s native language it is much easier than trying to match words. When I came out of the transit stations, there was pedestrian scale signage to guide me where to go next, especially in the tourist areas.

Some Streets are for People

For periods of the day, some streets in Paris converted to walking and biking only streets. They were generally narrow, cobblestoned streets with retail and restaurants along the sides. Most of the restaurants had outdoor seating, which made for prime people watching (one of my favorite things to do). Although people could bike on these streets, it was a challenge given the volume of people walking and the cobblestones.

Outside of the walking and biking only streets, Paris had bike infrastructure such as bike lanes and contraflow lanes in roundabouts and one-way streets. However, on multimodal streets, people drive dangerously. With the traffic congestion, no one drove particularly fast, but they make sudden and aggressive movements to get in front of another driver without paying much attention to people biking. Hence, why I did not bike while I was there.

It’s the little things

There were little things about Paris that made for a great environment for moving around. As someone who is always on the search for somewhere to charge my cellphone, having a USB port at the bus stop was a small amenity with big value. Another small thing is that I could easily distinguish which taxis were on duty based on their lights. The taxis with green lights were available and red lights were unavailable. Again, helping the tourist effectively navigate the transportation system without knowing the native language.

In the next post, I’ll discuss moving around Brussels, Belgium.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

world-water-day

The Thirst Is Real

world-water-day

A water drop. Copyright: Michael Melgar, license: GNU FDL

After a long day at work, a good workout at the gym, or just a walk in the sizzling summer sun our personal need for water is even greater. Imagine turning on the faucet and tap-tap there is nothing there or that water coming from the faucet isn’t safe to drink. There is no bottled water to get you by, no water fountain to fill the gap. Water, like the air we breathe, is a precious natural resource. It is necessary to sustain life and, although it covers much of the earth, is also in short supply for those that need it most. According to a United Nations Report, 783 million people lack access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Take a second to imagine that situation: no water to drink, bathe in, cook with, or use for luxury purposes like washing the car or watering the lawn. Water quality and quantity are a global challenge.

Water issues are everywhere. Even in a country like the United States, where we seem to take water for granted, there are people who lack access to clean water due to lack of infrastructure and pollution. These issues are even more pervasive in developing nations and areas where there are population explosions. The already inadequate infrastructure cannot keep up with the demands on the system. Water pollution abounds from agricultural, human, and industrial sources. We have seen these examples in communities in Michigan, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas to name a few. In addition to water quality, climate change adds to an ever-increasing water scarcity by causing water to evaporate more quickly.

Human thirst for water is real and so must be the solutions to combat this crisis. Because there is a limited supply, we must focus on having clean sources of water. No one should lack access to clean water. There are actions that we can take individually such as conserving water and reducing our own pollution; but, there are other actions that take a collective broader approach. These actions can include:

  • finding ways to decrease agricultural runoff to reduce sediment, bacteria, fertilizers, and pesticides in waterways;
  • water reuse such as gray water systems;
  • combatting climate change to deal with scarcity issues;
  • using pollution prevention methods and technologies to decrease contamination from industrial sources;
  • sustainable development, which includes low impact development and green infrastructure;
  • and building infrastructure in new places as well as rebuilding crumbling infrastructure.

Until we stand firm and act, hold our representatives responsible, and advocate for clean water at all levels of government, we will witness the devastating consequences of clean water scarcity including disease and death of millions of humans as well as fish and wildlife, rampant hunger, and incidents that impact our security. A few weeks ago, we celebrated World Water Day but our commitment to preserving this natural resource should be daily.


Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

Image of an evening shot in New York City looking at a pile of snow in the middle of a crosswalk with many sets of footsteps through it. There are people in the background on the other side of the street in winter clothing walking around.

Fair Weather Safety

Snow. Some people love it (ME!). Some people hate it (everyone else!). However, we can all agree that it presents some interesting results from a planner or engineer’s perspective. Planners love to point out the “sneckdowns” that occur to show all the underutilized roadway space that exists. They have their merits because they do serve to calm traffic and shorten crossing distances… that is, if you are physically able to cross the street.

No matter where I have lived in this region or others, urban or suburban, when we have snow storms, pedestrians are often not as well considered or prioritized as other modes. Roads are plowed, cycletracks are plowed (well, plowed enough), but sidewalks are often left subject to property owners’ discretion and shoveling prowess. There are a few problems with this kind of policy:

  1. Sidewalks can often become hazardous when it ices over if not shoveled and treated properly. If a sidewalk is not continuously and consistently shoveled and treated, icy patches can send someone to the hospital. I was especially conscious of this because after a certain point in pregnancy, any fall means a trip to the Emergency Room to check on the baby. These patches are equally as problematic for seniors and those with disabilities.
  2. Crosswalks are often impassable. Plows often pile up snow at the intersections and in many cases, this means near crosswalks and curb ramps. The snow then refreezes into an ice mountain. Crossing becomes impossible unless you can scale a 3’ snow mountain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically pack my ice climbing equipment on my way to work. Best case scenario, you try to climb Snow Mountain and your foot falls through what is actually slush and you end up with squishy, wet shoes all day. People in wheelchairs have an even worse time in these situations because crossing is just not an option.
  3. Pedestrians often must walk in the street. Since streets and roadways are a priority for plows, pedestrians often must resort to walking in the street because it is the only reliable place to walk where the likelihood is lower that you’ll slip and have an injury. This becomes a huge hazard especially with dark winter clothing, earlier sunsets during winter, and malfunctioning street lighting or lighting on timers. I’ve seen multiple people utilizing right turn pockets on busy roads to get past the intersection and rejoin the sidewalk where the plows have not piled up snow. Even worse, people have died in these cases
  4. Pedestrian refuges become precarious because they are often left unplowed or overcome with snow. This results in longer crossing distances and increased time needed to cross.

This becomes a Vision Zero issue because people can be seriously injured or killed in these situations. While this kind of safety may not be a nation-wide concern, in the Northeast and regions with heavy snow storms during the winter, it is a largely overlooked issue. It is a relatively easy fix as well. Training plow drivers and independent contractors to plow snow away from pedestrian crossings rather than into them. Attaching fines to those that do not comply. Agencies can also deploy smaller plows, snow blowers, or other equipment as they do for cycletracks or protected bike lanes to clear crosswalk ramps and pedestrian refuges. Depending on policies, these are generally in the public right of way, and would fall under the purview of municipal agencies. If not, the property owner on the corner should be responsible for ensuring at least the curb ramps are clear.

Bottom line is, transportation conditions impact choices and many people still need to travel to their jobs during or after a storm. If people can’t walk to the metro or bus stop, they may choose to drive or rideshare. For those that can’t drive as an option they make unsafe choices to walk in the street. For a region that is focused on reducing congestion and increasing safety, this is a relatively small change that could make a big difference in getting back to normal after a storm by focusing on all modes as they reconnect the transportation network. As a region we can look to other cities or federal guidance that experience more intensive storms to learn from them. I even came up with the initiative name: Vision ZerSnow and that one you can have for free.

 

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 





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