September 9, 2014

Tour Montparnasse: Mon Cher, you look so much better at night

Brent Toderian, below, refers to the much-reviled Tour Montparnasse.  It’s got a new look – at night, at least.

Often criticized for seeming out of place in Paris’ urban landscape, the Montparnasse Tower is now transformed with light into a visual landmark in the Parisian night sky. The lighting reflects the rhythm of the city’s events with illuminated scenarios that add creativity and movement to suit the occasion, such as the annual all-night art festival (La Nuit Blanche), the Music Festival (La Fete de la Musique), the national celebrations for Bastille Day on July 14th or Breast Cancer Awareness Day.


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Looking for a summer read?  This is it:


Paris.  On foot.  With a guide who writes well.

But it’s not just a guide book, not just descriptions of nice places to go.  There is a story line, strange diversions, a bit of sex – and a set of notes at the end on a User’s Guide to Paris as good as any I’ve read.  It’s about the author, John Baxter, his family and his neighbourhood around the rue de l’Odeon.  It’s a very satisfying read on a summer’s day.

Special recommendation to John Atkin, another urban guide who has probably already read it, and to our friend Dean, who has rented us a lovely little place in the 4th, and who will be amused by the chapter on “A Little Place in the Nineteenth.”

So will you.

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A pedestrian perspective.



Révolution à la française


From World Streets:

The just-elected new Mayor of Paris, Mrs. Anne Hidalgo, has prepared a revolutionary sustainable mobility project whereby virtually all of the streets of the city will be subject to a maximum speed limit of 30 km/hr.

The only exceptions in the plan are a relatively small number of major axes into the city and along the two banks of the Seine, where the speed limit will be 50 km/hr, and the ring road (“Périphérique”) where the top permissible speed has been reduced from 80 to 70 km/hr.   On the other end of the equation are a certain number of “meeting zones” spotted around the city in which pedestrians and cyclists have priority but mix with cars which are limited to a top speed of 20 km/hr. A veritable révolution à la française.

More here.


The above piece got big reaction:

A great many people apparently, to judge by the reaction to our yesterday’s World Street posting on the decision of the city of Paris to limit virtually all traffic in the city to a top speed of 30 km/hr. That article literally blew the lid off of the normal reader reaction to postings here, which commonly run in the hundreds at most in the several days immediately following publication. In this case we were deluged by more than 4000 readers who checked in from more than 50 countries.

More here.




Are countdown signals safe?

A new study suggests not: The impact of pedestrian countdown signals on pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions.

This study examined the frequency of PMVC (ped motor-vehicle collisions) before and after installation of PCS in the City of Toronto over a 10-year period. The main objective was to determine whether PCSs were associated with any change in PMVCs, controlling for seasonal and temporal effects.

The potential for benefit exists if pedestrians use the PCS timer displays to make safer road crossing decisions. Conversely, the potential for harm exists if PCSs cause pedestrians to rush or drivers to accelerate in response to the timer display. Either possibility may enhance the likelihood of a collision.

The results:

This analysis demonstrated an increase in PMVC rates of 26% at intersections, post-PCS installation. The increase in PMVC rate was more pronounced in adults, and for severe and fatal collisions. These results controlled for baseline PMVC rate, season, as well as installation year.


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Greg Vann tweets this update on the Paris civic election:


Placemaking in Paris: How Politics Changed the Parisian Landscape

During Mayor Bernard Delanoë’s 13 years in City Hall, many streets were redesigned to add dedicated bus lanes. More than 400 miles of bicycle lanes were created. Since 2002 the banks of the Seine have been closed to traffic each summer and 5,000 tons of sand have been used to create a beach in the middle of the city, complete with parasols and other sea-side amenities.

In 2006 a major new tramway line was opened. In 2007 the city introduced a bikeshare program, Velib, that today has a quarter of a million subscribers and accounts for 100,000 trips a day on average. 20 mile per hour zones were created in many residential neighborhoods and new “shared spaces” were introduced in certain streets.

In 2013 the city permanently decommissioned a highway segment to create a promenade along the Seine and unveiled the redesign of Paris’s largest square, Place de la République, now largely reserved for pedestrians.



The two major candidates to replace Delanoë come from very different places on the political spectrum, but neither is prepared to break with his policies regarding the quality of urban life.

Anne Hidalgo, the current Deputy Mayor who is leading in the polls to replace Delanoë, has a program in line with the accomplishments of her political mentor. She intends to continue to promote different ways of getting around, including a scootershare program and a massive increase in parking spaces for bikes. She wants to continue to increase the proportion of public space dedicated to pedestrians. …

What is more surprising is that the main Conservative candidate, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who is ideologically vehemently opposed to Hidalgo on many issues, is largely in accord with the previous administration when it comes to matters of urban space.  …

What this year’s electoral contest has revealed is that high quality urban places and an urban experience that favors pedestrians and diverse forms of non-motor transportation have become an electoral expectation in Paris.


And in Vancouver?

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Michael Kimmelman reviews an exhibition of photographs by Charles Marville, the 19th-century Parisian who documented the city during its Haussmann transformation, “when luxury apartment buildings were replacing old shops and homes, and many working people could no longer afford to live in their own neighborhoods.”


The parallel with our times, whether in New York or Vancouver, is obvious – and Kimmelman runs with it:

I wonder, here in the early third, whether photographers are now out and about, in the spirit of Marville, documenting 57th Street, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick and East Harlem, Willets Point, Long Island City and Hell’s Kitchen.

Big cities change. That’s urban life. But the best cities don’t leave the vulnerable behind. Some 20,000 working poor were said to have lost their homes on the Île de la Cité when Haussmann’s renewal forced them out. Centuries-old tanneries along the Bièvre — the impoverished “faubourg of misery,” as it was called, but a community rich in history and pride — got the boot, too. …

All these years later, it’s easy to forget the criminal gangs cleared from the Île de la Cité, the sewage-filled gutters and filthy water drawn from barrels that spread misery and disease across Paris. In retrospect, Haussmann’s redevelopment produced wealth and a miracle of well-proportioned, grand and gracious public spaces, a cosmopolitan model of light and air — on which many displaced Parisians were now compelled to gaze from afar.

Full column here.

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World Streets updates the latest addition to Parisian streets:

As electric vehicles reduce oil consumption and vehicle carbon emissions on a per-kilometre basis, a team from the International Energy Agency recently checked out the innovative Parisian car-sharing system that allows tourists and residents to criss-cross Paris for a modest fee – and an even more attractive cost in carbon emissions: zero.      

Autolib’ has a website at Website:

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Here’s the unedited text of my most recent column in Business in Vancouver:

Ah, Paris: the city that lives up to its cliches. They really do play sentimental accordion music on the streets, the elderly busker in the Metro really is singing “Je ne regette rien,” the women really are astonishingly chic. (Do they all take scarf-tying lessons in kindergarten?)

The mystery of Paris is what you don’t see. How do they manage to wire a town for the 21st century that looks like it hasn’t changed since the days of Haussmann?  Where are the garbage dumpsters? In fact, where’s all the traffic? This is, after all, one of the densest cities in Europe.

Take the entire population of Metro Vancouver, concentrate it all in the City of Vancouver minus the downtown peninsula, build hardly a thing over eight storeys, and that’s the Ville de Paris. But that is not where I am.

I’m sitting in a conference centre in La Defense, the largest corporate centre in Europe. This cluster of highrise headquarters for France’s biggest corporations rises just beyond the low-rise arrondissements – a shadowy skyline at the western end of the historic axis that begins with the Louvre Pyramid and climaxes at the Grand Arche.

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