Paris Lessons: Bikes, Trains and Automobiles

Metropolitan metro station entrance, paris, France. Photo by Donna L. Long, 2014. All rights reserved.
Metropolitan metro station entrance, Paris, France. Photo by Donna L. Long, 2014. All rights reserved.

My whole eight days in Paris were spent walking and taking the Metro, Paris’ underground train (subway). I didn’t take taxis or ride in a car. I never rode on a bus either. My eight days in Paris were spent traveling on public transportation, underground and on foot.

Paris Arrondisements "Plan: 2005 J.M. Schomburg, Wikimedia.
Paris Arrondissements “Plan: 2005 J.M. Schomburg, Wikimedia.

Paris is almost circular. The Seine River divides the rough circle in half, creating the right and left banks of the river. Paris is divided into twenty departments (districts called arrondissements). These arrondissements start in the center of Paris and spiral outward in a counter-clockwise flow. The nobility and upper class lived as close to the city center where the royal palaces were located. Even though France no longer has kings and queens, the center of the City, particularly the right bank is still the prime location for the city’s upper classes. In general, the poorer you are in Paris the further from the city center you live.

Bus in Paris, France. Photo courtesy Donna L. Long, 2014. All rights reserved.
Bus in Paris, France. Photo courtesy Donna L. Long, 2014. All rights reserved.

Paris’ public transportation system is extensive. The metro, buses, suburban rail lines and passenger trains provide transportation to Paris, its surrounding suburbs, the rest of France, Europe and the world. They major difference between Paris’ metro and Philadelphia’s is that the Paris metro is beneath the entire city, not just one major street, like Philadelphia’s Broad Street and a few side routes. I wish the Philadelphia reached under the entire city, it doesn’t.

My friend Peggy and I saw Paris on foot. We left our sixth arrondissement, left bank hotel around the time most Parisians were heading off to work. Even with our limited French skills we still were able to get around easily. Even though we planned to take a bus to sightsee, we never did. The metro was just so convenient. Large maps and easy to figure out directions were at each station. We bought two sets of ten tickets, and had only at one or two tickets left when we took the metro and suburban rail lines to the airport on the way home. No, we didn’t take a taxi to the airport, we took the subway. Philadelphians do this all the time. I took the subway to the airport when I travelled to Las Vegas and to Italy.

Cyclist on Paris boulevard. Photo by Donna L. Long, 2014. All right reserved.
Cyclist on Paris boulevard.

Bicycles were also prevalent on Paris streets. Fearless bike riders mix in with rush hour traffic. The City’s Velib Bikes Program (velo + liberty or “bike freedom”). This program gives city residents and visitors access to more than 20,000 bikes at almost 1,500 stations throughout the city. You can use the Velib bikes by paying with a credit card or buying a subscription online. Velib is the largest bike-sharing program in the world and is run by Paris’ town hall. Philadelphia has begun its’ own bike-sharing program.

Velib bicycles in Paris, France, 2014. Photo by Donna L. Long, 2014. All rights reserved.
Public transportation: Velib bicycles in Paris, France

Walking the streets of Paris is a joy. By walking I saw things close up instead of speeding by in a car or taxis. I interacted with people, greeted shopkeepers, got directions and advice from the many kind and helpful Parisians. And I did find Parisians kind and helpful in general. I think they appreciate when you try to speak French even when your pronunciation is atrocious. They like the effort.

Street trees long the Quai De Conti in Paris. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Street trees along the Quai De Conti in Paris. Photo by Donna L. Long, 2014. All rights reserved.

From Louis XIV and his city planner in the 1600s redesigned the streets and boulevards of this beautiful capital city. Paris was made for walking. The shaded wide boulevards and extensive sidewalks are throughout the city. The trees are pruned so while walking you don’t notice the trees are above you. You just know it is comfortable and pleasant to stroll along.

Paris’ mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is trying to make the center of Paris car-free.  Philadelphia’s extensive public transportation system is a key reason why the city is great to live in and travel around. The public transportation system also makes it less expensive to live in Philadelphia than many other cities and the surrounding Philadelphia suburbs.

The Paris Lesson to Be Learned: Cities, towns, and neighborhoods around the world can learn from Paris, make it easy, comfortable and pleasant to walk instead of drive and people will. Many American suburbs don’t have sidewalks or tree-lined streets of shops or public transportation. These things are everywhere in Paris.

More Lessons from Paris, France

Paris Lessons: Versailles, the Ultimate McMansion

Paris Lessons: Public Gardens and City Life

Paris Lessons: Street Trees and Strolling in the Shade

Paris Lessons: How to Make a Liveable City

Further reading

Hey List-makers, Most Millennials Don’t Want to Live in Sprawling Car-Dependent Cities

Ever Thought of Living in Philadelphia?

Map of Regions of France, Paris is in the top, center.

Map courtesy of the FRENCH TOURIST OFFICE, the Official Web Site.

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