Chain reaction: bikes and pedestrians do battle in COVID-era Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - Parisian commuters in their thousands reacted to the COVID-19 epidemic by ditching public transport and walking or biking instead, but now they find themselves fighting each other for space on the crowded streets.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Twice daily during rush hour, throngs of cyclists teem through central Paris, in many places using cycle lanes specially widened to encourage people to avoid cramming into the metro where they risk spreading the disease.

At junctions and pedestrian crossings, the flow of cyclists intersects with a flow of people on foot. On occasion, cyclists ride through red lights, or pedestrians step out into a cycle lane without looking. Accidents and near-misses are common.

“Cyclists are not so careful with pedestrians. They just keep going,” said Nadine Lefebvre, a 66-year-old retiree. “This morning on the pavement, a bicycle slalomed around me, because he could no longer pass on the road.”

In September last year sensors in Paris detected an average of 55.8 cyclists per hour around the city; this September the figure is up to 97.2 per hour.

Paris city authorities have sent out marshals to keep order in the cycle lanes, and they say they are imposing on-the-spot fines of up to 135 euros ($157) for cyclists who break the rules.

David Belliard, deputy mayor of Paris, said he wanted to create a “pedestrians’ committee” to draw up proposals on how to better share city streets with cyclists.

“We must protect the pedestrians,” he said.

Previously, the most heated turf war on the streets of Paris was between cars and other, greener forms of transport.

Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo has partially settled that argument, by restricting access for cars in many streets. Her ultimate goal is to pedestrianise the city centre.

The section of Paris’ Rue de Rivoli thoroughfare that runs past the Louvre Museum used to have three lanes of traffic and a cycle lane. Since May this year, private vehicles are banned, and three lanes are given over to cyclists.

Reporting by Michaela Cabrera and Noemie Olive; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones