Thoughts from Paris

It would have been nice to have someone to share Paris with, but I love the freedom to just head off in a direction because it looks interesting and chase down whims. My feet didn’t appreciate it, but the blisters will go down.

Every time I visit another city or country- and I’ve visited more in the last year than the previous decade- I seek out hidden corners and interesting museums. And then I vow that I should do the same when I get back to Manchester. I’m making the vow again, let’s see if I can keep to it.

Comparing Manchester to three capitals- London, Paris and Budapest- and New York is to risk diminishing it. It doesn’t have the scale, and it certainly doesn’t have the grand boulevards, of Paris, Budapest and NYC. As the first industrial city it is one of the most important places of the last two centuries, but it’s a sort of geek history, lacking the populist narratives of bombardment, occupation, liberation and unrest. Nonetheless, it punches above its weight, and it’s home. Certainly, if someone were to fund it, I’d move to Paris or Manhattan. But that’s not going to happen so I’m staying put and seeing if a few of the better foreign ideas make it to the dirty old town.

The first thing we need to do, which may come about because of the congestion charge, is sort out public transport. Even London is doing a better job of it than we are. Budapest probably did it best- one ticket for bus, tram, RER and Metro. Oxford Road may be the busiest bus route in Europe, but only because there are so many different companies competing for business on it. Stagecoach charges twice as much as Finglands for the same service with vehicles that are only slightly better. Meanwhile, radial routes suffer. It’s not impossible to get from Withington to Chorlton, but it’s not exactly easy either. Let’s re-regulate the buses and/or subsidise the secondary routes.

Budapest and Paris were both more bike friendly than Manchester. The proliferation of Velib bike stands in Paris meant that even people British non-cyclists might label as “normal” could be seen pottering around on two wheels. Next time I visit I’m packing jeans and a backpack and braving the mad French drivers. In Manchester we’re tolerated at best. One only has to read the comments on any Manchester Evening News story about bikes to gauge the low opinion too many drivers have of us I’m sure some of the commenters have chosen to pick on cyclists because it’s no longer acceptable to be openly racist. Few of the suggestions arising from these discussions would be much practical use. The only way to make cyclists safer, for themselves and others, is to get more of them onto the streets.

I’ll do my part, promoting cycling wherever possible and just getting out there as much as possible. I’ll also see what I can find out about the cycling part of the council’s pre congestion charge plans and report on them over at Two Wheels Good.


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