The Paris petite ceinture is a railway ringing Paris, built between 1852 and 1869. It was once well used, before falling in state of abandonment. The last commercial train  has been seen in the early 1990, since then questions on how the corridor should be re-use have recurringly arised

2001: The return of the Parisian tramway.

The early 1990, mark the renaissance of the tramway in Europe, and especially in France (5), and quickly enough , many advocates promote the idea of reusing the petite Ceinture to the benefit of such a transportation mode in Paris.

There is effectively a market for this. The parallel transit lines (bus PC on the adjacent Boulevards, called Boulevard des Marechaux, as well as the circular subway line 6. A 1995 study suggests that the line could attract 17,000 passenger per hour for this line once transformed as a surface subway (equivalent to the S-bahn) running at 30km/h…In the meantime an alternative option under study (1) is to upgrade the adjacent bus route into a tramway line with a much lower average speed, 20km/h, and per consequent a lower expected ridership 7,700 to 9,100 passenger per hour, but the later option also provides better connection with the existing subway network, as well as better local service.

The 1995-2006 city council under the right wing mayor JEan Tiberi was leaning toward this latest option, which had the advantage to not introduce new nuisance in a corridor which has became almost a natural reserve , but preferred to delay any hard decisions…so that the reintroduction of the Parisian tramway will be a contentious point of the 2001 municipal election.

The challenger and then long time councilor Betrand Delanoë, and its team had a very clear and  articulated position on the tramway, as expressed by its then Transport commissioner, Denis Baupin (Green party):
“ it marks a symbolic stop to a politic favoring the car, […], beside it, its main asset is the requalification of the urban space (5)(2)

Delanoë is elected in 2001 and the work on the tramway will commence almost immediatly, to get inaugurated in 2006:

tramway_t3

Delanoë will be reelected for a second mayoral mandate in 2007, but the question of the use of the petite ceinture has been left open: if not a tram, what use?

2012: The cycling highway idea

Delanoë, is then not seeking a third mandate, and endorse his first Adjoint, Anne Hidalgo. Hidalgo main contender is Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (nicknamed NKM) coming from the conservative party. The time when the introduction of a bike infrastructure  in the city was contentious is already a distant memory in 2012, and the cursor has moved on what kind of cycling infrastructure is the best? NKM proposes to reuse the Petite ceinture platform to implement a supercyle highway ringing Paris.

The idea will be quickly shut down by her main opposants: (3)

It has a geometry disadvantage of not being at grade (either tunnel or viaduct), and offering very few connections with the existing street network, but the main arguments against it are philosophical in nature:

  •  It creates usage conflict: a cycling highway with bike riding at 20-25km/h is judged not compatible with other use such as purposeless wandering or flanerie
  • It goes against the specify of the place, which exhale an unique unkempt atmosphere, slow speed local has grown to appreciate: “timeless”, “uniquely silent”, “mysterious and magic” are common thematic associated with the Petite Ceinture.
  • At the end, if one wants to really make the choice of active transportation, this needs to be done at the expense of other transportation mode.

Anne Hidalgo has been elected, and staged progress on the petite ceinture are occurring with the above in mind but with an important constraint: The transportation corridor (still property of the SNCF), need to keep its conversion potential to its former glory, whether the need arises in the future. A design reflecting this constraint supposes to provide a constant reminder to the user of the space of its original usage and potential future one:

It is what is achieved below, with a space accessible to people of all age and ability (4):


(1)it was in fact 2 competitive studies, the Petite ceinture option promoted by the french national railway network (SNCF), owner of the infrastructure, and the Boulevard des Marechaux option, promoted by the Parisian transit operator, RATP.

(2) Face aux lobbies, le tram trace sa voie. Petite ceinture ou Maréchaux, Paris retrouvera le tramway au XXIe siècle, Liberation, April 17th, 1996

(3) Petite ceinture : faire le tour de Paris à vélo et autres fantasmes, rue89, September 25th, 2013

(4) credit for all below pictures to Architecture Urbanisme FR

(5) See our post Transit as part of the urban fabric, October 23, 2012.