PARIS (AFP) - Some of the busiest traffic arteries in Paris will be reserved for cyclists in a bid to limit crowds on public transport when France begins lifting its coronavirus lockdown next week, the city's mayor said.
"In total, 50km of lanes normally used by cars will be reserved for bicycles," Ms Anne Hidalgo told the Parisien newspaper in an interview published Tuesday (May 5).
She also said another 30 streets would be made pedestrian-only, "in particular around schools to avoid groups of people."
The mayor had already announced last week that the Rue de Rivoli, the main east-west thoroughfare through the heart of the French capital, would be only for bikes starting May 11.
Other streets will include the Boulevard Saint-Michel in the Left Bank's Saint-Germain neighbourhood, and the express tunnel under the chaotic roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe.
Many Paris suburbs have also announced plans for new bike lanes, hoping to reduce pressure on heavily used commuter trains and buses as well as the Paris metro, where many seats will now be off-limits to keep people apart.
Paris officials are bracing for the return of residents after an estimated 20 to 25 per cent of its population of some 2.2 million fled to country homes or elsewhere before the nationwide stay-at-home orders came into effect on March 17.
Health experts warn that the social distancing necessary to avoid a fresh surge in Covid-19 cases will be difficult in large cities, especially for people who rely on mass transport to get to work.
Ms Hidalgo, who is running for re-election, has been pushing for years to reduce car use in the capital by reducing lanes and speed limits, and closing off dozens of streets completely.
She said some of the street closures could be made permanent even after the crisis has passed.
"I know that the majority of Parisians do not want to see a return of cars and pollution," the mayor said.
The French government has unveiled a 20 million euro (S$30.71 million) package to spur cycling post-lockdown, including a 50 euro subsidy for bike repairs or tune-ups.
"As the lockdown ends, we need bicycles to fully take their place" as transportation solutions, Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne said Monday.