Cyclists ride to battle on the green line

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The belated introduction of cycle lanes in Paris looked like a good idea at the time. Who could be against it, except the most pig-headed of the city's motorists?

In February, when announced, it answered a host of needs. A summer and autumn of high pollution had disgraced local authorities into thinking something had to be done. Cycle lanes were a cheap, quick and simple response. The strikes of November and December brought gridlock to Paris and forced people, eventually, to take to their bikes.

Finally, Mayor Jean Tiberi needed a distraction from accusations about his children and their cut-price council flats. A "green plan", starting with cycle lanes, was a media-friendly idea.

Seven months later, the first lanes have appeared, 25 km of them, marked in green and white, with drawings of bicycles so that there can be no mistake. There are street signs, too, indicating where the lanes begin.

The size of the lanes, and the fact that they are often shared with buses and taxis, make for the first problem. The cyclists do not feel especially safe. The second problem is bus drivers who see the bollards at the beginning of the cycle lane after traffic lights as an intrusion into their space; their progress is slowed and they do not feel like being generous to the cyclists thereafter.

The biggest problem from the cyclists' point of view, however, is that the signs announcing the cycle lanes are "obligatory", not "recommending". This, one cyclists' organisation has said, was not mentioned when the plan for lanes was discussed, and it means a cyclist who ranges outside the lane is committing an offence.

Cyclists now complain of being stopped when they range outside "their" lane. They face a 400-franc (pounds 50) fine, and perhaps a check of their bike: a bell that does not work will cost another F300. Surely, said one, Paris police have better things to do than patrol cycle lanes.

So far, there is no resolution. But the first road markings are starting to fade, and the number of cyclists using the lanes is negligible. Meanwhile, another 25km of lanes is supposed to be completed by the end of the year.