Homage To The Paris Metro

Metro signJon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle appears to have been in Paris around the time I was last month, and he also rode the Metro (the City of Lights is on my mind today after the brutal murders there). Like me, Carroll is taken by the convenience of the system:

I love the Metro’s Stygian tunnels and the endless tile work. I love the utter predictability of it; a transit system you can take for granted. I think: Wouldn’t it be nice to have real rapid transit like that?

Imagine San Francisco crisscrossed by subways. Imagine stations close together, so everyone’s neighborhood is served. Imagine a system like that running 24 hours a day, almost always safe, sleepy at night and pulsing in the late afternoon. Imagine what a contribution to public spaces that would make.

And like me, he realizes this is an infrastructure system that could only have been built a century ago:

But no way that is happening now. We’re not building infrastructure anymore, beyond some political monuments characterized mostly by cost overruns. Paris’ first Metro line opened in 1900; the whole thing, all 133 miles of it, was finished a quarter of a century later. Back then, they thought building cool stuff was a positive cultural phenomenon, but that hasn’t been true for half a century now.

Carroll’s piece reminded me of another convenience in the Paris Metro: live human beings at information desks to help you navigate the system. BART and some other rail systems have such a feature (if you consider station agents true information helpers, which they aren’t always — at least in my experience). But the number and helpfulness of these information officers, particularly for a confused tourist like me, was much appreciated.

Meanwhile, my thoughts are with the residents of that beautiful city today.


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