Where All Lanes are Fast: the Periphèrique

racing traffic
Parisians are devil-may-care drivers.

A Couple of Tips for Survival

Paris:- Thursday, 23. April 1998:- To write this, I am not actually driving on the Paris ring-road known locally as the Periphèrique. I am sitting safely at home; a living veteran of this local race track.

The Periphèrique does its service year in and year out and it is hardly ever mentioned, but lately there have been some stories about it the press. I saved a really sensational report about it for several weeks, and I naturally threw it out two days before the next sensational report appeared.

As everybody knows, Paris is clogged with traffic. This is somewhat exaggerated and quite often it is fairly easy to get around, especially about eight on Sunday mornings. There are two major reasons for not driving yourself in the city: it can be slow when it is not stopped dead, and there are no parking spots available.

Okay, to be truthful, sometimes the traffic moves quite fast and flows smoothly, and sometimes there are free parking spots. But it is impossible to tell a visitor the when and where of either or both, so it is easier to say it is all impossible and simply recommend buying a 'Paris Visite' ticket or one of its variants from the RATP.

This advice is useless to thousands, no - hundreds of thousands of drivers - who have to transit through the Ile-de-France or Paristakeoff at concorde itself, for any one of several reasons. The most common one, is that you are going someplace else and Paris is in the way.

Coming from the north, Paris can be side-stepped by an easterly route, which is offered as an option just after passing the airport at Roissy. I've never tried this, but I understand it connects to the autoroute to the east - the A4, and eventually runs into the autoroute du Soleil - the A6. I think the overhead sign says 'Paris-Est' on it.

From the same direction, the outer westerly route is incomplete - because it is not far enough 'out' for several communities it is planned to pass through. If you come this way, you will end up thrashing around in Nanterre instead of hooking up to the westerly A13 to Normandy or the southwesterly A11 to Bordeaux.

If you are lost in Nanterre and really only want to go west, look for the new A14 in Nanterre someplace, because after paying a steep toll, this will get you to the A13. Nobody likes this one much because of its Minitel fare structure: you pay by the metre travelled, the time of day, the number of car-pool riders, and so on.

Okay, the above was for prudent folks who don't mind puzzles and driving some extra kilometres. The following is for people who enjoy life in the fast lane and high-stakes slot machines.

However you arrive at Paris; from north, east, south or west - you are going to head straight for the Periphèrique. Stop! Before doing this, try to get some inkling of an idea of where you will hit it and which direction you want to go to get off it.

If you get it wrong, you may do nearly a full circuit. This is annoying but all things come to an end, and you will get to your correct sortie sooner or later; so be cool.

Okay, back to the Periphèrique. The first thing to remember on arriving at this monster, is you normally have the 'right-of-way.' This means, in theory, you can just whoosh onto it without worrying if the outside lane is bumper-to-bumper with metal and rubber. In practice, slow down a bit, and slot yourself in - cars coming in this lane should slow down a bit to let you on.

Next, and this is vital! Get out of this far-right outside lane as quickly as you can - it is full of other cars, trucks, buses, caravans, all coming on the Periphèrique with the 'right-of-way' working for them.

For peace of mind, stay in this lane; call it 'lane two.' Stay in the middle of the lane, between the lines. Motorcyclists on the 'big cubes' have the mistaken impression the lines themselves have been set aside for them as 'lanes' and if you get too close to either line, you might get an outside rear-view mirror torn off.

The 'motards' also want you to watch for them in your rear-view mirrors, plus signal any lane changes you intend. If the traffic is dense, you might make a 'change of opportunity,' and upset one of these motards, and they think this is very inconsiderate.

You are rolling along in lane two and staying in the middle out of trouble and watching the approaching exit signs. The one you want is signaled about two exits in advance. Now comes the tricky part.

To move to the right-most lane, you do not have the right-of-way. This lane may be full of all sorts of moving circuses, plus drivers behind you going faster than you are, moving into it. Besidesinfo overload watching for these - and everything coming on - you must remember not to upset the motards, although they will probably be two lanes over to your left - but you can never tell.

Make the change with your signals on. Whew! Made it! Just shoehorned in there; just in time. Nothing to it. Get ready to take the exit. Uh oh - what's this? A line of cars entering right where you are supposed to exit! They've got the right-of-way. You have to criss-cross through this?

You keep your right-turn signals going but now is the time to stop looking in the rear-view mirrors. Expand your vision in an arc from straight ahead around to 120 degrees to the right, in order not to blind-side anybody, find a hole somehow; one foot on the gas and the other on the brakes and fingers crossed - and through you go and up the exit ramp. After about 15 minutes your pulse will return to near normal.

That's the basic Periphèrique lesson. The other major trick it has is changing widths without a lot of warning; going from four to three lanes is normal. In summer it can get down to two - or even be mysteriously closed for repairs, especially at night.

When there's a lot of traffic, the loss of a lane is not serious and is signalled by a big jam. But at night, when some pilots are ticking off 120 or 160 kph, running into fewer lanes can be disconcerting.

Most of the time, driving the Periphèrique is about what you might have imagined roundy-roundy racingetoile oh etoile to be like. At other times, it seems like a big parking lot, where everybody is running their motors, talking on portable phones or fuming.

But when it is average, when everybody is more of less behaving and you are cruising carefully along in the second lane, the Periphèrique is a quick and uncomplicated way of getting around Paris - and getting on the road to where you are going.

One last word: if something does go wrong, try and get your rig to the breakdown lane - if there is one. Then get out of it and get yourself and your loved ones off the road, well behind any barriers there might be.

The cops and tow-trucks should arrive within minutes, and if necessary, ambulances will not be far behind. The whole Periphèrique is covered by video, and the emergency services have several spots where they lie in waiting for incidents to happen; under the direction of two command posts.

Have you got all this? Have a nice drive.

Driving in France is pretty much the same as on the Periphèrique, but some what less hectic. The general rule for right-of-way is everything on the right has priority - so if you are in the centre lane on one of the three-lane country roads and it goes down to two lanes, you do not have any 'priority' to move to the right lane.

If you have not driven in France in a long time there is a new wrinkle to the 'right-of-way.' Many intersections have been made into mini-roundabouts, and with these the priority has been reversed. These are naturally counter-clock-wise in traffic direction. Everything already in them has the right-of-way. Everything coming from the left in other words.

The biggest roundabout of all, the Etoile in Paris, still has its 'old' right-of-way; everything from the right has priority, everybody coming in to it has the right to enter. You have to give way and you have no 'right' to leave it.

For the Etoile, just remember if you run out of gas in the middle of it - it can be a long sprint to the centre or to an edge.

In Metropole Paris
Latest Issue
2008 Issues
2007 | 2006 | 2005
2004 | 2003 | 2002
2001 | 2000 | 1999
1998 | 1997 | 1996
In Metropole Paris
About Metropole
About the Café Club
Links | Search Site
The Lodging Page
Paris Museums List
Metropole's 1996 Tours
Metropole's 2003 Tours
Support Metropole
Metropole's Books
Shop with Metropole
Metropole's Wine
metropole paris goodblogweek button
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini