By Geert De Clercq and Forrest Crellin
PARIS (Reuters) - France will contribute 50 euros per person towards bicycle repairs after a nationwide coronavirus lockdown ends on May 11, taking an innovative step to encourage cycling and keep cars off city roads.
Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne announced on Thursday a 20 million euro ($22 million) plan for repairing bicycles, installing temporary bike parking spaces and financing cycling coaching sessions.
The government is keen to get more people cycling and reduce overcrowding in metros and buses, where it is hard to practice the social distancing required to prevent virus transmission.
Borne said the government will also accelerate a programme allowing employers to cover up to 400 euros of travel costs of staff who cycle to work.
"We want this period to be a new stage towards a cycling culture and we want the bicycle to be the queen of deconfinement," Borne said on her Twitter feed.
French cycling federation FUB, which will coordinate the bike repair programme, said the government has prepared 300,000 cheques worth 50 euros for the repair programme and said the scheme would be extended if it is a success.
"Cycling can contribute to preventing a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic," FUB's president Olivier Schneider said.
Paris and other cities are also planning to create new bike lanes by taking space away from car lanes.
Pierre Serne, who coordinates the government's cycling plan, told local radio France Bleu that the region around Paris plans to create up to 750 km of new bike lanes on departmental roads to make it easier for commuters to cycle in from towns outside the capital, notably on electric bikes for longer distances.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said on Twitter the city will create new bike lanes along busy metro lines 1, 4 and 13. She also said that major east-west thoroughfare Rue de Rivoli will be reserved for cycling, with only buses, taxis and emergency vehicles allowed on it.
The city is also making plans to improve bike lane connections to the financial district of La Defense on the western side of Paris.
Paris currently has about 370 km of bike paths and the temporary lanes are expected to increase that to 650 km.
(Reporting by Forrest Crellin and Geert De Clercq; Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Bate Felix/Giles Elgood/Susan Fenton)