I complain a good bit about the Paris Métro: despite its art nouveau charm, it’s often a crowded, noisy, and filthy experience. I usually don’t give the RATP (the company that operates the transit system) much credit either, but I have to tip my hat to the recently launched third generation of its “civility” campaign, “Restons civils sur toute la ligne” (“Let’s stay civil on the whole line”). Like earlier “seasons,” the campaign uses clever little “proverbs” and animal characters to remind passengers how to conduct themselves in the Métro … and the subtle nod to the fables of La Fontaine is so, so apropos for a French audience. The ads also integrate graphics representing transit lines into the proverbs. Only time will tell if the campaign will have any real impact on the daily transit experience, but until it does, we can at least enjoy the ads … Continue reading “Let’s stay civil …”
Photo: Le Grand Châtelet after 1684
Châtelet-Les Halles is not only located at the very geographic center of Paris, it is also the transit hub of the city. It is actually a complex of two Métro stations (Châtelet and Les Halles) and a pôle d’échange, or central exchange station, for the RER (Réseau Express Régional or Regional Express Network, Paris’s commuter light rail system). The RER station services three of Paris’s 5 RER lines: A, B, and D. Métro station Châtelet services 5 of Paris’s 16 Métro lines: 1, 4, 7, 11, and 14. Métro station Les Halles services the 4 line.
The first notable thing about Châtelet-Les Halles is that it’s huge! The southern end of the RER station connects to the Châtelet Métro station and the northern end connects to the Les Halles Métro station. The walking distance from Châtelet to Les Halles is almost half a mile (750 meters)—a distance 50% longer than the average distance between stations in the Paris Métro system! Thankfully the transfer is facilitated at one point by a nice, long people-moving conveyor belt … or you can just take the 4 line and save the shoe leather.
The second notable thing about Châtelet-Les Halles is that it is the busiest underground transit station in the world. Each weekday, Châtelet-Les Halles hosts about 750,000 travelers (more than the average weekday traffic in the entire Washington, DC Metro). During rush hour, 120 trains arrive in and depart from Châtelet-Les Halles each hour! That’s a lot of people scurrying here and there. No wonder Châtelet-Les Halles is, in my opinion, the most overwhelming and disorienting Métro station in Paris.
So, the question that I initially set out to answer: why is it called Châtelet-Les Halles?
Photo: © Simon Law
If you’ve ever spent much time in Paris, you know that the Paris Métro is enormous: 16 lines, 381 stops in 297 stations (of which 62 provide correspondence between lines), and 132 miles of routes. It’s not as large as New York’s subway system, of course, which has 24 lines, 468 stops in 421 stations, and 209 miles of routes, but it is much bigger than the Metro system of my hometown of Washington, DC: the DC Metro has 5 lines, 118 stops in 86 stations, and 106 miles of routes.
Paris’s Métro is one of the densest subway systems in the world, with 245 of its stations located within the 34 square miles of the city of Paris itself. Since the Métro was designed at the end of the nineteenth century to comprehensively serve the city, the stations are very close together: only 548 meters apart on average (about a third of a mile or 600 yards), ranging down to 424 meters (a quarter of a mile or 465 yards) on line 4 and up to one kilometer (about six tenths of a mile or 1,100 yards) on the newest line 14. With all these Métro stations and their maze-like transfer tunnels, it’s no wonder that Paris has been described as a véritable gruyère.