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  • 01.12.17

To Clean Its Air, Paris Is Kicking Cars Off More Major Streets

The French capital has made major progress in redesigning the city to reduce traffic (and the smog that comes with it). Now it’s going even further.

To Clean Its Air, Paris Is Kicking Cars Off More Major Streets
[Images: © Mairie de Paris]

Traffic in Paris–and the resulting smog–has dropped 30% since the beginning of the millennium as the city pushed for better public transit. But pollution still sometimes spikes to levels that the EU considers dangerous. Now the mayor wants to cut the number of remaining cars in half.

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In a new plan, the city will cut traffic on two major roads, replacing some of it with a new electric tram and bike lanes.

The Rue du Rivoli, one of the city’s busiest commercial streets, will be redesigned with a two-way bike path that runs from the Place de la Concorde to the Place de la Bastille. On the upper highway that runs along the right bank of the Seine, a new electric tram-bus will run in both directions, carrying thousands of people a day and replacing lanes of traffic.

Place du Carrousel, a road that crosses a public square in front of the Louvre, will be banned to cars. The heart of the third and fourth arrondissements will begin to be pedestrianized.

All of this builds on progress made in 2016. Paris banned cars built before 1997 from city streets on weekdays and passed a second ban on diesel cars that will go into effect in 2025. Seven major intersections are being redesigned for pedestrians rather than cars. A two-mile stretch of highway next to the right bank of the Seine was closed to traffic.

Predictably, drivers have complained. After the closure next to the Seine, traffic got worse on some other roads. But over the long term, people are likely to find other means of transport and get out of cars.

“Now there are traffic jams on the road above the river, but we think that will disappear–maybe not fully, but there will be some traffic that vanishes because some people are changing their habits, some people can optimize their commute, some people can choose another mode of transport,” says Lorelei Limousin, transport policy officer for the French chapter of the Climate Action Network, Réseau Action Climat-France.

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Something similar happened when the city closed a road to traffic on the other bank of the river. “We saw that at first, it had some consequences on traffic, and then it was solved,” she says. “So we think, and what studies show, is that there can be an impact on traffic on the roads, but it’s temporary. In the end, there’s a reduction of the total volume of traffic.”

In Paris, the majority of people walk or take public transit to work rather than driving, so in part, the city’s efforts are redistributing space in a way that better reflects how it’s already used.

“Space is still dedicated to cars in a really disproportionate way,” says Limousin. “That’s why the mayor is now trying to rebalance the sharing of the public space and roads between the different modes.”

Ultimately, much of the city center could be closed off to most cars, as the mayor, Anne Hidalgo, told a local paper in French.

The idea is to go, little by little, towards a pedestrianization of the city center, which will eventually remain open to residents’ vehicles, police, rescue or delivery, but not [all traffic]. We fully assume that there will be a significant reduction in car traffic, as do all the major cities of the world. We must constantly remind ourselves of this evidence: the fewer cars there are, the less pollution there is.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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