13 may 2021

Paris Will Ban Through Traffic in City Center

Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s latest effort to rein in car use and fight pollution would prevent non-residen, ts from driving across the French capital's historic heart in 2022.

By Feargus O'Sullivan, Bloomberg News, May 13, 2021

A traffic jam near Place de la Concorde in Paris in 2018 — a pre-pandemic scene that city officials don’t want to repeat.

In an announcement Wednesday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo set an audacious new benchmark in her ongoing campaign to reduce car use across the French capital: a ban on most vehicle traffic crossing the city center in 2022.

The plan would stop through traffic from a large zone covering Paris’ core, to cut pollution and noise and free up more space for trees, cycle lanes and pedestrian areas. A public consultation for the plan launched this week.

The new zone would not ban cars altogether: It would still permit motorized access to the zone’s residents (including short-term hotel guests), to people with disabilities, and to vehicles used for public transit, deliveries or services. The new rules would nonetheless make it illegal to drive across the city center without stopping. That would cover about 55% of total traffic — more than 100,000 cars — passing through this zone on average per day, the city says.

The plan comes after years during which Hidalgo’s administration has systematically sought to rein in automobile use. The city has already barred heavily polluting diesel cars from within the city’s beltway, pedestrianized the Seine quayside, reduced car access on many major streets and expanded green areas and sidewalks in areas previously reserved for driving and parking. After introducing further vehicle lane closures and bike paths during the pandemic, Hidalgo has remained adamant that the lifting of lockdown restrictions and the return to workplaces must not signal a return to a streetscape dominated by cars.

The car-calmed zone will be a new tool to fend off a post-pandemic car comeback within Paris’ innermost ring of boulevards, a zone of around 14 square kilometers (5.4 square miles). This area stretches east to west between the two squares that bookend the heart of the city — from the Place de la Bastille all the way to the Place de la Concorde — and include the city’s two central islands, the Marais district (already substantially pedestrianized) and much of the Left Bank’s Latin Quarter. Not all of Paris’ busiest quarters would be included in the zone — the Champs Elysées, for example, would lie outside it, as would the major shopping district around the Garnier Opera House. But the lion’s share of Paris government buildings and cultural institutions will lie within its borders, along with a large portion of its stores and restaurants. The city has also suggested it might extend the zone further, if the public consultation suggested there was an appetite to do so.

Vehicles entering this zone will be monitored by city officials, according to Paris Transit Commissioner David Belliard, with fines meted out to non-residents and those entering without permit. Details on enforcement haven’t been shared; similar traffic-restriction programs, as in London, use hundreds of automated cameras. Meanwhile, new barriers and pedestrianization schemes will also reduce the number of streets allowing access.

The zone is needed, the city says, because much of the traffic flowing around the Place de la Concorde consists of vehicles making trips that could easily be carried out by public transport. The city’s press release estimates that 70% of current through-journeys in the zone need not be carried out by car. The plan may slow any swing back to car use among Parisians as residents resume regular habits after the pandemic, in a city where, as of April 2021, public transit ridership still remained at just 60% of its pre-crisis levels

Elsewhere in Europe, other cities are also seeking to curb traffic. Oslo will start to phase out access for fossil-fueled vehicles in 2022, while London and Milan have employed congestion charges for cars driving into their centers for several years. Within France, the cities of Lille and Nantes already have low-speed limit, pedestrian-priority zones covering their downtowns.

But fans of these pollution-fighting edicts faced a setback in another European capital this week, when a Spanish court refused an appeal seeking to defend Madrid’s low-traffic zone, called Madrid Central. The largest and most ambitious measure of its kind to date in Europe, Madrid Central had been canceled in July 2020 because a court ruled that its creation had failed to offer clear public disclosure or provide the necessary economic assessment. The administration of Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida said it would not contest the ruling — understandably so, given that it was colleagues in the mayor’s own Popular Party who filed the initial complaints against the zone when they were in opposition. Under pressure to meet national requirements for emissions reduction, Madrid may still retain some form of traffic limits in its city center.

Madrid’s fate is still not one that Paris is likely to face for a while. Hidalgo’s progressive environmental and transportation policies have not always made her time in the public eye easy, but she has largely escaped political consequences for any pushback against them. Having been re-elected at the head of a left-leaning coalition that includes the French Green Party in June 2020, her administration in a fairly strong position to implement sweeping change. While this latest ban stands to mark a new milestone in the city’s car-free agenda, it’s unlikely to be the last.

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