The decision to ban cars from the French capital isn’t without precedent. The past two years have seen so-called car-free days take place in early autumn, though they weren’t as robust as the name might lead some to believe. In 2015, only the most central districts of Paris participated in the scheme and in 2016, the area was modestly expanded to reach the famously-congested Champs-Élysées in the west, Père-Lachaise cemetery in the east, the Sacré-Coeur in the north, and the Tour Montparnasse in the south.
This year, however, City Hall means business: no cars, motorcycles, or mopeds will be circulating in the arrondissements of Paris between 11 am and 6 pm—except taxis (including Uber-style ‘artisans’), emergency vehicles, delivery trucks, and RATP public transport services. Even these will not be allowed to exceed a strict 30km/h (18.6 mph) speed limit across the city.
For seven blissful hours, cyclists, skaters, roller bladers, non-motorized scooter-ers, and, of course, pedestrians will rule the roads.
‘The idea is to show that you can live in the city without having a car,’ the Deputy Mayor in charge of transport, Christophe Najdovski, told Le Parisien. ‘This third edition will not only benefit Parisians but also the inhabitants of Île-de-France, and tourists. It will be a first in the history of the capital and will allow everyone to rediscover a quieter and less polluted city.’
Najdovski’s boss, Mayor Anne Hidalgo, has made greening the capital a top priority. The most visible move to date has been the creation of the Parc Rives de Seine out of a former city center highway. Other policies aimed at improving air quality include subsidies for planting living walls and testing pioneering forms of electric transportation such as flying water taxis.
Hailing the 2015’s Car-Free Day an ‘indisputable success’, Hidalgo claimed it ‘involved citizens, reduced emissions and noise pollution, and roused the spirit of Parisians and tourists.’ Airparif, which monitors air quality in Île-de-France, lent credence to this appraisal, suggesting a 20 to 35% reduction in nitrogen-dioxide levels during the event last year.
At the national level, a Crit’Air sticker scheme has been introduced to exclude the worst-offending vehicles from the center of Paris. Hidalgo also plans to ban all diesel cars from the capital by 2020, five years ahead of the national target.