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Driving motorists through hell

Latest update : 2008-03-08

With 10.5 million trips every day, transportation is one of the key issues for Parisian voters. Mayor Bertrand Delanoë has thrown his weight behind a policy focused on keeping cars at bay.


For the last seven years, Bertrand Delanoë, socialist candidate in 2008 for a second term as mayor of Paris, has implemented new transport facilities in the French capital. But the opposition considers his transport policies too brutal. During the 2001 French municipal elections, Delanoe’s main opponent Françoise de Panafieu called his policies "ramshackle."


As soon as he came into office, Delanoë, supported by the ecological party Les Verts, took a firm stance against the traffic jams, public nuisance and pollution that have always characterised Paris. The new mayor’s policies centred on reinforcing pedestrians’ rights and increasing public transport in the city.


But these radical changes did not pass without criticism. “One does not transform a city in the wink of an eye”, says Francis Beaucire, Director of the Urban Development department at the high-profile political institute Sciences-Po. Beaucire deplores, in particular, the “inertia surrounding the decisions taken, their implementation and effects.”


Delanöe, in any case, has always defended his objectives. “I am not a hostage – neither of extremist ecological tendencies, nor of the conservative ideas that the majority hold,” he insisted in 2006 in an interview.



Limited Policies


Since 2001 the physionomy of Paris has changed significantly and roads have been re-planned so as to limit vehicle access. The construction of the tramway and of new buses, the increase of subway traffic, improved facilities for taxis and dedicated road space for delivery vans have all, in general, managed to reduce the discontent of Parisians


In 2008, roads in Paris presented the following figures:


-          188km of bus lanes, some of which occupy the central part of a road.

-          380 km of bicycle lanes

-          33 “green neighborhoods” with pedestrian lanes where vehicle speed is limited at 30 km/h

-          Zero free parking



Statistics from the Paris town hall showed a 17% decrease in traffic inside Paris from 2001-2006. Average vehicle speed went from 18.5 km/h h in 1997 to 15.9 km/h in 2006.


As pointed out by Mikoko Kombi, a Parisian taxi driver: “Overall, the measures have had positive effects. I see it in my daily work.”


But these measures did not go without their fair share of rebuke. “Even if adjustments are necessary, Delanoë targeted his policies to help only pedestrians and residents. This is something which remains widely, and unjustly, unknown,” says Beaucire.


Unruffled, Paris's mayor declared in an interview in January 2006 that his ambition was to have “better shared public space, and [to] break away from ancient automobile logic.” In 2007, the “Velib” campaign, which put into place thousands of bicycles for Paris residents, was his last major project in this vein, orchestrated one year before the municipal elections.


However Bertrand Delanöe's political and urban success has not really taken away all of Paris’s transport problems. The suburban region around Paris is saturated with traffic. During rush hour, the roads are still packed with honking cars and people are sardine-packed in the Parisan metro. According to 27-year-old taxi driver Eric Mazouz, “at certain hours, it’s impossible to enter or to leave Paris.”


Bicycles for Parisian residents are not enough to resolve the issue, and Mr Delanoe’s task of rehabilitating Parisian roads is far from finished.



Date created : 2008-02-14