In pictures: Pedestrians take over the Champs-Elysées in Paris
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Pedestrians took over the famous Champs-Elysées in Paris on Sunday, which was closed to cars and other vehicles as part of an initiative to reduce pollution in the city.
The Champs-Elysées has been dubbed by the French as “the most beautiful avenue in the world”. It is also one of the city’s most congested arteries, regularly clogged by slowly moving traffic coming in and out of Paris from the west.
But on Sunday the famed avenue, which stretches almost 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) from the historic Arc de Triomphe to the Place de Concorde, was transformed into a playground for pedestrians as part of the “Paris Breathes” initiative.
In a bid to combat rising pollution in the French capital, the Champs-Elysées will now be closed to cars and other vehicles on the first Sunday of every month to coincide with free admission to many of the city’s museums.
“I wanted, as did my entire team, to re-appropriate an avenue like this one so that people could walk around, stroll with their families and ride bikes. I’m very happy to have put that into place today,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told journalists at the inauguration of the event. “So voilà… Enjoy Paris!”
The Champs-Elysées opened to pedestrians following a low-key ceremony marking the 71st anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, during which French President François Hollande laid wreaths at a statue of General Charles de Gaulle, as well as at the Arc de Triomphe.
Families, tourists and curious bystanders then flooded the avenue, strolling idly in the sunshine, snapping photos and ducking in and out of shops.
“It’s really pleasant! There are no cars, everyone’s taking photos of themselves and it’s beautiful out,” Moussa Hassani, who happened to find himself on the Champs-Elysées on a nine-hour layover, told FRANCE 24.
Michel (who did not give his last name), said he was in Paris for a two-week visit from his home in Belgium, and knew about the avenue’s closure in advance.
“It’s good that it is on a monthly basis. In Brussels we have ‘A Day Without Cars’ – I’m sure it’s the same here. But it’s just one fixed day a year. The fact that [the Champs-Elysées] will be closed once a month will help to develop tourism and commerce,” he said.
Many business owners hope the initiative will help boost sales, which dropped sharply after the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris.
“It’s going to be a catalyst for people to come to the Champs-Elysées,” Carine Adrien, who manages a shoe store on the avenue, told FRANCE 24.
“[After the attacks], we experienced a serious decline. Business dropped by between 30 and 40 percent,” she said. “Everyone noticed the same thing. The first few months were very difficult… But things have gotten better since the beginning of May, because it’s nice out.”
Sébastien Lienard, who works at a news stand across the street, echoed Adrien’s comments.
“Since the attacks we’ve had a big revenue problem,” he said. “It could be a good opportunity to increase our revenue.”
An estimated 300,000 people, many of them tourists, visit the Champs-Elysées every day. The avenue is just one of 13 locations in Paris to halt traffic on Sundays and public holidays as part of “Paris Breathes”.
The next car-free Sunday on the Champs-Elysées will be held on June 5.