Paris tackles air pollution with second car-free day

Christophe Archambault, AFP | Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo (R) and French Environment Minister Segolene Royal pose for a picture on the banks of the Seine River in Paris on September 14, 2016

Paris banned cars from large swaths of the French capital on Sunday as part of Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s wider efforts to fight air pollution. But critics say her policies are only shifting the problem elsewhere.


Around half of Paris was off limits to cars during a seven-hour period for the capital’s second “Day without cars” (Journée sans voitures), with exceptions made for public buses, taxis and emergency vehicles.

This year’s event was even more ambitious than in 2015, covering 650 km of the city.

Some areas around the capital were limited exclusively to pedestrians from 11am this morning, with many free recreational and educational events organised for city residents as part of the much-publicised event.

Areas around iconic landmarks such as the Louvre Museum and the Champs Elysées were taken over by cyclists and pedestrians, even though grey skies and showers unfortunately kept many indoors.

Hildalgo, a Socialist, has made reducing the use of cars inside the French capital one of her top priorities since she took office in 2014.

Paris and the metropolitan area has for years struggled with air pollution. Smog rose to such alarming levels in March 2015 that officials temporarily banned half the city's cars and made the metro system and buses free.

City Hall said the objective of today’s event is to change resident’s car habits, and demonstrate how “air pollution is linked to road traffic”.

Paris setting the example

Last month Hidalgo was voted the new president of the C40 Cities group, a network that includes some of the world’s largest cities, which has the stated goal of sharing ideas and expertise in the fight against climate change.

The international forum enjoys funding from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Clinton Foundation and The World Bank, among other international corporations and private donors.

Other cities have followed Paris’s example, with New York and the Moroccan cities of Casablanca and Marrakech doing the same for one day.

Hidalgo’s plans are ambitious and not limited to just a one day event: she wants to make car-free zones part of everyday life in Paris. She introduced in May a scheme which has seen the Champs-Elysées go car-free on the first Sunday of every month.

Furthermore, the Paris City Council is expected on Monday to approve a motion that would permanently turn the iconic Berges de Seine road running along the River Seine in central Paris into a pedestrians-only zone.

Opposition to 'war on cars'

A recent study by French polling firm Ifop revealed this month that the majority of Parisians support their mayor’s push to restrict car use within the city. Up to 55 percent of respondents said they supported closing off the Berges de Seine to cars, and 59 percent said they wanted to see a decrease in traffic by 2020.

Hidalgo’s so-called ‘war on cars’ has of course run into detractors. Some say the mayor’s policies will do little to reduce air pollution, but will actually increase smog outside the city centre.

Last month an independent commission advised the Paris City Council not to approve the Berges de Seine measure, saying its investigation found no conclusive evidence that it would improve air quality in the area, and that it could in fact increase noise and pollution in neighbouring areas.

“Must I point out that the fight against air pollution has be a collective effort and not rammed through single-mindedly?” opposition local lawmaker Vincent Roger wrote in an angry op-ed to Hidalgo on August 28.

“It must be waged not just within the city limits, but in the metropolitan and even regional level. Your project, because it shifts [road] traffic, moves the problem but does nothing to solve it,” he added.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning