Paris mayor’s war on cars moves up a gear with ban in heart of city

Philippe Lopez, AFP | This picture taken on November 24, 2016 shows evening traffic moving away from and towards the Arc de Triomphe along the Champs Elysees in Paris
Text by: Tracy MCNICOLL
5 min

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo fired another shot across the bow at the capital’s car culture on Sunday, in the face of increasing criticism.


The Socialist mayor, and passionate green advocate, announced plans to ban cars from key thoroughfares around the Louvre Museum and boost the city’s cycling infrastructure to combat traffic pollution.

Hidalgo laid out her vision in the weekly ‘Journal du Dimanche’ newspaper, going so far as to call personal vehicles “archaic".

“The idea is to, little by little, move towards the pedestrianisation of downtown, which, over time, will stay open to public transport, police, emergency vehicles and deliveries, but not to all vehicles,” she said.

“We must constantly remember this foregone conclusion: fewer cars, less pollution,” she added.

Plans for rue de Rivoli alongside Tuileries Gardens

Hidalgo had on Friday declared 2017 the “year of the bike” in Paris, accelerating a plan to double the city's cycling lanes by 2020. By year’s end, cyclists will be able to channel their inner Chris Froome on a new bike path set to run the length of the world famous Champs Elysées, which host the Tour de France’s finish line each year.

The Socialist mayor plans to halve traffic space on the three-lane rue de Rivoli, a key artery through the heart of the city that runs past the Louvre Museum and alongside the popular Tuileries Gardens.

'Noisy, polluted and dangerous'

Paris City Hall underscored their belief for the need for change by calling the road, “noisy, polluted, complicated, and even dangerous to cross for pedestrians".

A two-way, four-kilometre bike lane along the rue de Rivoli will open in the autumn, linking Place de la Bastille in the east of the city to Place de la Concorde in the west.

An official handout from City Hall illustrates Hidalgo’s idea for the ‘new’ rue de Rivoli, which will be two-way instead of the current one-way. The mayor forecasts that the changes will drastically reduce traffic on a key east-west passage through the city centre just months after the highly contentious closure of the Right Bank’s iconic Seine-side highway in September.

Plans for rue de Rivoli alongside Paris City Hall

Hidalgo had brought the closure of the Seine highway to a winning vote despite a non-binding but unfavourable ruling by the public enquiry committee that examined the plan. The backlash to that project, which redirects 43,000 cars a day in order to reclaim the riverbank for pedestrians -- to include “boules” pitches, a space for young artists, a fair-trade coffee club and spaces for debates -- spurred an unprecedented backlash from political rivals and car lovers alike. An alliance of 168 exasperated mayors from some of Paris’s districts and suburbs, many from the opposition conservative Les Républicains party, published an open letter attacking Hidalgo.

“Ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ile-de-France residents to play boules, is that really reasonable?” Jean-Pierre Lecoq, the conservative mayor of Paris’s 6th arrondissement (district), tweeted at the time, referring to the residents of the greater Paris region, including its suburbs.

The closure of the busy and popular Left Bank Seine-side highway in 2014 had already raised conservatives’ ire.

Lack of consultation...

A stretch of the Right Bank’s upper quays will get a makeover with 18-to-24-metre-long electric trams set to begin rolling in September 2018, pulling two traffic lanes out of general use over a distance of 11km in the short term. Dubbed the “Olympic tramway,” the service features in Paris’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, with the French capital bidding against Budapest and Los Angeles. The City of Lights has failed three times to win the right to host the Olympics -- in 1992, 2008 and 2012.

Hidalgo has also announced that Paris will pedestrianise much of the Marais district (an historic popular shopping and nightlife neighbourhood), “in the very short term".

The mayor’s new plan has been slammed for its lack of consultation, a common criticism directed at Hidalgo.

“Once again, a plan was announced without listening, without prior consultation, just as with the closure of the Seine-side highways. The situation is already heavily degraded on the upper Right Bank quays. If on top of that, bus lanes are added, it will worsen traffic even more,” Jean-François Legaret, mayor of Paris’s 1st arrondissement (district) told French newspaper Le Monde.

“On that note, building a two-way cycling lane won’t help anything on the rue de Rivoli, which is already bogged down,” added Legaret, whose district encompasses the Tuileries Gardens and the key rue de Rivoli thoroughfare.

Pollution down 30 percent

Traffic in Paris has fallen 30 percent in under 15 years, figures that match the combined terms of Hidalgo and her car-battling Socialist predecessor Bertrand Delanoë. The city says pollution has fallen over that time by a similar level.

Pollution topped the headlines in December when a so-called “peak of pollution” of a length and magnitude not seen in a decade blanketed the capital, triggering urgent pollution-reduction measures like free public transportation, free street parking and drastic traffic restrictions.

Despite loud condemnation at home, Hidalgo’s green credentials have been lauded abroad. She was recently named “Green Diplomat of the Year” by US magazine ‘Foreign Policy’ and chairs the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a network of global megacities working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The mayor is aiming to ban diesel in Paris by 2020 and is due to host an international conference in the spring set to bring together mayors of C40 cities and major global automakers, she says.

If Hidalgo’s record is anything to go by, the mayor won’t be pulling her punches.

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