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Paris mayor to appeal after court halts plans for car-free riverside promenade

Christophe Archambault, AFP | People walk on a road which was turned into a pedestrian area on the bank of the Seine River in Paris on September 14, 2016 on the opening day of the 'Cap sur la COP 22' exhibition.

A Paris court has cancelled one of Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s most emblematic – and controversial – urban planning measures, the pedestrianisation of the Right Bank in the heart of the French capital. Hidalgo says she will appeal.


The city’s administrative tribunal on Wednesday cancelled on procedural grounds the closure of a 3.3-km stretch of road along the Seine River in central Paris. The court annulled the Paris city council’s September 2016 ruling that turning the Georges-Pompidou expressway into a park for pedestrians and cyclists was in the general interest.

The tribunal said the city council ruling had been adopted “after a public inquiry drawn up on the basis of an impact study” that “contained inaccuracies, omissions and deficiencies as to the effects of the project on automobile traffic, atmospheric pollutant emissions and noise pollution, which is key data for evaluating the general interest of the project”. The tribunal also cancelled the municipal decree that created the public walkway – a Hidalgo campaign promise – in October 2016.

Wednesday's verdict is only the latest in a long existential battle over the face and very purpose of the heart of Paris. Hidalgo, the city’s eco-friendly Socialist mayor, has pursued her predecessor Bertrand Delanöe’s ambition to cede swaths of riverside highway to pedestrians year-round, much as they have been for several weeks every summer since 2002 when Delanöe unveiled Paris-Plages, a makeshift urban beach in the centre of Paris that quickly proved wildly popular.

>> Focus: The changing face of Paris traffic under Mayor Delanöe

But while the riverside drive was for some a blight on the City of Light, it was for others a practical necessity, an essential traffic artery threading through a dense metropolis. The debate has pitted pedestrians against motorists, urbanites against suburbanites, and left-wingers against conservatives, all battling under a hail of studies advancing curiously contradictory traffic, noise and pollution data at the service of competing agendas.

The pedestrian stretch in question on Wednesday runs along the northern bank of the Seine, roughly from the Louvre Museum in the 1st arrondissement (district) to the Arsenal marina near Bastille in the 4th arrondissement. The pedestrianised road on the Left Bank, which pre-dates Hidalgo’s tenure, was not addressed by the tribunal’s ruling.

After the decision, the city’s executive said it would ask for a stay of the ruling’s execution while Hidalgo pledged to appeal and to sign a new pedestrianisation decree “without delay”.

She told reporters Wednesday that the move to create a promenade park “was hailed by Parisians but also by hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world” and had been “doing our city proud over the past year and a half”.

Vindicated, Valérie Pécresse, the conservative president of the Ile-de-France region that includes Paris and its suburbs, applauded the cancellation verdict. “We won,” she told RTL radio, recalling that 128 municipalities had joined the region in filing legal action against Hidalgo’s project. “Very clearly, it is the brutality of [her] method that the court has sanctioned,” she said.

“On these riverbank lanes, there has been a formidable mess, a lot of suffering and brutality,” Pécresse said.

“The pollution wasn’t reduced, it was displaced,” she added.

Paris City Council’s opposition conservative Les Républicains said in a statement: “The administrative court reminded the mayor of Paris of the obvious: She is not above the law and cannot decide alone against all.”

To the flurry of criticism charging Hidalgo had acted imperiously when she pushed the measure through, the mayor retorted that the measure was decided “democratically by elected Parisian officials in September 2016 with the state’s support after a year and a half of consultation”.

The motorists’ rights group 40 Million d’Automobilistes called the court ruling “a first victory” and said it hoped that “from now on, automobile traffic will be re-established as quickly as possible on these roads that have an eminently structuring effect”.

But Hidalgo’s deputies have pledged that there will be no return of traffic on the road in the wake of Wednesday’s verdict, even temporarily, in the wake of the court’s decision, and said a new pedestrianisation decree would be filed after discussion with the city’s police prefect.

The contentious thoroughfare currently is closed to foot and vehicle traffic alike, in any case, until the Seine floodwaters recede.

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