Paris bans cars for the day, asks Europe to join in

Francois Guillot, AFP | People ride bicycles, monowheel and walk as they enjoy a vehicle-free day in front of the Arc de Triomphe (Triumphal arch) in Paris, on September 16, 2018.

There are no cars on the roads of Brussels and Paris on Sunday. On the eve of the event, the mayors of the two cities called for all of Europe to follow suit and hold an annual vehicle-free day.


The call came in a joint statement by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and her counterpart in Brussels, Philippe Close, in which the two pointed to "the urgency of climate issues and the health impact of pollution".

Both capitals are holding their annual car-free day on Sunday as part of the European Heritage Days 2018, a weekend of cultural events staged every year in countries throughout the bloc.

Brussels has transformed Waterloo boulevard into a picnic ground and the Poelaert Square into a dancefloor. The city has also set up bike and skateboarding courses for children and a “Surfing in Town” pool where the adventurous can ride an "endless wave". The planned events are rounded out with extreme sports demonstrations: tightrope walking, BMX, trail bike, rollerblading, skating and slackline.

It’s not just the activities that have drawn people out. “The biggest pleasure of the #DayWithoutCars isn’t biking around the city (I do that almost every day), it’s the serenity that emerges from this quasi SILENCE, broken by the songs of birds and children’s cries,” tweeted François Perl in French.

Paris has organised picnics, open-air markets, and rollerblading and longboarding parades. Cyclists have taken over the main arteries of the city, and the Place de la Concorde, one of Paris’s busiest intersections, hosted a picnic.

The air quality monitoring group Airparif will also be on the roads today – on tricycles – to measure pollution levels around the city. Last year, they recorded a 25 percent decrease in nitrogen dioxide, a toxin that can cause acid rain and respiratory problems. This year’s measurements will be available on their website after 6pm (Paris time).

Last year, Bruitparif, a noise monitoring observatory, recorded a 20 percent decrease in noise in the city. This year’s live results are available here.

Still, some say it’s not enough. Last year 54 percent fewer cars circulated than on the Sunday before. This year, some Twitter users noted large numbers of cars still on the streets: “By the way @Paris, when is this year’s #JourneeSansVoiture?”.

An ongoing fight

This year's event also coincides with European Mobility Week, a week consecrated to raising awareness about sustainable and clean urban transport. It's one of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo's pet projects.

She also announced on Friday that the first four arrondissements of Paris, which form the centre of the capital, would be completely closed to vehicles on one Sunday per month beginning on October 7, with the exception of the major avenues that cross the districts.

Paris’s battle against car traffic and air pollution isn’t new. Since 1990, car use inside the city has dropped 45 percent. In 2017, the city announced that it would ban diesel cars by 2024. France also offers subsidies of up to €6,000 to people who want to trade up for cleaner vehicles.

According to the French capital's city hall, automobile traffic in Paris dropped a “record” 6 percent between 2017 and 2018. Air pollution was reduced “by a similar proportion”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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