Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Despite a backlash, the city will extend the areas that are off limits to private cars, making way for more bike lanes and public transit.
When Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo banned cars from a large section of the River Seine’s quayside last autumn, she met a fierce backlash from pro-car advocates and some suburban mayors. As part of her annual New Year address on Friday, she outlined her response to this vocal resistance.
Rather than backtracking or mollifying critics, she’s going to push her pedestrianization measures even further. In autumn 2018, Paris will extend its car-free zone westward by a kilometer, install a guided bus line, and convert some space that’s currently used by cars into a two-way bike path. The openly declared objective: first to cut Paris’ car space by 50 percent, then ultimately rid central Paris of non-residents’ cars altogether. If Hidalgo has been rattled by criticism of her anti-car policies, she’s hiding it pretty well.
The transformations planned so far for 2018 are as follows: After permanently closing 3.3 kilometers of the Seine Right Bank’s upper quays to cars in September, the city will now extend this closed section a further kilometer to the west. This means that the entire bankside flanking the Louvre and Tuileries Gardens—currently hosting a busy route for cars—will be reserved exclusively for bikes, buses, and taxis.
Removing cars doesn’t mean that many Parisians won’t still be travelling along this quay. They’ll just be served by a new guided bus line (also known as a tram bus) that will run along the entire 11-kilometer length of the Seine riverfront, with extensions farther into the suburbs likely in the future.
The car-free revamp will no longer stop at the riverside, either. From September 2018, only bikes, buses, and taxis will be allowed to cross the Place du Carrousel, a popular photo stop that contains a mini Arc de Triomphe just behind the Louvre. Meanwhile the Rue de Rivoli, the first major axial street north of the river, will see its space reserved for cars and parking halved and replaced by a two-way protected bike path.
This path will join up Central Paris’s main axial squares, the Place de la Concorde and the Place de la Bastille, giving cyclists priority and safety along one of the most heavily traveled strips in the city. It should also change the Rue de Rivoli’s current status as an architecturally attractive street that, over-dominated as it is by through traffic rather than pedestrians, can nonetheless feel somewhat anonymous. The sense of slow mission creep suggested in these new plans is entirely intentional. As Hidalgo said in comments reported by JDD:
The idea is to go little by little towards a pedestrianization of the city center—one that, when complete, will see it remain open for the cars of local residents, police, for emergency services and deliveries, but not for just anyone. We are taking on completely a significant reduction of automobile traffic, just as other global cities are.
Paris City Hall seems well-aware that these changes won’t be put through quietly. As CityLab reported in November, the city’s closure of the quayside has met vocal opposition from some mayors in Greater Paris (typically from France’s right-wing Republican Party) who insist that it is slowing commutes and merely displacing traffic elsewhere rather than reducing it overall.
Figures cited by city hall refute this, suggesting a slight lowering of overall car numbers in the immediate region of the car-free zone compared to last year, but may still have to push hard. Perhaps the chief obstacle to the new plan is that the guided bus line will need approval from Valérie Pécresse, premier of the Île-de-France region (which covers all of greater Paris minus the historic core) and a vocal opponent of the city’s transit plans. Pécresse is also president of STIF, the transit body covering the whole region, and will thus need to sign off on funds for the new tram-bus link. She could feasibly refuse.
This would still be a difficult position for her to take. The regional president, after all, has no power to stop a car ban that doesn’t take place within her jurisdiction. Refusing to fund a line along space that the car ban has already cleared might seem malicious, especially as Pécresse and many others have acknowledged the need for faster, cleaner public transit along the east-west corridor, in order to take pressure of the over-taxed Metro Line One.
Squeezing even more cars out of central Paris when city hall is already under fire may seem like a bold move, or at least it may seem so in early 2017. But as Madrid makes similar plans for its main street, London pencils in a car ban for its main shopping street by 2020, and Berlin prepares for a car-free Unter Den Linden, such processes are increasingly going mainstream. The march toward car-free city centers has gone far beyond the wave of pedestrian zones in narrower streets first kicked off by Copenhagen in the 1960s. Major thoroughfares previously relied on for through traffic like Paris’ Rue de Rivoli are the next key battleground. Increasingly, it looks like a battle that pro-pedestrian and pro-bike advocates are going to win.