Where no cars go: Paris’s pedestrianised motorway

Taking a solo trip in a Parisian taxi can be a hazardous enterprise. The only way to protect yourself from the obligatory and incessant chatter with the driver is to feign sleep. Surreptitiously open one eye, and you’re in for a lengthy rant.

 

The themes come and go. I’ve been told that French people are good-for-nothing lazies who sponge off the state; that the British cheated to get the Olympic Games in London; that Parisian locals are planning to take on the Chinese mafia... I’ve even been informed that I was presently travelling through the tunnel where Princess Diana breathed her last: “I tell that to all my English customers!”

 

Nice one, cabbie.

 

But for the last few weeks, I have been told about only one thing. Admittedly, the same thing, over and over again, but it’s one, non-xenophobic, non-sexist, non-offensive thing. It’s the government project to pedestrianise Paris’s inner-city, riverside motorway, which taxi drivers argue is the latest ploy to frighten cars off ever-narrower, ever-busier roads.

 

 

The plan (as illustrated above) was hatched two years ago by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë. It’s not the first time he’s got taxi drivers’ hackles up by invading their personal space. During his 11-year reign, he’s fattened and lengthened cycle routes, pedestrianised traffic-choked squares and overseen the construction of three grassy tram routes built smack-bang in the middle of formerly car-friendly avenues. Delanoë also launched the hugely successful ‘Vélib’ bike rental scheme in 2007, and followed it up with a car version, ‘Autolib’, last year. Autolibs are fitted with a breathalyser system to prevent impromptu drink driving. (If you’ve recently experienced the streets of Paris after the bars empty out on Saturday night, you’ll agree that the bikes should probably be equipped with the same technology.)

 

Blades over wheels

 

This time, the Socialist mayor is targeting the expressways that traverse the city’s east-west axis via the banks of the Seine, with almost no interruptions. They were proudly laid out in the 1960s by President Georges Pompidou, back when France was still car-crazy. But in 1991, the river banks were crowned a UNESCO World Heritage site, and environmentalists began a long campaign to “take back the Seine”.

 

Today, an initial 2.5-km stretch of the Left Bank will see tarmac and traffic lights replaced by restaurants, bars and potted plants. By the looks of the computer-generated plans (see video below), it’s going to be a very clean place filled with smiling rollerblade enthusiasts, well-behaved children and non-sweaty joggers.

 

 

But there's one problem. Some 1,000 cars per hour currently zoom onto the expressway at rush-hour, and with the closure of the tail-end, they will soon have to find an alternate route through the cobble-strewn capital, which American traffic researchers voted Europe’s most congested city in 2010.

 

Luckily, Delanoë has already found a solution to the problem, according to a government report revealed by Le Parisien on Thursday, .

 

So, is it underground tunnels, a car-sharing incentive, extra city-limits parking? Not quite. The mayor’s report reassures us that there will be very little excess traffic because approximately one in ten local commuters “will change their behaviour” over the next five years. Hmmm. By “change their behaviour”, are we expecting a sweep of lifestyle transformations, whereupon thousands of disillusioned drivers, tired of one-lane traffic jams, trade in their car keys for a pair of rollerblades?

 

So the taxi drivers were right – the government is scheming to scare people off the roads! That's no bad thing in the long term. Let’s just hope they don’t have to experience a road-rage induced nervous breakdown to get there.

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12 Comments
Now a days the number of vehicles growing rapidly. Whether the vehicles those are used for public transportation or personal vehicles. So in some areas the government sometimes banned any vehicle whether a taxi or a car or other vehicle to keep the city less crowded and pollution free. By doing this the city remains clean and quite. More places are free in the market ares and other areas and also in parking places.
Surely it is not just the cars the Mayor should be targetting. What about those maniac motorcyclists weaving in and out and terrorising the car drivers?
These new Yellow Pedicbs, bicycle rickshaws with no motores and no pollution seem to move people around in Paris pretty well especially during traffic jams. We should get more of those. They look fun and efficient in moving people.
First grade idea, bottom grade design/architecture. Many of the photos just look purely tacky that an architecture student could have easily done it. I mean, the staircase cascading in from of Musee d'Orsay is great, but the volleyball court cage and benches crammed between the river and road are just purely ugly and not functional. And the barges... stop narrowing the Seine!
So you have problem of abundance. We indians are dying with no food. Half of the world's poor live in india.I spend most of my time planning to migrate illegaly to some developed country or praying for world war that would reduce world's population and speed up advancement of science most of technologies are invented during war.these are the two options i have got.
I would prefer a motorscooter - if I did not feel I was risking my life with the auto traffic.
It is pure French folly to think that less drivers will drive in a city that already has the worst congestion in Europe, and there is no logic to support the idea that making it worse will help at all. Having just returned from Reims - with their quiet, efficient and green Tram system - I would strongly recommend the same as an alternative along the Seine. After the Nr 1 Metro, there is no single easy way to traverse Paris, and return on one line but a Transverse Tram connecting with Ring Trams would be very usable. With new parking garages in at each end, subsidized for drivers presenting a used Tram ticket at the same time, a tram that runs where the road skirts the Seine now would provide a sane, green way for people to leave their cars and get into central Paris. It would be cheaper for drivers (in petrol & parking), cut pollution, relieve congestion, AND still allow grass and trees to be grown with walking / biking paths along the entire length of the urban river again. SO, Mr. Mayor... how about it?
William Ellis, your tough attitude towards "commuters" is exactly why the progressive movement struggles in so many countries. For most of us it simply isn't an option to take public transit. In the United States, the ultimate car culture, there simply isn't the infrastructure available to replace the car. Atlanta, the SF Bay Area, Dallas, southern California and the list goes on and on of huge cities where the only available way to get from point A to point B is a car. So for you to imply that this is somehow the fault of "commuters," many live very close to the financial edge, is just arrogant. Here in Asia, where I live, people are choking on the pollution produced by cars but also lack any meaningful alternative. Ultimately, hundreds of millions of commuters around the world lack any meaningful power.
Please accept my apology - I did not catch your irony. It is likely you were clear enough and the fault was my own.
Dear William, As the author of the article, I can assure you that I am no fan of car travel. Taxis are for late at night. I was merely poking fun at taxi drivers and their authority-wary suspicions... Perhaps that was not clear!
Sounds Fantastic - well done Paris. If only we had a similarly enlightened mayor here in London!
Bravo, Mayor Delanoe. This article is much too favorable to the loathsome car culture that destroyed the atmosphere of the riverbanks in the first place. Note the loaded word "scheming" near the end. It is high time that commuters changed their behavior. To the author of the article: take the metro, or bus, or just take more time and walk.