Paris without Cars: A Glimpse into 2024?

Every year since 2015, private vehicles will be banned or restricted from 11 am to 6 pm, with some exceptions. This will kickstart the major project of Limited Traffic Zones, a flagship measure of Anne Hidalgo’s second term, which has struggled to be implemented and could be postponed.

As a symbolic measure of Anne Hidalgo’s second term, the ninth edition of Paris without cars will take place this Sunday. From 11 am to 6 pm, the capital will be reserved for pedestrians and soft mobility. In the “Paris Respire” areas, which include the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th arrondissements, the Champs-Elysées, and Montmartre, where traffic is already prohibited on some weekends and public holidays, only buses, taxis, and emergency vehicles will be allowed to circulate, not exceeding 20 km/h. In the rest of the city, only the mentioned vehicles will also be allowed to circulate, this time at a maximum speed of 30 km/h. Exceptions will be possible for Parisians returning from a weekend trip on Sunday, upon presentation of proof of residence.

Reduced noise and air pollution.

Since taking office at City Hall in 2014, the mayor of Paris has aimed to reduce the presence of cars in the capital. According to David Belliard, her ecologist deputy in charge of public space transformation, transportation, mobility, street code, and road infrastructure, “the car-free day is an opportunity for us to implement our policy and give it scale and visibility through a somewhat exceptional day.” Indeed, Anne Hidalgo announced in her last campaign that the center of Paris would be significantly devoid of cars by 2024, by prohibiting “transit” traffic that currently represents 50% of traffic, according to the city. The idea of these Limited Traffic Zones (ZTL) in these neighborhoods is therefore to implement the car-free day operation all year round: “For these neighborhoods, the car-free day will become a daily reality in a few months”, affirms David Belliard to Libération. However, on Monday, it was learned that a possible postponement after the Olympics was being considered, as the city is still negotiating with the prefecture of police, which has expressed reservations about the project.

According to the ecologist, the results of these days are convincing: a 40% decrease in noise pollution and a 20% decrease in nitrogen oxide air pollution. However, Antoine Trouche, an engineer at Airparif, the organization responsible for monitoring air quality in the Île-de-France region, points out that “we must not forget that there are also other pollutants that have a significant impact on human health, such as fine particles or ozone”.

Nitrogen oxides are among the regulated gases with the most harmful effects on human health, and 50% of the quantity present in Île-de-France is emitted by road traffic. On average, these gases, as well as other atmospheric pollutants, are responsible for about 7,900 premature deaths per year in the Île-de-France region, according to the latest estimate from the Regional Health Agency.

“The problem is the everyday pollution.”

The engineer explains that decreases in nitrogen oxide and fine particle levels are indeed observed during these car-free days, but that one day per year has no real impact on overall pollution levels and the health of the people in Île-de-France. “What is really problematic in Île-de-France is chronic pollution, it is everyday pollution… What matters are policies that help reduce these pollution levels”, he points out.

The levels of the main atmospheric pollutants have been decreasing in Île-de-France for over a decade, with the exception of ozone, which is increasing partly due to climate change and its lifespan in the atmosphere. According to the Airparif engineer, these decreases can be attributed to a set of measures such as facilitating access to other types of mobility apart from cars, reducing the maximum speed limit, or gradually replacing old vehicles with newer, less polluting ones.

If Anne Hidalgo manages to create these car-free areas, known as “calm zones,” by 2024, it is with the aim of “freeing urban centers from transit traffic,” explains her deputy. Similar measures have already been implemented in major European cities such as Brussels or Barcelona.

While some are concerned about the complete closure of car traffic zones, fearing an increase in traffic density on other routes, David Belliard believes that these restrictions will eventually lead to a “dissipation of traffic”. “When car use is restricted, some drivers eventually opt for other types of transportation… That’s exactly what we see in Paris… There is half as much car traffic today as there was 25 years ago,” he notes.

Non-compliance with the rules established during the Car-Free Day exposes offenders to fines of €135. When asked about the necessary personnel and the challenges that law enforcement may face, the Prefecture of Police was unable to provide a response.

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