When Paris eliminates cars, will other cities follow?
Paris has been making headlines for years with its aggressive anti-car and pro-pedestrian urban improvement measures. Faced with growing air pollution problems and a bid to reclaim streets for alternative modes of transport, as outlined in their draft 15 Minute City plan, the French capital is seen as a leader in future urban planning strategies. Recently, their Department of Transportation set a deadline for their lofty goals of eliminating traffic from its roads. In just two years, in time for the French capital to host the Olympics, Paris plans to ban non-essential traffic from its city center, eliminating around 50% of car mobility. What does this plan look like? And how could other cities use this strategy to eliminate their own urban problems?
The logistics of this plan are quite complicated. While the goals are to make the city less congested and cleaner, some drivers will still be allowed to enter the zone, which covers nearly 5.5 square miles (14 square kilometers) and both sides of the Seine. Indeed, it prohibits drivers who are only passing through the zone and allows private cars that enter the zone as a destination and public transport vehicles. Drivers who are caught using the area to simply cross will face a fine from the police. It is estimated that it will eliminate around 100,000 cars per day.
Although the plan was supposed to be implemented this year, it was delayed to allow time for public comment and feedback. In traffic studies by Paris officials, the area’s use as a significant cause of traffic jams and emissions – nearly half of those in the city overall. Rerouting these transit routes will make these streets much more pedestrian-friendly and may also deter people from using private cars in favor of transit. In 2017, Paris banned cars from driving on a two-mile stretch along the Seine to create passable stretches of road. The immediate result was that other streets became busier and traffic jams actually increased.
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Some worry that fewer cars will mean less business for local shops and restaurateurs, but the hope is that because the traffic is deterring so many people, less traffic will bring people back to the area and recreate this part of Paris for to be more of a destination than an artery. This strategy is also being replicated in other cities around the world, at different scales, so there are many lessons to be learned. Almost immediately after Paris announced the postponement of this plan, Brussels announced a similar motion to ban cars in the historic center of the city. There have already been attempts to pedestrianize this area, with new sidewalks, cafe seats and planters lining the streets, but we are going even further to eliminate through traffic altogether.
Madrid also announced a similar measure, banning personal cars from the Spanish capital in a bid to turn many streets into pedestrian-only zones. Only public modes of transport, bicycles and taxis can enter the city center as a means of creating a more sustainable future. While the move was struck down by their Supreme Court due to procedural errors, there is still hope to revise the strategy and implement it in the future On a much smaller scale, the iconic Times Square in New York has ceded several main streets to a pedestrian plaza that better retains the millions of visitors who visit the site each year. The acclaimed success of the project prompted city leaders to develop a toolkit on how to close other streets, especially parts of Broadway, and make New York City more walkable.
It will be several years before we can determine whether Paris, and other cities considering doing the same, will succeed in closing the streets to through traffic. All in all, this is a major step towards improving life in big cities, but more work on sustainable strategies and more access to other types of public transport will be needed to complete the disposal of cars.