LIBERTÉ . . . SUR LA RUE J’ÉCRIS TON NOM . Paris takes one more determined step toward a car free city


Paris mayor’s attempt to curb traffic along Seine leaves some commuters fuming

Mayor Anne Hidalgo called move ‘historic’; opposition decried it as ‘autocratic’

By Michelle Gagnon, CBC News Oct 01, 2016  –

CBC reporter and producer Michelle Gagnon came to Paris to enquire about the Paris plan to retire parts of a city highway and turn it into a carless, truckless, busless urban walk, linger, bike and play way. Her article opens like this:

– – – > Comments here:

Chase scenes along the Seine river in Paris are classic. We’ve all seen them. Walled in on one side, a river on the other, perfectly perilous ground for Bond, Bourne and other lesser mortals.

“Delon and Belmondo starred in a few, too,” says Mourad Ladouari, bordering on wistful. Ladouari is a Paris taxi driver who likes to practise his English talking old French films with passengers. He’s congenial and even-tempered but not about the recent ruling closing the right bank highway to traffic.

Designed in the car age to provide a fast route through a city otherwise constrained by its ring road, the highway has cut through Paris’s downtown core since the 1960s.

But since 2002, segments of the road have been closed to traffic over the summer, when a beach-like promenade called Paris-Plages is erected.

France Migrants

Image: Michel Euler/Associated Press

Hidalgo called the greening measure ‘historic,’ but the opposition said it was an autocratic move that went against the recommendations of a public inquiry into the matter.

Before making way for the beach this summer, an estimated 43,000 cars drove the quay highway daily.

“It’s only one o’clock now,” Ladouari says of our relatively smooth drive. “Cars that would have been down there are up at street level now. Come 3, 4, 5 pm, traffic is going to start backing up at Concorde. It’ll spill onto St-Germain on the left and through the Louvre to the right. Eventually, the whole city centre will be choked up.”

[ . . .]

Mayor Anne Hidalgo called move ‘historic’; opposition decried it as ‘autocratic’

The bill to ban cars from the right bank was bitterly contested but was passed earlier this week by the mayor’s majority government. Hidalgo heralded it as “historic.” Her opponents — and there are many — opted instead for “autocratic.”

One council member even compared Hidalgo to Mrs. Ceausescu, the wife of Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania’s Soviet-era dictator.

Conservative opposition on city council decried the disregard for the findings of a public inquiry that concluded the closure should not go ahead.

Chiming in to cry foul were suburban mayors, taxi drivers, Uber drivers and thousands of commuters, either claiming privilege for downtown residents, prejudice against the poor, insufficient alternative transport or increased congestion.

An old controversy

“All old arguments,” said Eric Britton, a veteran sustainable development consultant. “And it’s not that they’re wrong, and it’s not that they’re right. It’s that they’re worried because somebody’s going to change their lives. They are supposed to scream. That is what governance is all about. Listening to them scream.”

Britton’s equanimity comes from years of thinking about sustainable development. An American economist who moved to France over 40 years ago, he takes a long view on the issue.

Britton tells stories sometimes to explain the vagaries of sustainable development. He’s been in this game since the 1970s, and, according to him, controversy over quayside traffic is an old story.

‘By international standards, Paris can fairly be considered today among the world leaders in sustainable transport.’– Eric Britton, sustainable development consultant

“In 1973-74, during the first energy crisis, it became very clear that unless we had a policy about cars, our cities, and Paris in particular, would die. So, Paris has been trying to figure out its transportation issues for 40 years.”

And, to his mind, they’ve done quite well.

“By international standards, Paris can fairly be considered today among the world leaders in sustainable transport.”

For full article, go to

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About the author:


Michelle Gagnon is a producer for CBC News on assignment in Paris. She has covered domestic and international affairs, including the European economic crisis, the mass migration of refugees, and the Paris and Brussels attacks.  Her Tweet address is @michigagnon

For more about CBC News:

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About the editor of World Streets

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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4 thoughts on “LIBERTÉ . . . SUR LA RUE J’ÉCRIS TON NOM . Paris takes one more determined step toward a car free city

  1. To amplify slightly in response to the wave of protests and accusations:

    “It’s not that they’re wrong, and it’s not that they’re right. It’s that they’re worried because somebody’s going to change their lives. Human beings are fundamentally conservative in our day to day lives to any change which we feel is imposed and against our known personal interests. And when we feel threatened we often become aggressive. And all the more so when we realise we are not alone.

    As Enrique Peñalosa, the Mayor of Bogotá, said of the tidal wave of public reactions to his highly original New Mobility program there, on the occasion of his being co-awarded the prestigious Stockholm Environment Prize in 2000 for his city’s massive Car Free Day event which kept 850,000 cars in the garage for one Thursday in February “Don’t you see Eric. They are SUPPOSED to scream.”

    That is what wise governance is all about. Listening to them scream.

  2. Innovation, however, isn’t always “logical”.

    “You see, congestion is also a policy, for better or for worse. And it can be a very valuable policy,”

    He tells a story that took place in Copenhagen a full generation ago to explain what he means. “I wish I could do a good Danish accent for you,” he says before delivering the moral of his story.

    It was 1968, and to the discerning eye the flood of automobiles coming into and moving around cities all over the world was already evident to those very few who were prepared to look hard enough at the evidence. One of these was the chief engineer of the city of Copenhagen, who was being questioned in a newspaper interview about the city’s very conservative policies in the face of the rapid buildup of car ownership which was steadily crowding the city streets and incoming roads. The engineer was asked, why is it that he had instituted a policy of not expanding road capacity where it was so to anyone that it was so badly needed. He said (I’m trying to remember his exact words) “that whenever I see a traffic bottleneck in our city it is my policy to make it worse”.

    The reporter, surprised then asked: but what happens when the congestion gets bad enough. “Traffic is people”, the City Engineer explained. “It’s not the cars, it’s people. And people are smart, they figure out quickly enough other ways to get around.”

    QED. Copenhagen. 1968.

  3. A closing note to the author, Ms. Michelle Gagnon, and to our readers:

    And as you continue to make your way day after day through the streets of Paris, you will constantly be reminded of what does not work. And if you talk, even to the experts, you will have to eventually conclude that approaches as is the case – but not only in Paris but in all the leading cities around the world –THAT IT SIMPLY CANNOT WORK. As is, that is.

    To come out a real winner in the car wars – imagine Paris or Toronto or Cairo or Oslo with 80% fewer cars on the streets and still humming along like a dream – they are going to have to make a fundamental paradigm change. All starting with what I call “THE BITTER PILL”. One thing and one thing only.

    Meaning that they have to redesign the city as a place of highly efficient mobility and access for all, without the painful down side. All those cars.

    The mayor who manages this will get the Nobel Environment Prize. (And if she is looking for a Sancho Panza to carry her lance toward the end of a long and tiring day, well she will find one right here.)

    BTW, it can be done.

  4. Pingback: Conversion: One more determined step toward a car free city | Rashid's Blog

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