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Paris: Remarkable Reduction in Congestion and Pollution

Updated: Jan 9

Are cities for the pleasure of the people (including their health and quality of life) or the unrestricted domain of vehicles? In Paris, it's most certainly the former.

Paris at night

A startling statistic emerged in France's capital city last month: during the morning and evening rush hours, on the main thoroughfares crisscrossing the metropolis, Le Monde reports that there are now more bicycles than cars - almost half as many again, in fact.

It's the latest impressive statistic that demonstrates the extraordinary transformation of city life under mayor Anne Hidalgo who, since she was first elected in 2014, has pursued some of the toughest anti-car policies of any major city in the world.

Hidalgo started off by closing the 1970s Right Bank Seine expressway to traffic and has since shut many famous streets, such as the Rue de Rivoli, to most traffic. She also created an expanding low-emission zone to exclude older (more polluting) cars, and established 1,000km (620 miles) of bike routes, 350km of them protected lanes.

Thanks to her policies and those of her predecessor, driving within Paris city limits has fallen by almost half since the early 1990s (according to a paper published by the journal Les Cahiers Scientifiques du Transport), while public transport use has risen by a third and cycle use by a whopping 1,000 percent.

City hall has also imposed a speed limit of 30kph (20mph) on almost all the capital’s streets, pedestrianised 200 streets outside primary schools, and recently announced a referendum on plans to charge SUV drivers “significantly more” to park. Paris's deputy mayor tweeted that SUVs in Paris are “An absurdity! These vehicles are useless in town and more dangerous.”

The Associated Press described it as "the latest salvo in her long-running campaign to make the city more friendly to pedestrians and the planet, and less friendly to cars". Only about one third of Parisians now own cars, against almost 90 percent of the wider French population.

But that's not all. Next will be the introduction of a limited traffic zone that, with certain exceptions, will ban all through traffic - as much as 50 percent of the total - from most of the city’s central arrondissements starting in spring 2024, in time for the summer Olympics.

Let's not forget that the French dictionary - Le Petit Larousse - added “gréviculture” to the lexicon in 2021, defined as an “almost systematic tendency to go on strike… as a preamble to any dialogue or negotiation". So, if Parisians weren't happy with what's going on, you can be sure that they would have made their feelings clear.

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