Paris Will Be Car-Free for One Day

The one-day event will see large swaths of central Paris free of motorized traffic.

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Photo by Moyan Brenn

Photo by Moyan Brenn

What do you think of when you think of the streets Paris? Sidewalk cafés, architecture, musicians and street performers in busy downtown squares? Now imagine those romantic notions of the French capital, and imagine them without the busy backdrop cars. Suddenly the sidewalk cafés extend into the streets, the architecture can be viewed from any angle you choose, and the music is no longer drowned out by the roar of the engine and the honk of the horn.

For one day this year, that dream will be a reality. Parisian mayor Anne Hidalgo has proclaimed Sunday, September 27, 2015 as La journée sans voitures – Day Without Cars. From 11:00 am to 6:00 pm in a substantial section of the city’s center, locals and visitors will be able to see Paris as they’ve never seen it before: car-free. With streets liberated from motorized traffic, people will be able to walk, cycle and generally enjoy the sights and natural sounds of the the city, free of the noise and danger of automobiles.

The car-free areas include the  1st through 7th, 10th, and 11th arrondissements (neighborhoods), the Champs Élysées, Place Stalingrad, Place de la Republique, the Left Bank, the Place de la Bastille, the area around the Eiffel Tower and the Bois de Vincennes and Boulogne.

While the initiative will definitely provide for a lovely day of urban wandering, it is also of enormous symbolic importance to a city grappling with extreme congestion and skyrocketing air pollution. After Paris briefly earned the unwelcome title of world’s most polluted city, Hidalgo’s office instituted a partial car ban which would cut the city’s motorists in half, but the controversial scheme was abandoned after only one day. While La journée sans voitures is limited to only one day, it enables Parisians to imagine the possibilities and potential of a car-free lifestyle. After experiencing the easy bliss of car-free streets, the event could encourage a whole new rank of residents to take up the call for diversified urban transportation.

The timing of the event is also not insignificant. La journée sans voitures is taking place only a few weeks before the 2015 Paris Climate Conference and a week after European Mobility Week. As decisive climate action becomes ever more urgent, more people are realizing the potential – and necessity – of urban transportation systems to play a significant role in battling climate change. If a day without cars goes well in the French capital, then maybe it will encourage other cities to follow suit. And who knows, if it goes well in a few more cities, maybe next time it will last longer than a day. Forever, perhaps?

 

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