We’ll always have Paris, and sometimes without cars

The banks of the Seine will remain an everyday fashion runway.
The banks of the Seine will remain an everyday fashion runway.
Image: Reuters/Stephane Mahe
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Pedestrians and cyclists can continue to enjoy promenades along the banks of the river Seine in Paris without fear of motor vehicles. A city administrative court on Oct. 25 ruled in favor of the mayor of Paris, who was appealing a previous court decision from February. A ban on cars, the court said, is legal.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo instituted the motor vehicle ban on the Seine’s historic Right Bank in September of 2016. The plan extended an annual summer ban on cars, making permanent the previously temporary, seasonal measure along a two-mile stretch of the riverbank. Some motorists opposed it, and a group of conservative politicians and automotive lobbyist groups challenged the ban in court. The Paris Administrative Court initially overturned the vehicle ban because, it said, the mayor hadn’t followed the proper procedure for instituting the rule, and claims about its impact on pedestrians were not yet verified.

Hidalgo is determined to make Paris a leader in green cities. She is part of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership group, an effort by mayors of 40 major cities, and other participating localities around the world, to fight climate change with environmentally progressive policies. The group is working to ensure that the globe’s largest and wealthiest cities implement policies that minimize carbon emissions all while continuing to grow economically and in terms of population. Its goal is for all member cities to hit peak greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020, and from there to be on a downward trajectory, by decarbonizing electricity grids, optimizing energy efficiency in buildings, and improving transportation and waste management.

According to a C40 report published in October, 27 of the group’s cities have reached that goal as of 2018, although gains can at times be reversed. Tokyo, for example, had reached peak emissions by reducing energy consumption and was making “significant progress” towards its environmental goals. But the closure of large nuclear plants over the last decade has forced the city to replace some of that energy production with natural gas, and so, according to the report, Tokyo is no longer meeting the goal despite reducing emissions from other sources.

In 2017, Hidalgo told Fast Company that mayors must concern themselves with climate change and be bold about introducing new ideas. “We have to dare. Big cities are responsible for 70% of greenhouse-gas emissions. We have a political responsibility, as mayors, to say, ‘We must act now.’ Because tomorrow it will be too late.”

In her car-ban appeal, Hidalgo argued that cars should be permanently barred from the banks of the river Seine, given its historical significance of one of the world’s most beloved promenades, and the effects of car pollution on climate change and air quality. The Paris Administrative Court agreed.

Mark Watts, executive director of C40 Cities, responded to Hidalgo’s win, telling Fast Company, ”The policies of Mayor Anne Hidalgo…are an inspiration to cities around the world as they strive to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and clean the air that citizens breathe…Transforming this World Heritage Site that was once the preserve of highly polluting vehicles into a wonderful new space for walking and cycling, is precisely the type of bold transformation that we need to see in the world’s great cities.”

While vehicles continue to roll through the rest of Paris most days, pedestrians do get a break once a year. In each of the last four years, the city of light’s streets have been totally car-free for a single day. “For once, Parisians and visitors alike can get around and enjoy free events in peace and quiet,” the Paris tourist office wrote on its website ahead of the Oct. 7 occasion this year. “Make it an outing with family or friends: put on your roller skates, hop on your bicycle or get on your walking shoes, and set off to take in the sights of Paris.”