The plan, announced on Wednesday and now in a consultation phase with residents, involves a ban for most vehicles in the four central arrondissements and part of the 5th, 6th and 7th.
Just look at this magnificent Paris "peaceful zone", from which most vehicles are set to be banned from next year. Bravo @David_Belliard & the Ville de Paris. An example to the world. Via @le_Parisien pic.twitter.com/VXASCwQPMa
— Peter Allen (@peterallenparis) May 14, 2021
“It will be better. A lot of big cities have already introduced similar plans, so I don’t find it shocking” said Prisca, 41, who works at Monceau Fleurs on Rue Réaumur, a busy Hausmannian boulevard that runs across the 2nd arrondissement.
She has to raise her voice over the noise of the traffic passing her flower shop.
“We won’t be so annoyed by the noise. I suffer from migraines, and between the customers and the noise from the street, by the end of the day I’ve often got a headache,” she said.
Quality of life
Mayor Anne Hidalgo has made improving air quality and reducing noise pollution in the French capital a centrepiece of her administration. The city has already introduced a ban on old diesel cars , pedestrianised the quays of the Seine and launched a car-free scheme called “Paris respire” – or “Paris breathes” – which sees certain districts pedestrianised on Sundays.
Last year’s strict three-month coronavirus lockdown caused a 20 to 30 percent decline in overall air pollution levels in Paris, according to a report from the region’s air quality monitoring agency. When the city opened up again, 50 kilometers of coronapistes (coronavirus cycle lanes) were added as a temporary measure, and later made permanent.
“I love it,” said Nadia, a resident of the 2nd arrondissement who was buying a magazine on the Placette Louvre Montmartre, a small pedestrianised square at the intersection of two busy streets. “It will improve quality of life, in terms of noise and air pollution. My apartment looks onto a courtyard, but I think the people who have apartments with windows on the street, like the Rue Réaumur for example, must find it very difficult.”
Not fast enough
Some see the plans to pedestrianise the city’s historic centre, which Hidalgo first announced she was considering in 2018, as well overdue.
“They’ve been talking about doing this for years,” says Christophe, 60, who used to live on Boulevard de Sébastopol. “I’m all for it, but I would like to see it before I die,” he said with a laugh.
“It requires a change in mentality, behaviour…I think with the new generations people will get used to the idea of a pedestrian historic centre. It’s already been done in other cities, but here these things are very, very slow,” he said.
“Ideas around mobility are only just starting to change, we’re still at a very early stages. It’s going to take a few more years still. I think it’s a good plan, but it there will be resistance.”
Of course, not everyone agrees with the idea. Hidalgo earned thousands of enemies a few years ago for the disruption created by her plans to pedestrianise the banks of the Seine, although most people now like the pedestrianised banks.
Some consider her transformation of the city to be chaotic, with hundreds of inexperienced cyclists and electric scooters causing mayhem on the streets.
“It’s been badly done,” says Nicolas, who is retired and now splits his time between France and the US.
“They ban cars in some areas and that creates congestion in others. It would be a good thing if it was done properly. If you’re an elderly person you have to be extremely careful, with people coming from this and that direction. It’s badly organised.”
Nadia admits that, while she fully supports the plan, she is a bit worried about the chaos caused by two-wheeled vehicles.
“There have been a few less trotinettes (electric scooters) lately, but I think that bicycles, electric scooters, skate boards…all these new machines can sometimes be worse than cars, because you have to be very careful,” she said. “Although they are less dangerous than the accidents caused by cars.”
More space for terraces
Some small business owners have been calling for a reduction of traffic on some of the city’s smaller streets, particularly since last summer, when restaurants relied on terraces and outdoor areas to serve food.
Alexandre, who runs the bar A L’Angle on Rue Poissonnière, has been campaigning to pedestrianise the street along with other business owners.
“It’s great news,” he said. “We started the petition last year and it was signed by all the business owners in the neighbourhood. But it didn’t get anywhere because the cars would have had to be rerouted to a street next to a school, and they didn’t want that.”
Like hundreds of other bar owners he is preparing to welcome customers again next week after months of bars and restaurants only being open for takeout. An extended terrace made of wooden pallets has been set up outside in a few parking spaces, but the street is narrow, so it can only fit a few tables.
Getting rid of cars would really help his business, he says.
“Pedestrianising the street would give us a bit more space to work with. The street is quite narrow, we don’t really have space for big terraces so it would be good for us. It would also make the neighbourhood more lively, it would allow people to walk in the middle of the street and it would be calmer and more pleasant,” he said.
Prisca, the florist, also thinks it will be good for shops like hers. “It will be a good thing for small businesses and for residents, who will discover their local shops if they are encouraged to walk more.
“They will take the time to get to know their neighbourhood better.”