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FRANCE

Paris to close Seine right bank to traffic despite unfavourable report

Paris plage, the summer beach on the right bank of the Seine
Paris plage, the summer beach on the right bank of the Seine Reuters/Charles Platiau

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo's plan to close the right bank of the Seine to traffic has stirred up a row in the French capital. An inquiry refused to back the idea but Hidalgo has sworn to press on, angering the right-wing opposition and councillors of all parties in the suburbs.

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Hidalgo this week accused the commission of inquiry of a "complete denial of the urgency for the climate" and insisted that she will put the proposal to a city council meeting next month.

Environmental, health, urban and cultural considerations have also been ignored, she claimed.

Air pollution kills 48,000 people a year in France, according to a study published earlier this year.

Paris regularly has to take measures to control traffic because of high levels of fine particles in the air caused by pollution. 

The city council itself was slow to make the advisory inquiry's findings public, posting its report on its website on 19 August, 11 days after it was submitted, and published a defence of the scheme on the same day.

Insufficient information

Hidalgo's Socialists and their allies propose to permanently close a 3.3-kilometre stretch of road from the Tuileries bridge to the former arsenal, part of the area already closed in the summer for the Paris plage artificial beach.

But the inquiry said it did not have enough information to endorse the plan, notably because the data on which it is based are limited to the arrondissements through which the road currently passes.

Three-quarters of the 43,000 vehicles that use it every day is likely to move to the streets in the surrounding arrondissements, such as the Boulevard Saint-Germain, it claimed, leading to congestion and pollution there.

It also cast doubt on claims that developing river traffic and tourism could repair possible damage to business caused by the closure.

Right-wing opposition weighs in

The right-wing opposition on the city council welcomed the report.

"There's nothing to show that this project will improve air quality," said Jean-François Legaret, the mayor of the first arrondissement and deputy leader of the Republicans party on the city council. "On the contrary, it will make it worse with the redirection of traffic it will lead to."

Right-wing leaders of the Ile de France region called on Hidalgo to dump the plan, while both left and right-wing councillors of towns on the outskirts of Paris expressed reservations about it on the grounds that it will make it harder for residents to commute to work in the capital.

The Braess paradox

The scheme's supporters accept that there will be short-term problems but point to the counter-intuitive results of previous similar measures, including closure of roads on the left bank of the Seine in 2013.

Traffic will decline over the course of a few months, they argue, citing the "Braess paradox", named after German mathemitician Dietrich Braess, who observed in 1968 that building more roads increased the amount of traffic.

Closing roads has also reduced traffic, for example in the French city of Rouen when a bridge was closed after a fire in 2012 and in Warsaw, when traffic that would have crossed the Lazienkowski bridge, also closed by a fire, was reduced from 100,000 vehicles a day to 48,000.

To read our reports on the 2015 Paris climatge conference click here

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