Paris kicks off annual car-free day

People walk along the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris, on May 8, 2016, as French capital's most famous avenue goes car-free for a day.
People walk along the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris, on May 8, 2016, as French capital's most famous avenue goes car-free for a day. AFP/Lionel Bonaventure

Pedestrians and cyclists have Paris streets all to themselves this Sunday 1 October. In a bid to reduce pollution, the whole of Paris will be off-limits to all car and motorcycle drivers from 11am to 6pm.


All of the French capital's 20 arrondissements, or districts, will be closed off to vehicles for its third annual "car-free day".

Residents and tourists are encouraged to get around on bicycle, on foot or why not, roller-skates.

Only service vehicles such as ambulances, police, buses, taxis and chauffeured cars will be able to drive through the capital, restricted to 30 kilometres per hour.

Vehicles will be allowed on the belt highway surrounding Paris, also known as the périphérique, as well as in the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes, two large wooded areas bordering Paris to the west and east respectively.

This Sunday marks the first time all of Paris has been closed off to cars. For last year's car-free day, traffic was only banned from a few of the city's central districts.

Christophe Najdovski, the environment consultant for the city, says the objective is simply to enjoy the city in a different way, according to AFP. "It's a day for learning, fun and conviviality."

Paris goes green

Since taking office in 2014, Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo has been pushing forward with new clean air measures. Her efforts have been largely supported by the city council's majority left-wing alliance and opposed by its conservative members of the Les Républicains party.

Earlier this year she definitively banned all car traffic from a major road on the right bank of the river Seine and turned it over to pedestrians and cyclists, after a bitter city council vote. And in 2016, she decided to make the famous Champs-Elysées avenue car-free the first Sunday of every month.

Some experts say that Hidalgo's measures have helped reduce pollution in the French capital. Charlotte Songeur, a spokesperson for Airparif, an independent organisation that measures air quality, told AFP that air pollution in Paris has been steadily decreasing over the past few years.

Between 2002 and 2012 nitrogen dioxide emissions from vehicle traffic "dropped 30 percent," according to Songeur. She says this may be due in part to advances in the automobile industry, but also to the decrease in traffic in general.

Motorist opposition

Although the car-free day operation has been in place for the last three years, it has not been well received by everyone.

Pierre Chasseray from the 40 million motorists association spoke to AFP. "What's the point of reducing the traffic if it just leads to more traffic jams elsewhere?"

Other motorists say that cycling is not convenient for everyone, particularly for those that have to drive long distances from the suburbs to get to work.

Since February, traffic management has been transferred from police headquarters to city hall. Police chief Michel Delpuech says he is not hostile to the plans to boost cycling, but he is concerned about the impact it could have on the movement of police cars and ambulances in a city that has seen several terror attacks in the past few years.

Despite negative feedback from motorists, Paris says it will double the 700 kilometres of cycle paths in the capital by the year 2020.

New York, Casablanca and Brussels have also created car-free days.

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