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Paris has car-free Sunday ahead of Cop21 climate change conference

An electric Autolib' car drives by the Eiffel Tower
An electric Autolib' car drives by the Eiffel Tower Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

For the first time ever the centre of Paris was car-free all day long on Sunday, in a bid to promote cleaner forms of transport in a festive atmosphere. The future goal is to become like Brussels where a car-free day takes place every year in 19 districts of the city.

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Private cars were not allowed to drive through the centre of Paris between 11.00am and 6.00pm on Sunday.

Outside this zone, cars were allowed to drive at 20km/hour maximum, while taxis, buses and residents could use "green zones".

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This is the just one of the latest efforts to raise public awareness of environmental issues as Paris gears up to host the Cop21 climate change conference in November.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo approved the initiative in October 2014 after being approached by group of scientists, high-profile individuals and residents.

As well as the move to reduce traffic, the Paris Sans Voiture collective organised a range of activities for locals and visitors alike from picnics, music concerts, sports and games.

But spokespersonn Delphine Grinberg expressed  disappointment with the final arrangements.

The group was angry about the restricted size of the official perimeter, which police refused to extend, and the fact that some working-class neighbourhoods were not included in the festivities, she told Libération newspaper.

She spoke about the few districts outside the centre which have agreed to support the day, while not blocking roads completely.

"We just hope car owners will go along with it and leave their cars in the garage," Grinberg told the paper. "Our concern is that the rest of the people will not be aware of the plan".

The organisation was also disappointed that public transport was not free on the day.

Other frustrations have been vented about the efficacy of such a measure.

Only 200,000 Parisiens out of 2,2 million would be affected by the road closures and only a third of those actually owned a car, an opinion piece in Friday's Le Monde daily pointed out.

"The fact that a Sunday was chosen doesn't help," wrote Olivier Razemon. "At the end of the 1990s every year on 22 September on World Car-free Day, Paris and other cities really made an effort to limit traffic. As the date was fixed, the restrictions could fall on a Friday or a Tuesday. It is not without significance that this forced drivers to adapt and, once a year, try new ways of getting around."

Despite resistance over the years, Paris has on several occasions tried to improve the quality of life in the city, reduce pollution and cut down on vehicle traffic.

Since 2002 every July and August, roadways on the banks of the Seine are blocked off to host various activities, including Paris Plage complete with sandy beaches and palm trees, an initiative of former mayor Bertrand Delanoë.

Delanoë also helped introduce a bike-sharing system called Vélib' (a portmanteau of “vélo" and "libre” meaning "free bicycles") in 2007.

Velib' encompasses around 14,500 bicycles and 1,230 bicycle stations located across Paris and in some surrounding municipalities.

And, since 2011, Paris has Autolib' - an electric car sharing service which has 4,000 car charging hubs, operated by the Bolloré industrial group.

The move towards cleaner transport is part of a greater push for the French capital to get citizens aware of environmental concerns.

This in part because Paris is set to host the Cop21 climate change conference, under the auspices of the United Nations, at the end of November.

It will seek to crown a six-year effort by 195 nations with a post-2020 pact on curbing greenhouse gases.

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