In September, Paris held it’s first car-free day as part of a program to encourage people to use other forms of transport. The idea came from a group of citizens who wanted to try and create an event that other cities had run. They met the Socialist Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, and persuaded her to meet and take their idea to the police service. The political persuasion of the Mayor is important because she survives by needing the Green Party voting with her Government to get legislation through. By supporting the car-free day helps her relationship with her allies.
The day wasn’t as comprehensive as the original group wanted: it was held on a Sunday (September 27th) and covered only the central areas. Public transport systems, taxis and local residents were allowed to drive through at a much lower speed than posted – this apparently would still have been quicker than a normal day when the roads are fully congested!
The focus was to get people back on the streets using bicycles and walking rather than using cars, of which many are diesels. In light of the recent VW scandal, this is quite interesting as tests last year showed that fine particle pollutants from diesel engines were 50% above the target levels. This is another example of a Government knowing that there was a problem but not acting on it. Clearly there would have been many other manufacturers cars on the roads apart from VWs, but the data would have suggested that something was wrong with emissions controls of the cars passing by.
The decision to have a car-free day in the centre didn’t go down well with some voters who accused the Mayor of pandering to the Greens, however, perhaps in cities weekend car use could be restricted. Many cities today have car and bicycle-sharing schemes as well as lower weekend ticket prices for public transport and I think this is a good option to help clean up city centres. With many residents opting to live and work in cities again, perhaps the tide has changed and car use will become a suburb only option.
I am a great fan of the car: the title of this blog should give that away, however a balance does need to be met for urban living and with so many younger people not having a desire to drive these days, it is likely that we will see more cities take up the idea and have days or areas that are permanently car-free.