On the last Sunday of this month- September 27, 2015, Paris is all set to go entirely carless for one day. The center of France’s capital will be closed to motor vehicles from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m (with an exception of few arterial routes where there are plans of slowing down the cars to 20mph). Only pedestrians and cyclists will be permitted to use these roads on the specified day.
“Our city has to establish an exemplary signal responding to global issues. The car-free day, by its magnitude, will also leave a lasting mark on the collective imagination: Everyone can project a city more livable, adopt sustainable behaviors, particularly in terms of mobility and the sharing of public spaces", the non-profit environmental group Paris Sans Voiture was reported as saying.
Paris is one of the oldest and most cultural cities in the world, besides being known for its hustling fashion houses, beautiful cafes and art is also dubiously infamous for its high levels of air contamination and the famous Parisian smog. Lately, the smog engulfing the city has become such that it was observed sometimes sunlight had to battle the particulate matter in the air to reach the ground.
The Air Quality index in Paris peaked at about 200, which is comparable to what modern industrial towns like Beijing. The ruling, however, comes as a part of a larger government initiative over the last year to get commuters out of their Renaults and Citroens and onto buses and trains. Paris authorities were also reported offering free public transportation over a weekend last year to curtail alarmingly high levels of air pollutants emitted by vehicles and industrial activity.
All of this, of course, comes with certain clauses and fine print. Firstly, a lot of vehicles are allowed to enter the closed parts of the city including emergency vehicles and public transport. Taxis are also allowed if they are picking up or dropping off passengers, which is what we last remembered taxis to do.
Residents, delivery vehicles, "market supply" vehicles are allowed to drive inside the car free areas, as long as they are not coming from outside. There is also provision to drive if you are moving houses that day, with prior permission of course. We could nitpick all day but all in all it’s a brave and interesting new step towards a cleaner future.
The French Government, additionally, also has plans to pay $450 to owners who would scrap their vehicles and there are also plans to make this ‘car abandonment day’ a yearly event if Paris’s mayor Anne Hidalgo is to be believed. The day is also being strategically orgnaized just a few months before COP 21, the United Nations climate-change conference that is scheduled to take place in France later this year.
With this decision Paris joins the ever-growing list of cities to plan for a car-fee future. Abu Dhabi and China are working on smart car-free cities to be built from scratch while Hamburg has plans to eliminate cars in 20 years. How much of this becomes a reality for the city of lights needs to be seen.