Car-less Utopia

By Jessica Guirand

The city of Paris recently had its ‘first car-free day’. It was on everyone’s lips!

Credit: Champs-Elysees

Imagine the City of Light liberated from traffic, pollution and noise. The freedom to walk and ride in the empty streets or the unlocked potential for photographers and film makers to capture Paris unchained.

Sounds pretty amazing but somehow this seems too good to be true. The facts speak for themselves as follows:

  •  This innovative experience was scheduled on a Sunday between 11am and 6pm
  • Only 4 arrondissements in the core of Paris were car-free (the 16 others were subjected to a speed limit of 20km/h) as well as two gardens at the periphery
  • Motorised vehicles such as ambulances, taxis, and buses were exempted
  • Some arrondissements are already car-free every Sunday of the year
  • There are several examples of cities worldwide, where partial and permanent days without cars exist including Bogota and Brussels. Paris itself has experienced car-free days in the past!
Credit: / Car-free areas (dark green)
Clearly, the intention was to create a strong impact in the collective mind and demonstrate that there are other ways to go about pollution peaks and climate change. But is this good enough?

The initiative lacked a firm political support and hid the real issue at stake. This metropolis has an array of public transport options. Paris contains five suburban train lines, 16 metro lines, eight tram lines and about 10 bus lines. It is probably the most dense public transport network in Europe (there are 8.5 million public transport commuters in the Paris area per day). However, an existing and persisting problem is the deterioration of the lines, which have reached or are close from reaching their saturation point (roads are experiencing the same dilemma). This ageing network is desperately in need of maintenance, new lines and stations. The impact of a car-free day in contrast appears ludicrous.

This isn’t just an issue that just plagues Paris. This issue is faced by cities worldwide each day. What is needed is an integrated approach which includes strategic planning of housing, employment and services, and use of technology needs be seriously considered to create a retrofitted metropolis that respond to the challenge of climate change and resources constrained.

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