Paris is regularly a very sick city, full of spikes of pollution that practically erase the Eiffel Tower from the Parisian cityscape. The last smog attack happened this March (see photo) and sparked a series of actions by the City Council led by Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo. One of these actions was the second edition of the “Journée sans Voiture” or “A Day without Cars” which happened this past Sunday, September 25th. From 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM, cars were forbidden in 46% of the streets of Paris (that represents about 400 miles of roads). Pedestrians, bicyclists, walkers, joggers took over the avenues and, except for an hour or two of rain, enjoyed this slight hiatus from urban chaos.
But seven hours of clean air per year is not enough to stop the pollution and its consequences. Mme Hidalgo has lots of other ideas. And, due to her “Bras de Fer” attitude, one extremely controversial plan just received the go-ahead from the Paris City Council.
It is now official that 3.3 kilometers (about 2 miles) of the Right Bank of the Seine will be transformed into a pedestrian zone. This stretch of road (called Voie Georges Pompidou) runs from the Tuileries Gardens to the Henri IV tunnel near the Bastille and, on a normal day, has about 43,000 cars traveling on it. It’s a great, easy way to cut through the center of Paris. The fact that it is now inaccessible is causing massive traffic jams on the other Boulevards that drivers are forced to take, such as Rue de Rivoli. Needless to say, many suburbanites who commute to Paris for their jobs, are not happy with the mayor’s plan. But she doesn’t care. They don’t vote for her anyway. They don’t live in Paris. It was the Parisian Socialist and Green Party City Councilors who passed this measure.
The mayor has a lot of statistics on her side. She has tweeted that there are 2500 deaths a year in Paris caused by bad air quality; up to 45,000 deaths in France. The cost of the smog-related health problems is as much as 101 billion Euros annually. It was time to do something. Yes, everyone agrees that something has to be done.
But the motorists and the politicians of the Right say that the pedestrian zone is not the appropriate move and will only displace and increase the pollution in other parts of the city. That may be true but the decision is now official. The work crews will soon be constructing playgrounds, terraces and waterside gardens where pollution-charged vehicles used to tread. Mme Hidalgo and the Parisians are taking back the Seine. However, I have an idea to make this pollution-reduction plan even more effective.
I think that Mayor Hidalgo and her City Councilors can easily do more than just banning motorists. They should also ban cigarette smoking from the riverbanks. That would really make these two miles pollution-free. Let the smokers puff away in the rest of the city but keep these new terraces and gardens that will be lining the Seine smoke-free. If you have
ever walked around Paris and looked down, you have seen the hundreds, even thousands, of cigarette butts that line the city streets. Now, just imagine the Parisians on the water’s edge. Do you think they will throw their butts in an ashtray? Certainly not. They’ll throw them in the Seine and watch them float all the way to Normandy. The mayor has a chance to stop that before it starts. I know it could spark another mini-French revolution but having a pristine paradise in Paris, even if it’s just for two miles, would be well worth it.