Spokes(Wo)Man

Scared of traffic ? No bike infrastructure ? Too Far ? Helmet hair ?

 

Fuck it, ride anyway

Journee sans voiture 2016 !

First off, whenever I talk, write or even think about the Champs-Elysees, this song pops into my head for the rest of the day; it's perfect for this post ! Art vs Science, an Aussie electronic dance band and their debut video; TRIGGER WARNING - contains mime performances.

Sometimes when I'm trying to get up a big hill it helps to have something like the chorus of this song just running through your brain, to keep the rhythm, to stop you thinking how you can't do this for another second.  Anyhoodle ...

Back in 2014 Paris elected a new Socialist mayor, Anne Hidalgo who embarked on an ambitious urban remake aimed at reclaiming the historic city from motor vehicles, as part of a wider effort to fight air pollution.

“I would like to give Parisians back the space that cars have taken from them,” the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. “It is a matter of rehabilitation that must be thought of and implemented as a form of reparation. Reconquering the city involves reorienting our actions around nature and human beings. This fight is even more important because it involves crucial environmental and health issues that affect everyone, without the slightest exception.”

Hildalgo, elected with 55 per cent of the vote, is the first woman to serve in that role. For her, the environment is the big issue. As much as anything, she views congestion as a question of public health. Smog rose to alarming levels in early 2015 that many of the city’s cars were banned from driving and bus and metro fares were waived. The Champs-Elysees has been declared car-free on one Sunday every month, with other car-free zones in Paris to become a regular way of life.

“We are leading a more global fight against the monopoly held by cars in our city and in our lives,” she declares. “We want to create a peaceful city, free from the hegemony of private cars, to give public transit, bicycles, and pedestrians their rightful places. Reducing car traffic will help make Paris more pleasant and more full of life.”

As well as banning diesel powered vehicles from the city by 2020, reducing parking spots by 55,000 annually, spending EUR 150 million on cycling infrastructure, Hidalgo plans to pedestrianize 3.3 km on the Right Bank of the Seine this year. On 50 percent of the remaining roadways, speed limits are to be reduced to 30 km per hour.

As she points out, “With more than 4.1 million visitors coming each year, transforming the Left Bank into a pedestrian area has been an undeniable success. To further amplify this dynamic, I am committed to reconquering the Right Bank [the iconic Berges de Seine] as of summer 2016. The arguments cited by some of the project’s opponents are the same as those that were used to oppose the pedestrianisation of the Left Bank at the time . . . that project is now unanimously accepted. Progress like this, uniting private citizens and economic actors, increasing our protection of our environment, and piquing interest well beyond our borders, deserves to be reproduced on the Right Bank.”

  Artificial beaches created after the left bank was reclaimed permanently from vehicular traffic.

Artificial beaches created after the left bank was reclaimed permanently from vehicular traffic.

There are detractors; with some saying the Mayor’s policies simply increase smog outside the car-free zones. In August an independent commission advised the Paris City Council not to approve the Berges de Seine measure, saying its investigation found no conclusive evidence that it would improve air quality in the area, and that it could in fact increase noise and pollution in neighbouring areas.

“Must I point out that the fight against air pollution has be a collective effort and not rammed through single-mindedly?” said local lawmaker Vincent Roger.

A recent poll revealed the majority of Parisians support their mayor’s push to restrict car use within the city. Up to 55 percent of respondents said they supported closing off the Berges de Seine to cars, and 59 percent said they wanted to see a decrease in traffic by 2020.

That still leaves a lot of locals either not responding or happy with the status quo, but as Mayor Hildago makes clear, the changes environmental degradation have made necessary aren’t only legislative, but also cultural: “We have to rethink our habits,” she insists, “this much is certain. Since 2001, we have made considerable progress in the development of less harmful forms of transportation . . . . Our mindset has already changed a great deal. There are now many people who share the desire to scale back the presence of cars in the city. The facts are there to support this: less than half of Parisians currently own a car. Of course, some resistance remains, but we will continue our dedicated work on this issue.”

  Paris car-free in 2015

Paris car-free in 2015

Hidalgo frankly admits her program is “radical,” but that hasn’t dampened her support. Paris’ first car-free day in September 2015 was a huge success, yesterday’s second care-free day even more ambitious, covering 650 km of the city, although rain kept many away from the recreational and educational events organised by the city.

  Paris car-free 2016

Paris car-free 2016

“We have a choice,” she argues, “rethink our city as one that is truly shared, or put up with a public space that is divided in terms of use, social categories, and generations. I want to put people back at the heart of Paris.”

  Paris car-free 2016

Paris car-free 2016

Last month Hidalgo was voted the new president of the C40 Cities group, a network that includes some of the world’s largest cities, which has the stated goal of sharing ideas and expertise in the fight against climate change.

The international forum receives funding from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Clinton Foundation and The World Bank, among other international corporations and private donors.