The Joy and Freedom of a City Without Car Traffic

On Sunday, streets all over Paris belonged to people biking, walking, and riding transit. Photo: City of Paris
On Sunday, streets all over Paris belonged to people biking, walking, and riding transit. Photo: City of Paris

Imagine a major city without car traffic, without the honking, the congestion, the tailpipes spitting out poison. A city without the ever-present threat of getting run over.

Thanks to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, we don’t have to imagine. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, the whole city of Paris was free of motor vehicle traffic except buses, taxis, and emergency vehicles.

It was the French capital’s third and largest “journee sans voiture” (day without cars). The first preceded the Paris climate summit in 2015. Air pollution dropped as much as 40 percent in some areas — especially significant for European cities choked by smog from diesel engines. Since then, Paris has expanded the event, and Sunday marked the first time it was truly citywide.

As you browse through these photos from the journee sans voiture, keep in mind that Paris is trying to make its streets free from the burden of car traffic all year round. The car-free day fits within a comprehensive strategy to improve mobility while reducing motorized traffic.

Hidalgo and her predecessor, Bertrand Delanoe, have enacted bold policies to prioritize transit, bicycling, and walking on city streets, resulting in a 30 percent drop in traffic over 10 years.

Many of the most important streets in the city have been outfitted with bus lanes, tramways, and protected bike lanes, while high capacity motor vehicle routes along the banks of the Seine have been converted into car-free public spaces.

A post shared by Michaël (@myki_mix) on

A post shared by Ania (@anna_gharsall) on

A post shared by Gaëlle Labarthe (@gaellelab) on

67 thoughts on The Joy and Freedom of a City Without Car Traffic

  1. This looks like a solid step for building a better future. My question is what do they do with their old angry dotard men complaining about everything that’s the way they’re used to?

  2. I get the one-day thing. I’m reacting to this:

    … keep in mind that Paris is trying to make its streets free from the burden of car traffic all year round

    Sorry – should have been more clear. A one-day thing works because it’s a one-day thing.

  3. All these automotive alternatives are probably easier to apply in a country where “petrol” is on the order of $8.00 a gallon.

  4. Luck for you, within those few block you can find a café, drug store, dry goods, fruit stores, electronics, a park, and a bus stop.

    If you prefer your life with disability in the U.S. whereby you have not a single option for social interaction other than in an automobile, you should probably stay there.

  5. i think your are falling into a fallacy by forgetting that cities continually change and transform. When you change the way a city is managed, it will change. The corner store which turned into a liquor store in the 70’s will once again start selling fresh vegetables. The cafe will open on that empty lot and the Applebees that you drive 15 miles to will shut down.

    Neighborhoods which were gutted to make way for rush to increase the efficiency of car travel will be allowed to heal.

  6. You’ve been laying a lot of stuff on the line here. I decided to check this statement specifically. According to the NHTSA (the same body who licenses your CDL) A truck at 21 tonnes (42,840 pounds) stops in 31 feet at 20 mph (the slowest speed tested)

    It would appear it is not only this which is muddying your perspective and allowing you to not see your responsibility as a driver. I hope you give this some thought

  7. If you’re throwing out numbers, you may be interested to know it is 6.00 USD/Gallon

    1.35 EUR/liter
    3.78 Liters per gallon
    1 EUR per 1.17 USD

    Ether 6 or 8 – actually having the cost of roads being built into the price of fuel is the best way to ensure fairness and free market based decision-making

  8. It’s all about reducing the area of a city cars have primacy. Yes, you can do a car free day for a day in any city because it is only a day.

    The goal is to have the same permanent outcome and this takes time, but it is possible.

  9. Mark, you don’t need a license to ride a bike. And yes, filtering up between jammed traffic is perfectly legal, and expected.

  10. In most places, cycling on sidewalks is illegal not because it threatens pedestrians, but because it endangers cyclists. Riding on the sidewalk is one of the most common factors that gets people hit by cars and killed. To be safe, take the lane.

  11. Crossing midblock is not necessarily illegal. In New York, for example, it is only illegal to cross midblock on blocks bounded by signalized intersections. The law elsewhere may differ.

    Even if this particular pedestrian was crossing illegally, that doesn’t excuse a failure to exercise due care on the part of a motorist or cyclist to avoid colliding with a pedestrian (again, by New York law). Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    When traffic is backed up, motorists often illegally block crosswalks, leaving pedestrians with no means of crossing the street except outside the crosswalk. At the same time, since traffic is backed up, it’s perfectly safe for a pedestrian to cross midblock – that is, until a cyclist comes along too fast to possibly be watching for pedestrians.

  12. Certainly the cyclist should have slowed to ~5 mph when approaching the bus which blocked his vision. I would have in that situation, if for on other reason than self-preservation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Scenes From the Big Car-Free Day in Paris

-Journee sans voitures, Les Champs Elysees, maintenant. -Day without cars, Champs Elysees, now. -Arabasiz gun, Champs Elysees, simdi. #journeesansvoitures #daywithoutcars #arabasizgun #champselysees #champselysées #nofilter #photooftheday A photo posted by Arkun Demiroglu (@arkundemiroglu) on Sep 27, 2015 at 3:13am PDT The air was noticeably clearer yesterday over the city of Paris, where people walking, biking, skating, […]

Are Streets Full of Traffic Good for Elderly People?

Following an eye-opening three-day experience with a car-free center city — a byproduct of Pope Francis’s visit — many Philadelphia residents are beating the drum for more large open streets events to provide some relief from traffic. A recent Philadelphia Inquirer story explored the idea, and playing the role of curmudgeon was Joseph Martin, an engineering professor at Drexel University who […]

Paris Kicks Off Monthly Car-Free Sundays on the Champs-Élysées

It’s been almost six months since Paris held its big car-free day, a jubilant event that temporarily cleared the air of poisonous diesel emissions and imparted a sense of how great streets could be without the constant roar of motor vehicles. Now Mayor Anne Hidalgo is moving to make “open streets” a monthly event. Richard Layman at Rebuilding Place in the […]