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.

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