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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  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    What is it that you don’t understand about “shared space”?

  • Only Bananas

    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?

  • dawdler

    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.

  • gneiss

  • davistrain

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

  • Guy Ross

    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.

  • Guy Ross

    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.

  • Frank Kotter

    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)

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/acbe9edce93f79b3b7a48170d9f5f74d8ec92c08c0244f1df351c919c0503c75.gif

    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

  • Frank Kotter

    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

  • Frank Kotter

    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.

  • Joe R.

    Also, on page 23 here: http://altoonabustest.psu.edu/buses/reports/416.pdf?1357153048

    Average stopping distance for a New Flyer XD40 transit bus from 20 mph was 37.48 feet. Other bus tests have similar results.

  • Frank Kotter

    Right on. When I heard it, I was suspicious. I LOVE my instinct!

  • David Henri

    Mark, are you just trolling or are you seriously missing the point here?

  • David Henri

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

  • kagi

    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.

  • Andrew

    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.

  • Joe R.

    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.

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