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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  • Vooch

    some humor

  • TakeFive

    Props to Anonymous Bob – according to Laura Bliss, a classy, professional writer.

  • Vooch

    Ms. Bliss is the best transportation writer ( outside of Streetsblog ) today

  • dawdler

    Sounds great in central Paris. Harder to imagine for Atlanta or Los Angeles. (Though I’d like to think it’s doable in parts).

  • Vooch

    see attached density map for SoCal – rose & peach areas have enough density for car free/lite

  • dawdler

    Seems nice for a parade but unless you reduce actual car trips you’d just make traffic flow around the non-car areas a cluster. If this is a year-round thing how do you account for residents with cars? Do they get special passes to get in and out? Or is the idea that they’ll just give up their cars?

  • Vooch

    are you joking or serious ? I honestly can not tell

  • Vooch

    here are a bunch of sarcastic videos on pedestrian zones which might illuminate the subject. pedestrian zones are 40 years old. they work

  • Remind me not to come to Paris on Sunday afternoons as I am handicapped and can’t walk more than a few blocks without lots of pain and difficulty breathing.

  • Why not try downtown Fort Worth, TX which has a large car-free portion of the central city? For me it is hard to imagine a large city with no cars which is why I never got off I-35W in central Fort Worth either.

  • I can’t wait for an out-of-control bicyclist to mow down one of those randomly-walking peds.

  • Riding bikes on urban sidewalks is illegal in many cities as sidewalks were made for walking.

  • Vooch


    too funny

    actually urban streets were made for walking, playing, and all manner of human activities

  • Vooch

    cyclists are not dangerous

    unlike drivers which kill 40,000 Americans every yearc

  • Vooch

    that’s why you should advocate for wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and narrower motor lanes.

  • Some people would like to see cities without bicyclists:

  • Some more video of the kind of bicyclists I see every day:

  • gneiss

    In a car free or car lite city, mobility scooters are not impeded as to where they can operate.

  • One of my favorite urban bicycle videos of all time. Looks like a lawsuit to me:

  • It is illegal to ride a bicycle or even a skateboard on the sidewalk in Cleveland Heights, OH.

  • How much narrower than 10 feet, as that is the minimum lane width that is required to operate a city bus? You do know that State oversize load regulations in Colorado specify certain lane widths, right?

  • Vooch

    Cleveland is a perfect example of how to destroy a vibrant city with cars. parking craters everywhere, sidewalks narrowed, superhighways demolished neighborhoods, and the lakefront occupied by a dangerous superhighway

    once the 5th largest city in North America destroyed and impoverished by slavish devotion to the hulking death machine

  • Yeah sure. Cleveland was destroyed by unfair free trade that the Clinton’s wanted so badly, an act even worse than the robber barons of a century ago were guilty of.

  • Joe R.

    Not a lawsuit. She was crossing midblock, which is illegal.

  • And he is riding recklessly between stopped traffic, much more illegal.

  • Joe R.

    He was filtering forward, which you’re allowed to do on a bicycle. The only questionable thing he did was passing that taxi in the very narrow space to the right at 0:13 in the video. There really wasn’t enough space there to pass, and he easily could have been doored by someone leaving the taxi.

  • Joe R.

    And even more people would love to see cities without cars driven by mostly incompetent idiots.

  • bull**** His own video hangs him. He is riding as recklessly as any urban bike rider I have ever seen. I am 4 million mile professional driver, and if I am a cop, he gets 12 points on his license just by his video. He wasn’t filtering forward under control, that’s for sure.

    I have seen plenty of bikers do this same thing too by the way.

  • Joe R.

    Granted, he probably should have slowed down when his visibility was blocked by the bus, but other than passing that taxi, he didn’t seem reckless to me. He wasn’t even going all that fast (maybe 12 mph max). Had he been doing this at 20 mph then yes, it’s reckless, but that’s not the case. The idea is he should be able to stop within his line of sight if need be. A bike going 10 or 12 mph can stop in less than 10 feet.

    If you want to assign blame, I might blame him 10% to 20% for not slowing down when passing the bus. The pedestrian still gets most of the blame for not only crossing midblock, but crossing in front of a bus which blocks her view of oncoming traffic.

  • Joe R.

    A lot of those war plants had on-site housing for workers which is an even better idea. The distances to reach the plant are short enough for either walking or bicycles.

  • The problem is sight distance. The bike rider legally passed the bus,
    but then cut in way too close. The minimum legal overtaking clearance
    is at least 100 feet. The pedestrian looked, saw the bus stopped, and
    didn’t see the bike rider overtaking the stopped bus in traffic. If
    you are going to ride illegally in the city like this you need to be
    prepared for someone walking out in front of you and ride at a safe

  • FYI, a loaded city bus or 18-wheel truck takes over 75 feet to stop from just 15 mph.

  • Joe R.

    Right, and bikes stop a heck of a lot faster. I’ve stopped from 30 mph in about 40 feet. I can stop from 10 mph in about 5 or 6 feet.

  • Looks like a red light to me.

  • Red light: 4 points. Reckless riding: 6 points. How about a $1500 fine?

  • Joe R.

    Please explain to me exactly what the cyclist did wrong in this latest video? He was in a bike lane, it was the middle of the block, and the pedestrian just drifted right into his path without bothering to even turn his head.

    Sheesh. I seems you’ll blame cyclists even when they get hit by a motorist running a red light.

    I’m reporting all these idiotic bike hate posts because they’re not adding anything constructive to the conversation here. I’m sorry your parents didn’t get you that Schwinn you so wanted for Christmas when you were a kid, and you’ve been hated people on bikes ever since. I suggest you seek mental help for your bike phobia.

  • Both city buses and 18-wheel trucks have air brake application time of at-least a half second in-addition to driver reaction time, and then triple the stopping distance that a car takes from the same speed.

    Do bicycles have brake lights, which would greatly-reduce following driver reaction times, required of all other vehicles on the road?

  • Joe R.

    What does this have to do with anything? If you’re driving a motor vehicle which takes a long time to stop, it’s your responsibility to follow far enough behind the vehicle in front so you can stop even if that vehicle suddenly stops dead in the road. It doesn’t matter if that vehicle is a bike or another motor vehicle. The law says you’re automatically at fault if you rear-end a vehicle (the only exception being if that vehlcle suddenly swerves into your lane). As a commercial driver I should hope you know this. I don’t even have a driver’s license and I know it.

    Oh, and it’s not remotely feasible for bikes to have brake lights. Bikes don’t even have an electrical system to reliably power brake lights. Batteries don’t cut it. They could run down at any time. And then you have the problem of actually making a working brake light system which is small and light enough to fit on a bike while still being reliable and not costing much. If it could have been done, someone already would have done it.

  • Joe R.

    Mobility scooters are even better than cars for the disabled. Unlike cars, you can drive them right into stores. The idea that the handicapped can’t get around in car-free cities is complete bunk.

  • Corvus Corax

    I can’t believe I am getting a second opportunity in another post to say: at least he was wreckless.

  • AMH

    Bummer, I missed it by a week! I did enjoy a car-free stroll by the Seine.

    Paris really does put us to shame with their massive rail expansion plan as we struggle to build a few stations at a time, and an entire car-free day while we can only manage a few (mostly) car-free hours on a few streets a few times a year.

  • AMH

    Applying that kind of state highway regulation to a city street is precisely the source of many safety problems. After all, not every local street needs to support oversize loads on a daily basis.

  • AMH

    Even residents with cars don’t need to use them on car-free day. They walk, cycle, train, bus and taxi like everyone else. It is just one day and there are many ways to get around. It’s not a parade either, it’s the city giving the people full use of their streets for a day.

  • AMH

    People cycle on the sidewalk to get away from cars. If there are no cars in the street, there’s no need to ride on the sidewalk.

  • c2check

    But not every street has a bus route, and people have managed to build things for a long time without using enormous trucks
    And if you really need to bring in a big vehicle you can clear a parking lane for a little bit.

  • c2check

    Compare Pittsburgh, which didn’t have as much suburban sprawl as Cleveland, and has a more intact downtown and neighborhoods, and more transit ridership.

  • Maggie

    It sounds like for you, as a 4 million mile professional driver who rarely walks, it is difficult to appreciate what millions of people enjoyed about a respite from car exhaust and traffic on the streets and around storefronts they love.

    That’s understandable, but surely you can also understand that Paris isn’t trying to be more like Cleveland. It’s trying to be the best Paris for its residents and visitors that it can be.

    Buses and the metro kept running through the day, so no one had to walk longer than they were physically comfortable doing. Obviously that’s a primary consideration.

  • JarekFA

    Way to miss the fucking point.

  • JarekFA

    You are a victim.

  • JarekFA

    How about 3 points and a $700 fine. Because that’s what actually resulted here. But I’m not about to go on an anti-taxi jihad here. I just wish some drove more safely.


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