On Sunday September 27, 2015, Paris will go car free for one day. With the exception of a few main traffic arteries (where cars will be slowed to about 20 mph), the center of France’s capital will be closed to motor vehicles from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Only pedestrians and cyclists will be permitted.
The day comes a few months before COP 21, the United Nations climate-change conference which takes place this year in France. Paris is in the middle of a struggle to clean up its air, in large part by promoting alternative transportation. This year alone we’ve seen it change the law to allow cyclists to run red lights, and invite ideas for turning the city’s huge traffic intersections into bike and pedestrian-friendly plazas. Paris will even pay you $450 to give up your car.
The car-free day was organized in concert with the citizen collective Paris Sans Voiture (Car-Free Paris), which proposed the scheme to Paris’s forward-thinking mayor Anne Hidalgo, and aims to make this a yearly event.
If you take a look at the fine print, though, you’ll see that an awful lot of vehicles are allowed to enter the “closed” parts of the city. Emergency vehicles are of course allowed, and so is public transport. But taxis can also enter to pick up or drop off passengers, which is pretty much all that taxis do. Residents can drive around inside the car free areas, as can delivery vehicles and “market supply” vehicles–they just can’t come from outside the area. Also, if you’re moving that day then you’re good to go, as long as you get permission first.
If you ever enjoyed an event on a closed street, and experienced a car or truck forcing its way through the peaceful goings-on, then you’ll know how disruptive a single vehicle can be to this kind of endeavor. Hopefully drivers will steer clear of the areas concerned, but trusting cars not to drive down and available road is like trusting your hungry dog to guard that juicy steak while you go to fetch a bottle of wine.
Still, we’ll take what we can get. There’s so much activity all over the world now related to car-free cities, that it reminds one of the ever-growing murmuring around the legalization of cannabis before laws started to change. Maybe we’ll see car-free cities in our lifetimes after all.