When the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo entered the French presidential race last month, she did so with a bang: pledging to make the city of lights 100% cyclable by 2026. While the 100 million project euros is expected to result in a sharp reduction in the city’s emissions, it also threatens to oust those who depend on keeping their engines running.
Since taking office in Paris in 2014, Anne Hidalgo has made no secret of her contempt for the automobile: parking spaces have been torn up, lanes reserved for cars have been ceded to cycle paths, and entire streets – including the right bank of the Seine – were pedestrianized. And for good reason, Paris is famous for its dirty air. The city is regularly subjected to dangerous spikes in smog, and has even briefly been at the top of the list of the most polluted cities in the world.
Hidalgo has worked hard to reverse this trend and, since its inauguration, has invested 150 million euros in adding 300 kilometers of cycle paths to the Parisian cycle network, which now extends to the suburbs and totals more than 1,000 kilometers. Its latest plan adds to that, including building 130 kilometers of new cycle paths and converting 52 kilometers of “Corona lanes” – the temporary cycle paths put in place during the pandemic – into permanent lanes.
In addition, the town hall recently unveiled plans to pedestrianize the historic heart of Paris, prohibiting most cars from driving in central Paris arrondissements (districts), including areas with monuments such as Notre-Dame Cathedral. , considered the heart of Paris. In September, the speed limit across Paris was lowered to 30 kilometers per hour (from 50 kilometers per hour) in a new attempt to cut pollution.
Hidalgo’s green push has angered some motorists, who accuse him of causing traffic jams and ignoring the needs of those who depend on their cars for a living. Nonetheless, she won a second term as mayor of Paris last year. Now, she’s hoping her environmental credentials will help boost her chances – she currently votes in single digits – as she sets her sights on the Elysee Palace in the 2022 presidential election.
AXADLETM spoke to an urban planner, taxi driver, commuter, driver and activist to get their take on how Hidalgo’s Paris overhaul affects them.
Vincent Cottet, the town planner: “Cars are not the future anyway”
City planner Vincent Cottet said he was in favor of Hidalgo’s plan, saying it was in line with what other big cities are doing now – like London, Sydney and Vancouver. “Some people are against it because they are only looking at how it will affect their [immediate] comfort or the situation they are in now. But we are in 2021 and we are facing climate change, it is a fact. Politicians must make courageous choices now, leading to carbon-free mobility, ”he said.
Cottet said he believed Paris would likely see a sharp drop in traffic thanks to the plan. and more affordable.
“The problem we have in Paris today is clearly that there is too much traffic. Statistics show that the vast majority of city car trips are only a few miles, not more. Only 30% of journeys made on the Paris ring road last more than 10 kilometers, ”he said.
“If there is less traffic and you ride a bicycle or an e-bike instead, you can easily get around much faster than if you were driving a car. “
Cottet said that maintaining roads in the Île-de-France region (the region around Paris) alone costs more than 100 million euros per year, so large sums of money can be saved and reinvested. in other modes of transport. He noted that lower traffic would also mean fewer accidents and hospitalizations, and fewer pollution-related health problems, “costing society less” in the long run.
Émilie Lemoule, sales manager for home-work trips: “Meeting customers will be difficult”
Émilie Lemoule is a single mother who lives in the southern suburbs of Paris. About twice a week he has to travel to town to meet with clients. Although many suburbs are now expanding their public transport networks to better connect with the French capital, Lemoule lives in an area where commuter buses and trains are remote and few in number.
“Oh, I’m totally dependent on my car,” she said. three clients on each visit to Paris, and they can be scattered anywhere in the city.
Lemoule fears that Hidalgo’s cycling plan will result in a loss of “monstrous time in the car” by getting stuck in traffic jams created by those trying to bypass the no-vehicle zones announced by the town hall.
“In my job it would be really difficult to get around using an electric bicycle or scooter, because I need to bring a lot of things with me for work, like my computer, my files , etc.
“I mean, anything is possible,” said Lemoule. “But that would mean completely reorganizing the way our sales teams work. Maybe some more meetings should be held. Teams rather than in person, for example. But overall things would be a lot more complicated for me if I couldn’t use my car.
Despite the difficulties, she said, “as far as the environment is concerned, I think the plan could be good.”
“Paris is far too polluted.
Karim, the Parisian taxi driver: “I think we can do it”
Karim, who only wanted to give his first name, has been working as a Parisian taxi driver for 10 years. He said he supported Hidalgo’s plan – as long as the cycle lanes are safe and cyclists obey the rules of the road, “because right now it’s total anarchy”.
Over the past five to six years, Karim said he has witnessed the exponential growth in the number of cyclists in Paris due to both Covid fears and the increase in cycle lanes.
“I was recently in Vienna and saw how cyclists and drivers coexisted through safe cycle lanes, so I think it’s possible,” he said.
“We can make it work. “
Parisian taxis are authorized to use the lanes reserved for buses in the capital, and have been, like delivery vehicles and other necessary transport, exempted from the City Hall’s proposal to ban cars in the city center. This exemption means that in some places it may actually be easier for Karim to pass through town.
But he noted that city hall decisions have increased traffic in some areas. “Because we will have to make more detours, it might take longer and make it harder to get to some places. “
Karim is not worried that Hidalgo’s plan affects his income, which normally ranges between € 1,600 and € 1,700 per month. “It is in our employment contract that if we drive less than 30 kilometers per hour, we charge for the time we spend, and if we drive more than 30 kilometers, we charge per kilometer, it will not affect so not really our salaries. “
Brahim Ben Ali, the driver of carpooling apps: “The death knell of the profession”
Brahim Ben Ali has worked for various carpooling services in Paris since 2016. Unlike taxi drivers, he and his colleagues are not allowed to use the city’s bus lanes and have not been exempt from car bans in the city. central Paris.
“Taxi drivers don’t really have a problem because Madame Hidalgo keeps saying they provide a public service,” he said. “But for some reason we don’t count.”
On October 20, a few days before Hidalgo presented his “100% bicycle Paris” project, Ben Ali and a hundred other drivers protested against their “unfair treatment” in front of the town hall.
Ben Ali, who works 80 to 90 hours a week, including waiting time between clients, said his profession has already been hit hard by the city’s new speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour.
“The slowdown means we’ve gone from an average of around 15 trips a day to 10,” he explained.
The new bicycle plan worries him. “This is the death knell for the profession. We have fixed prices for our trips and cannot use the bus lanes – so it will of course be more beneficial for a customer to take a taxi rather than to sit in our cars [in a traffic jam] for 45 minutes.
“Morale is pretty low among drivers now,” he said. “Some are talking about leaving Paris and others about quitting.” Despite the long hours, he said most drivers who work for ridesharing apps like Uber or Lyft only earn an average of € 1,500 per month.
“We will be back outside City Hall to protest on November 24 – and every month thereafter if we need to. “
TonyRenucci, Clean Air Activist: “Breathable Air”
Tony Renucci is the head of the clean air activist group Respire Asso. He is optimistic about the plan, “if it means concretely that cars will be replaced by bicycles for most journeys”.
According to the Parisian air quality monitoring network Airparif, traffic in Paris and on its ring road is by far the worst source of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution in the city, at 65%. However, when it comes to fine particles – particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter that the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified as carcinogenic, claiming they can cause asthma and heart disease – wood burning is the main culprit, accounting for 49 percent. , with a second traffic at 35 percent.
Although there are no official estimates yet on the contribution of Hidalgo’s car ban initiatives to reducing pollution in the French capital, the annual Paris Mayor’s Day without a Car (Paris Respire Car Free), held in September this year, led to a 20 percent drop in nitrogen dioxide levels.
Renucci said that if Hidalgo’s strategy of creating traffic jams really discourages people from using their cars unless they really have to, Parisians are likely to benefit from “more breathable air” in the city. to come up.
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