Paris’s car-free riverside plan
IT’S the latest battle in Paris’s war on the car: a pedestrian ‘reconquest’ of the banks of the Seine.
The city’s Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe has won his quest to break up the two-lane urban motorway that has run along the edge of the Seine since the 1960s, and return Paris’s riverside world heritage sites to walkers and cyclists.
From next month a stretch of more than 1km on the right bank near the Hotel de Ville will see the first narrowing of the road to make way for pedestrian corridors, riverside walkways, bars and cafes. Then in the spring the final promised masterpiece of pedestrianisation will be unveiled: a 2.5km car-free zone on the left bank, between the Musee d’Orsay and the Pont de l’Alma, with a riverside park, pedestrian promenades, floating botanic gardens, flower-market barges, sports courts, restaurants and even perhaps an archipelago of artificial islands.
The Seine’s non-stop riverside expressways were the pride of Georges Pompidou when France’s love affair with the car was at its height. Opened in 1967 by him, under the slogan ‘Paris must adapt to the car’, the dual carriageway with perhaps the best view in France allowed a speedy crossing of Paris from west to east. But environmentalists have complained it was a polluting waste of architectural heritage.
Delanoe promised his new scheme would “give Parisians back their river”, profoundly change the city and provide “an opportunity for happiness” for residents. But the mayor, who will not stand for re-election in 2014, is also seeking to be remembered as the man who finally ended Parisian reverence for the car. He has expanded cycle routes and introduced the city’s famous short-term bike-hire and car-hire schemes.
The limiting of cars along the river was foreshadowed by his Paris Plages project, an annual ‘urban beach’ along the Seine which began a decade ago and has been much imitated across Europe. It sees the expressway closed for a month in summer while Parisians reclaim the riverside to put their feet up on giant deckchairs along an artificial stretch of sand with potted palm trees.
The pedestrianisation has not been without controversy. This year the right-wing then prime minister, Francois Fillon, who was in the running to become a Paris MP and reportedly harboured mayoral ambitions for 2014, announced the state was vetoing the project on the grounds that it was badly thought out.
—The Guardian, London