If you’re sick of Paris’s traffic jams, go ahead and tell the mayor directly. That’s the gist of a motorists’ campaign launched Monday, which shared Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s direct phone number in a bid to encourage protestors to jam it.
Working under the hashtag #disleaAnne (“#tellAnne” in English), the motorist pressure group “40 Million Drivers” plans to do to City Hall’s switchboards what they say the administration has done to the roads: clog them up. Their goal is to ensure the mayor can no longer ignore their calls, and, more generally, force her to the negotiating table over the future of Paris’s streets.
The spat—and the distinctly personal assault on one figure—is a sign of how heated the city’s debate around cars has become. The invective has unquestionably come from both sides. Striking an anything-but-conciliatory note, last week Hidalgo suggested that some of her detractors were “big machos,” while others came from the “fachosphere”—the sphere of the extreme right.
— 40milliardsdeB (@40milliardsdeB)
So why all the hubbub? In recent years, Paris has adopted some of the most systematically anti-car policies of any major world city, with a pro-bike, pro-pedestrian ethos that has so far has only been surpassed by smaller cities like Copenhagen. Older cars have been banned from the roads during weekdays, part of an ongoing plan to remove more polluting vehicles from the city. The lower quays of the Seine, until recently one of the busiest east-west routes across the city, have been pedestrianized, while the Rue de Rivoli, the next major east-west axis to the river’s north, is due to have its car lanes reduced as well.
Car space is being slashed in many major squares, while car-free days have been introduced annually as a form of publicity campaign for a future without automobiles. The overall, frankly declared goal: to reach a point where the city is essentially car-free—a potentially reachable goal in a country which plans to ban gas-fueled cars by 2040.
The backlash has been spirited. Commuters have complained that the closed routes along the Seine have left other roads crowded and excruciatingly slow. What’s more, they feel they’ve been demonized by the city when some of their daily habits—such as driving heavily polluting diesel cars—have been actively encouraged by past national governments. They’ve been going to Twitter to share horror stories; some have talked of needing 15 minutes to drive 200 meters along the Left Bank, while others recount being stuck in jams next to empty cycle lanes.
There does seem to be some tentative backing to these claims. Across the Paris region, congestion apparently increased 8 percent between 2015 and 2016, though given the size of the region and the fact that the quayside was only fully barred to cars last autumn, the exact causes aren’t instantly clear.
Are these discontents right to complain? To an extent, yes. Mayor Hidalgo isn’t entirely wrong to suggest that some of her harshest critics are from the aforementioned fachosphére—but certainly not all her critics fall under that umbrella.