Court ruling raises possibility of traffic returning to popular pedestrianised right bank
Thu 22 Feb 2018
When pedestrians reclaimed a stretch of once traffic-clogged dual carriageway on Paris’s right bank a year-and-a-half ago, it was a symbol of the leftwing mayor’s anti-pollution fight to push cars out of the French capital.
But a court ruling has raised the spectre of traffic potentially being forced back on to the newly popular, car-free promenade by the river Seine – the latest battle in the city’s ongoing “car-wars” between the left and right.
The move to pedestrianise 3.3km (2 miles) of prime Paris riverside stretching from the Tuileries tunnel to the Henri IV bridge in autumn 2016 was met with approval from many Parisians and green groups but was furiously contested by rightwingers and car-owners. Several rightwing politicians and motorists’ groups went to court against it. A ruling this week found the pedestrianisation process had not followed correct procedure because an impact study was open to dispute.
Refusing to countenance the riverside walkway and playgrounds being turned back into a dual carriageway, Paris’s Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo vowed to appeal and keep the pedestrianisation in place. She said of the opponents to the promenade: “For them, car traffic takes priority over public health: an urban motorway is worth more than a park in the centre of the city.”
Hidalgo had made the pedestrianisation and “reconquest of the right bank of the Seine” a focal point in a battle against Paris’s serious problem of air pollution. After saying last month that there were 2,500 deaths a year in Paris linked to air pollution, she has promised to cut the number of private cars in French capital by half, eradicate diesel by 2024 and double the surface of cycle lanes by 2020.
Christophe Najdovski, Paris’s Green deputy mayor in charge of transport, said: “Cars will not be back on the right bank of the Seine: not in the coming days, not in the coming weeks, not in the coming months.”
But there will now be a legal battle for Paris city hall to protect the walkway.
Before the pedestrianisation, 43,000 cars a day passed over the stretch of road on the Seine’s right bank, which used to close in summer for the annual Paris-Plages artificial beach project.
Unlike London’s strategy to charge drivers to enter the city centre, Paris is focused on pushing out cars by limiting accessible roads and parking.
But the bank of the Seine was always a political flashpoint. Rightwingers said the pedestrianisation would damage people who needed to drive to work from the suburbs. Those on the left pointed out that studies showed few of the drivers on that stretch of road were from Paris’s suburbs and the majority were high earners, with Paris-registered cars.
The group 40 Million Motorists, which went to court against the pedestrianisation, said: “This is a first victory for road-users from Paris and the surrounding area, whose mobility had been jeopardised since this measure came into place and who hope that these roads will be quickly reopened.”
Local politicians from the rightwing Les Républicains party hailed the court ruling, criticising what they called Paris city hall’s “lack of consultation, evaluation and coherence” and said the pedestrianisation had been forced through too fast.
The row comes as the city is also under fire over a fiasco surrounding Paris’s rental bike scheme, Vélib, currently undergoing long delays and a dearth of bikes as management changes hands to the firm, Smovengo.