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Traffic turnaround in Paris

Paris voters cannot claim that they did not know what they were getting into. When they elected Anne Hidalgo for a second, six-year term this summer, it was clear to everyone that the Socialist wanted to rebuild the city with her cabinet. To a green city, to a city of short distances. But also to a city with fewer parking spaces and fewer cars.

Every second above-ground parking lot is to be repurposed

Hidalgo took aim at the symbol of progress, freedom, independence, and prosperity – and was elected at the end of June with half of all votes. She received more votes than her two challengers Rachida Dati (Les Républicains, 31.7%) and Agnés Buzyn (La République en Marche, 13.7%) Together. Now Hidalgo is implementing the first far-reaching measures she promised during the election campaign. On Tuesday, Deputy Mayor David Beillard (Europe Ecology – Les Verts) announced in the newspaper “Le Parisien” that the city government would abolish 70,000 above-ground parking spaces over the next six years and use them for other purposes – namely to green areas, playgrounds and bicycle and footpaths.

This means that every second above-ground car park in the city will disappear, and of the 550,000 remaining parking spaces, 480,000 will be in parking lots. Why? According to Beillard, 13 percent of all trips in Paris are made by car. That’s why it’s “abnormal” that the car still occupies 50 percent of the city’s public space.

Lower speed, fewer deaths

Just days earlier, Beillard told the AFP news agency that from next year, speed 30 would apply on highways across the city. The only exception is the Périphérique ring road. A public consultation on the plan will begin next week. The effect of lower speeds is largely undisputed: fewer accidents, less severity of accidents, less noise, less air pollution, less CO2 emissions.

Traffic turnaround in Paris

The goal of pursuing Hidalgo and Beillard is called “15-minute city” – a city where everything people need in their daily lives should be accessible within fifteen minutes, namely grocery stores, parks, cafes, sports facilities, health centers, schools and workplaces. And all this preferably on foot or by bike. Driving should not be crowded out, but preference should be given to those who really need the car: logistics, trade, people with reduced mobility.

Traffic turnaround in Paris

During her first six years in office, Hidalgo converted expressways along the Seine into promenades and cycle lanes. It was one of the first to have temporary cycle paths built after the outbreak of the Corona pandemic to facilitate movement despite distance rules. The formerly chronically clogged, three-kilometre-long Rue de Rivoli, where the Palais du Louvre stands, is now a cycle path.

“A quieter life”

The theoretical concept of the fifteen-minute city was provided by Carlos Moreno, professor at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Moreno said: “We know that it is better for people to work near their place of residence. If they shop nearby, spend their free time and the necessary services are available, people can lead a quieter life.”

Each quarter of the “Fifteen Minutes City” is supposed to perform six basic social functions: life, work, care, care, learning and enjoyment. For the concept to work, According to Moreno, four principles must be guaranteed.

  1. The needs must be able to be met nearby in order to avoid long distances.

  2. The offers must be varied in order to cover all the daily needs of the population.

  3. The density of the quarters must be high in order for the offers to be perceived by enough people.

  4. The concept must be ubiquitous, that is, spread across an entire city, so that the fifteen-minute city is available and affordable for everyone.

The concept of the fifteen-minute city is therefore not simply limited to converting highways into cycle paths, but rather to create an urban proximity and to create areas with a great quality of stay – especially for children. For example, playgrounds and temporary driving bans around schools are components of the human-friendly city. A large unarmed unit of the gendarmerie would ensure the safety of citizens and municipal employees for the cleanliness of the city.

The idea reaped ridicule and contempt 60 years ago

In the “Guardian” Moreno also explains where he sees the biggest difficulty for the realization of the 15-minute city: on the way to work. “People’s jobs are often far from their homes. But we need to rethink that.” In february this year’s article, Moreno said, “Is it always necessary to show up somewhere to be physically present in front of the boss?” Corona has already provided proof a month later that the physical presence at the employer is not always mandatory and at all times.

The concept of urban proximity goes back to the American author Jane Jacobs, who wrote the classic “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” in 1961. At that time, the Athens Charter was regarded as a benchmark, the functional separation of housing, shopping, commerce and industry as the ideal of urban planning. Jacobs wrote at the time, “A quarter is not only a union of buildings, but also a network of social relationships, an environment in which feelings and sympathy can unfold.”

Sixty years ago, Jacob reaped ridicule and contempt from influential urban planners for her book – today Paris is being redesigned according to these ideals.