After a highly contested council vote, the major road along the Right Bank of Paris’s River Seine will now be closed to car traffic year-round, not just in the summer, the Guardian reports. Part of the Left Bank was pedestrianized in 2013, and the annual Paris Plages festival turns the Right Bank into an urban beach, complete with sand and palm trees, each summer. Following this week’s vote, pedestrians will now permanently reign on both sides of the Seine, a decision Mayor Anne Hidalgo hailed as the “end of the urban motorway in Paris and the reconquest of the Seine.”
The plan will block traffic from 3.3 km of road from the Tuileries Garden near the Louvre to the Henri IV tunnel near the Bastille. Renderings released last year show the highway, which currently sees 2,700 vehicles an hour during peak times, replaced by gardens, grassy walkways and areas for children’s play.
Hidalgo has called efforts to pedestrianize the Seine “an urban project, something almost philosophical, which involves envisaging the city in an alternative way than through the use of cars.” Part of that philosophy concerns the health of residents and the environment. City Hall experts have said that reclaiming the riverbanks from traffic would lead to an average 15 percent decrease in nitrogen dioxide levels and a reduction in noise pollution.
But not everyone wants to re-envision the city. The Paris City Council’s left-wing parties voted unanimously for the proposal, but all the right-wing council members voted against it. The group 40 Million Motorists has opposed both the Left and Right Bank closures too, contending that the Left Bank closure has already worsened traffic jams and thus increased pollution and noise.
After this week’s vote, Paris’ police prefect announced the creation of a “technical committee” that will study the effects of the Right Bank’s closure on noise and air pollution, reporting after six months and a year. He warned that if the pedestrianization causes traffic snarls, it will need to be reversed.
A City Hall spokesperson downplayed this possibility, denying that worsening traffic has been an outcome on the Left Bank. “Of course, we don’t have a crystal ball, but we are convinced that if there are traffic jams in the short term, they will evaporate in the long term as people change their habits and use other forms of transport,” she said. “The mayor is convinced that we will see the same result in terms of less traffic and lower pollution as we did with the Left Bank highway closure, in which case there will be no reason for the police prefect to object to it.”
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.