Click to enlarge — Champs Élysées in 1900
With the eight lanes of France’s most famous avenue cleared of all traffic on Paris’s first car-free day, the usual cacophony of car-revving and thundering motorbike engines had given way to the squeak of bicycle wheels, the clatter of skateboards, the laughter of children on rollerblades and even the gentle rustling of wind in the trees. It was, as one Parisian pensioner observed as she ambled up the centre of the road taking big gulps of air, “like a headache lifting”.
There were other weird and pleasant effects of this tiny glimpse of carless utopia. “Everyone seems to be smiling, and not as stressed,” marvelled Elisabeth Pagnac, a civil servant in her 50s, who had been emboldened to cycle in from the eastern edge of the city without a helmet. But strangest of all was the sky.
“I live high in a tower block in the east of the city and looking out of my window today I saw the difference straight away: the sky has never been this blue, it really is different without a hazy layer of pollution hanging in the air,” she said.
Others agreed that looking up towards the Arc de Triomphe and to La Défense beyond, a view that was so often hazy and distorted by the city’s famous smog was suddenly crystal clear.
“What a joy to go down the middle of the road taking in the sights,” said Claude Noirault, a wheelchair-basketball coach, who had done 10km in his sports wheelchair and was planning 30km more.
When Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, launched the idea of the French capital’s first car-free day at the suggestion of the collective Paris Without Cars, pollution was top of the agenda…
Hidalgo, launching the event with other mayors who have already pioneered car-free days, including the mayor of Brussels, said the initiative showed people “are not obliged to move around in a personal car, there are other ways to approach mobility in a city”.
It wasn’t a complete success. RTFA. The sophistry brigade will find plenty to whine about, Left or Right.
The core commitment to a day without fossil fuel pollution in the City of Light let in lots of sunlight. A fresh beginning.