Some of the issues that have divided Parisians to the point of bitter debate have been the Paris municipality’s decrees ordering the closure of some of its expressways to vehicular traffic and their conversion into pedestrian malls. The two most important were the Left Bank and Right Bank expressways.
The Left Bank expressway conversion was initiated in 2013 when 2.5 kilometres of it was closed to vehicles. The second was undertaken in 2016 when 3.3 kilometres of the Right Bank expressway was closed to traffic. Anne Hidalgo is the current socialist mayor, elected in 2014, and she is a fierce proponent of both projects. She defends them as part of the process of taking the city back for the use of its citizens as opposed to its vehicles. She also claims that they have improved the quality of the air breathed by Parisians.
Many disagree about the pollution. They point out that it is not sufficient to clear a few areas of vehicles that emit exhaust: one has to take into account the pollution the vacated vehicles produce when they are either driving else-where, or when they are stuck in bottlenecks caused by too many vehicles trying to traverse the narrow streets that are now their only alternative for traversing the city.
Defenders of the closures argue that drivers have adapted their behaviour and now are less inclined to use their private vehicles precisely because it takes longer to traverse the city. They cite statistics that show a sharp drop in automobile usage in Paris in 2017. The beneficiaries, they claim, have been the public transportation network and the lungs of average Parisians.
Critics of the projects point out that most of the time very few people take advantage of the newly created pedestrian malls, especially during the winter, when the mere idea of walking next to the wind-swept river is chilling. Under the best of circumstances, many wonder why asphalt paved roadways could be considered attractive places to stroll.
Entering into this fray, the Administrative Court of Paris this week ruled that the decree of the Paris municipality forbidding the circulation of vehicles on the Right Bank expressway and its conversion to a pedestrian area is illegal, and therefore null and void. The court was responding to a suit brought by near-by communities that claim to be adversely affected by the knock-on effects of the closures: diverted traffic and increased pollution. It argues that the mayor did not have the authority to permanently close the expressway to vehicles.
The court also called into question some of the claims of the municipality that the impact of the closure on traffic has been without consequence, and challenged one its other claims, that the closures have reduced air pollution.
Does that mean that the Right Bank expressway will now be reopened to traffic? Not if the mayor can help it. She has vowed to issue a second decree to perpetuate the pedestrian malls, provoking the ire of her opponents who allege that she behaves as if she is above the law. Stay tuned. The debate rages on.