A Car-Free Champs-Élysées Is Going to Be a Regular Thing

Pedestrians and cyclists will take over the famous boulevard once a month.
(Photo: Facebook)
Jan 6, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

The COP21 climate conference in Paris has come and gone. But the international push to reduce carbon emissions and the work of local activists seem to have had a permanent effect on the City of Light. For proof, look no further than Wednesday’s announcement from Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo that starting in the spring, vehicles will be banned on the city’s most famous road once a month.

Indeed, the 1.2-mile Champs-Élysées will transform into a truck-, car-, and motorcycle-free playground for pedestrians one Sunday a month. Hidalgo made the announcement in a speech to the elected Council of Paris about a variety of projects and ideas aimed at improving the daily life of the city’s residents in 2016, and she tweeted it to her 584,000 Twitter followers.

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Hidalgo didn’t share details, such as the start date. But to get an inkling of what a monthly, car-free Champs-Élysées will look like, one need only take a look at what happened on a Sunday in September when vehicles were booted off roads in the city’s center. Dubbed “Paris Sans Voiture” after the grassroots collective of environmental activists that proposed the idea to Hidalgo in 2014, the day resulted in a festival atmosphere in several neighborhoods.

On the Champs-Élysées, people biked and strolled freely between the Place Charles de Gaulle—on the western end of the boulevard, where the Arc de Triomphe is—and the Place de la Concorde on the east. Instead of vehicles zooming down the roadway, Parisians and tourists sat on the concrete to snap pictures or enjoy a picnic.

Although the day boasted plenty of positive cultural benefits, it also had a significant environmental impact on the smog-plagued city. French air-quality watchdog Airparif reported that nitrogen dioxide levels were 30 percent lower along the Champs-Élysées, on average, compared with a similar Sunday.

However, given the ongoing pollution problems in Paris, some activists might not see Hidalgo’s announcement as a total victory. After the September event, Paris Sans Voiture promised its followers on Facebook that the next car-free day would expand across a greater portion of the city. This latest commitment from Hildalgo limits the perimeter but makes the vehicle ban a regular part of Parisian life.