Paris Says ‘Non’ to Traffic on the Champs-Elysées Once a Month

Smog is breaking hearts in the City of Love. The mayor intends to stop it.

Champs Elysee Traffic
LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images

Starting next month, Paris will make the Champs-Elysées a car-free zone on the first Sunday of every month. The May commencement will actually come on May 8 instead of May 1 because the first day of that month is a national holiday, when necessary council workers have the day off. After that, though, one of the most famous stretches of road in the world will be denuded of vehicular traffic along its entire ten-lane, 1.2-mile stretch. The grand boulevardeffort joins the 13 routes currently traffic-restricted, and nine new roads nominated for restrictions on a monthly basis.

Paris has been experimenting with car-free days for nearly 20 years, clamping down on traffic for a few days in 1997, then holding its first En ville, sans ma voiture day – In the city without my car – in September 1998. Over the following years it would prohibit automobile traffic in certain portions of the city, like stretches of the road next to the Seine, once a month. But Paris’ hard line on automobiles turned as intense as its smog in 2014 when pollution made The City of Light look more like Beijing, the authorities commenced alternative driving days for a spell, and socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo took office with a pledge to fight filthy air.

The 2005 study conducted by the European Commission blamed fine-particle air pollution for roughly 40,000 premature deaths per year in the land of the Franks. A French Senate report figured the public health issues arising from air pollution cost the country €100 billion ($112 billion US) annually. Even though a 24-hour ban doesn’t provide lasting relief, these measures are widely seen as first steps in grooming the public for the kinds of blanket bans that are on the way – Mayor Hidalgo said, “I want diesel cars out of Paris by 2020.” The efforts have not come without a fight, pitting suburban rank-and-file citizenry against “champagne socialists." The battles will certainly continue this year; in September 2015 the city put on a car-free day, authorities plan to do it again with more curtailed areas this September, on top of plans to introduce permanently pedestrianized areas along the Seine. Vive la perambulators...