Europe France Travel

Paris Sans Cars: Less Polluted, Still Hectic

Braving the traffic-heavy Champs-Elysees, in front of the majestic Arc de Triomphe.
Braving the traffic-heavy Champs-Elysees, in front of the majestic Arc de Triomphe.

Paris’ streets are a beautiful mess—a perfect storm of cars, buses, scooters, bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, walkers, strollers, and runners. During our time walking (and biking) the city streets, we witnessed near-accidents nearly every half hour: buses nearly side-swiping cyclists, pedestrians running out in front of speeding autos (including one incident of tourists running across the chaotic roundabout surrounding the Arc de Triomphe), scooters zooming past red lights.

So, a day without cars sounded like a very cool moment to be in Paris (especially as non-car-owners ourselves). The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, announced the sans-car campaign in March, as a way to bring attention to worsening smog levels. On the day of, September 27, 2015, we weren’t sure how it would all go down, but we did know this was the perfect time to use the Velib city bike service.

Check out J-Crew on the scene at the Champs-Elysées!

Unfortunately, the ban was limited to only four of Paris’ twenty arrondissements, along with the usually-hectic, but picturesque Champs-Elysées. Public buses, emergency vehicles, and taxies were allowed into these “no-car” zones, creating a greater amount of confusion and probably greater chance for a pedestrian-vehicle collision. Meanwhile, outside of these blocked areas, cars were asked to cut down their speed to 20km/hour (about 12 mph)—didn’t see this at all; in fact, I think the drivers and scooterists were going even faster, probably out of frustration.

Paris by bike, sans (sort of) cars
Paris by bike, sans (sort of) cars

At first we mostly stuck to the already-designated bike lanes (of which, fortunately, there are many). But one of the more thrilling moments of our bike ride came when we got to zip through the tunnel along the Seine as we headed to the Champs-Elysées. From there, the renowned avenue was completely clogged with pedestrians and cyclists. It was a true game of Frogger, weaving in and out of tourists on foot and kids hanging out as if they were picnicking in the park—not to mention large tour buses and taxis. Relieved to get to the end, I will admit that riding around the Arc de Triomphe was a pretty unforgettable moment.


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