Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for August 4th, 2012

Paris to return Seine to the people with car-free riverside plan

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The Guardian

Soon to be gone

The two lane freeway near the Hotel de Ville that will be replaced
my photo on flickr

Georges Pompidou was responsible for converting the quais along the Seine through the centre of Paris into an urban expressway.  It used to be the place for strolling, or fishing – and soon will be again. It is part of the world wide movement that has seen many such ideas reversed. Cities have been part of the human experience for millennia – cars for a century. In the same way that the Romans made rules to keep carts out of the centre of their city two thousand years ago – and Samuel Pepys complained about what happened to central London when sedan chairs were replaced by coaches (though he later bought one for himself) cities work best when people can mingle and move around in large numbers. If a few insist on encasing themselves in a tonne or more of steel and machinery – and try to get across town as quickly as they can – then the majority suffer, and the economy of the city declines. If freeways were good for cities Detroit would be a great success today.

Designing cities for cars has produced some of the worst urban environments – Brasilia for instance. The “war on the car” is being won, fortunately, in most places – even in North America. Manhattan, New York being one of the leaders in the field, once it realized that far more people were riding trains and walking than driving cars.

I had thought that Vancouver was going to follow this trend, when the city realized that the remnant of our urban freeway was quite unnecessary and  could be eliminated quite quickly, only for the Mayor to almost immediately backtrack. Sometimes the instinct to find a middle way to a compromise is actually counterproductive. Barack Obama’s first term being a sad example of snatching failure from the jaws of victory.

Delanoë promised his new scheme would “give Parisians back their river”, “profoundly change” the city and provide “an opportunity for happiness” for residents. But the mayor, who will not stand for re-election in 2014, also has an eye on his legacy, seeking to be remembered as the man who finally ended Parisian reverence to the car. He has expanded cycle routes and introduced the city’s famous short-term bike-hire and car-hire schemes.  (Emphasis added)

Written by Stephen Rees

August 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Traffic