Stephen Rees's blog

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

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

with 5 comments

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

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. This is why I like reading this blog: it’s great to see that slowly, very slowly, the tide is turning, the car lobby is beginning to lose ground and sensibly policies are beginning to be introduced. Even though our little, petrol-headed corner of south Germany is beginning to make anti-car noises it does sometimes feel like we’re living in the 1970’s, so thanks for keeping us up to date, with what is happening elsewhere: it gives us more examples to wave in front of our politicians in the hope that eventually they’ll get tired of looking silly for presenting the same tired excuses and will actually get us in line with the reality in the rest of the world…

    Andy in Germany

    August 5, 2012 at 7:25 am

  2. Getting rid of the viaducts, sure..but Robertson, no matter how green he paints itself, hasn’t suggested that Robson and other streets be turned into pedestrian streets all year long< has he? not exactly a new concept as there are permanent pedestrian streets all around the world, many of them 30-40 years old or more, North America being the exception (save a few truly enlightened cities) Even Montreal, for all its alleged Frenchness (similar to Victoria Britishness) doesn't have them all year long.

    Incidentally, while the bike and car sharing programs in Paris are huge (kind of easy when whatever Paris wants, Paris always get..let the rest of the country pay for it) they are late comer in France.
    La Rochelle, a small feisty town of 76 000 (in the 17th century many of the locals—Protestants in more way than one–fought against the troops of both Louis XIII and Louis XIV) opened a car-free shopping area in 1975, started a bike program in 1976, bought electric vehicles for the city in 1986, started renting electric cars and scooters in 1995, launched a small electric ferry in 1998 and in 2001 started a goods delivery service with small vehicles in the downtown area.
    One small card does it all. It is even used for taxis in the areas where there are no buses.

    Several other French towns started renting electric cars just before Paris (they can be plugged anywhere as the whole country use 240 Volts)

    Not often publicized is the fact that Renault, Citroen etc. have been building electric station wagons and small vans for many years. They are used by the Post office, the National Hydro company (they should ,shouldn't they?) etc. (the latest models look great compared to the original ugly duck that I actually like better as newer cars are looking so similar one needs to check what company made them. that one looks suspiciously like a Toyota I saw in Japan in 2001.
    The Japanese have been using really small trucks (hybrids or electric only) for quite a few years now.

    Red frog

    August 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm

  3. Naturalify the Seine, naturellement. Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece La Grande Jatte (1884) depicts Sunday life along the banks of the Seine at Neuilly-sur-Seine, just outside the Peripherique 10 km NW of Notre-Dame [merci M. Google].

    Though I might quibble with details provided by our host, for example: “Designing cities for cars has produced some of the worst urban environments”, in general terms I agree.

    I can’t imagine what life would be like without the car and all the other modern conveniences and advancements if cities had grown to their current size—which they wouldn’t have, and the birthrate wouldn’t have either—but kept the technologies of Georgian London. With manure pilling up in the streets as traffic jams with beast of burden exceeded the dimensions of what we have today; coal fired central heating gave us a solar eclipses almost every day (via thermal inversion and the like); and cholera and typhoid ruled our neighbourhoods for lack of centralized sewage treatment.

    However, we are living a different kind of dream today as commuting trips are turning over more and more to centralized transportation, and local streets and quartiers are being freed up of those cross town, twice daily trips, that Stephen denounces, and simply deliver folks to work and home again. The technology revolution is even giving us a helping hand in changing the very need to concentrate business operations in a Central Business District.

    Nothing can be more rewarding than to read that the tricoleurmay soon be flying above a ‘naturalized’ Seine. With several iterations of rivers serving as transportation organs now behind us (river as highway, then river bank as canal road, railroad bed and super highway), we may come to see places like the Fraser and the Burrard Inlet returning as estuaries underpining the hydrology and much of the ecology of this place.

    Now, anyone, how do we ship Alberta tar sands oil through that?

    lewis n. villegas

    August 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm

  4. Lewis,

    I can visualize most towns without cars very well. I have managed to live in Canada for over 30 years without a car–BY CHOICE. The alternative to car is public transit, bikes and walking…

    Quite a few cities around the world have had pedestrian areas–admittedly not overly large but still…for 30 to 40 years. Bordeaux, my birthplace, has a fairly big portion of its downtown area with a mix of streets for pedestrian only and streets where cars must drive very slowly-not that they have much choices. Then there are all the downtown streets and avenues where the number of car lanes has been reduced by 1/2 or more.
    The only drawback is that the real estate in all these areas has gone up..

    Strasbourg, Lille, Lyon, Toulouse, Rennes …the list of French towns with a similar set up goes on and on…
    Same thing in other Euro countries. In the Netherlands and Germany the speed on many streets went down to a max of 30 km nearly 30 years ago..

    Red frog

    August 11, 2012 at 10:48 pm

  5. Lewis, I think you review of historic Paris & London ignores one very important detail: the inception of high-capacity, grade separated rail, notably the Paris Metro circa 1898, and the London Underground a couple decades earlier.

    Maintaining these systems under the narrow pre-car streets for six generations has arguably done more than perhaps anything else to prevent the total capitulation of these cities to the private car and freeways.


    August 14, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: