Fall 2002, p.19

A Tale of Two Cities: The Mayors of Paris and London Say "Enough" to Cars

If Mayor Bloomberg needs inspiration and ideas for reducing traffic in the city, he should look to his counterparts in London and Paris. Abandoning the car-centric policies of their predecessors, the popular mayors of both capitals have taken gutsy steps to promote public transport and bicycle use at the expense of private cars.

Creating Civilized Space in Paris

Expressways, Paris styleThe Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, was elected in 2001 on a platform of creating more "civilized space" in the French capital, where traffic has grown steadily in the past decade and pollution has soared. Delanoe promised voters that he would "fight, with all the means at my disposal, against the harmful, ever-increasing and unacceptable hegemony of the automobile."

Fighting the car, he said, is "a duty, but it also reflects the aspirations of a majority of Parisians," pointing out that "private motorists, who make up a quarter of road users, use up 94 percent of Paris's road surfaces."

Delanoe's daring strategy has been to drastically reduce the amount of road space available to cars, in the process intentionally creating such gridlock that no one in their right mind would want to drive in the City of Light. "It's only by making life hell for motorists that we will force them to give up their cars," said his deputy mayor, Yves Contassot.

Delanoe began last year by setting aside lanes along major avenues for buses, taxis and bicycles only, and squeezing private cars into one or two lanes. Drivers were outraged, accusing him of harboring an anti-car fixation.

"I'm not obsessed by cars," the mayor replied. "I'm obsessed with the health of Parisians. Is it my fault that the automobile is the city's major source of pollution and that it takes up two-thirds of the road surface? Things have to be brought back into balance."

The policy proceeded as Delanoe turned over 2.5 miles of a busy road on the Left Bank of the River Seine to cyclists and skaters for one month last summer.
Then, in a move that made headlines around the world, Delanoe ordered the closing of two-miles of the city's busiest traffic artery, the Right Bank's Pompidou expressway. The city then spent $1.5 million to turn the area into a public beach.
The experiment proved an overnight success and Delanoe became a local hero. Delanoe views this as the first stage of a plan to reconquer both banks of the Seine and eliminate cars entirely in favor of what he calls gentle traffic-"anything without an engine."

Unsnarling London

London has extensive traffic calming.London mayor Ken Livingstone was also elected on a promise to get tough with motorists. London traffic averages less than 10 miles an hour. "The city has been pretty unlivable in many areas because of pollution, congestion and noise," Livingstone observed.

In an early symbolic move, Livingstone stripped senior managers at London Transport of their company cars. He has also added more bicycle and bus lanes, made part of Trafalgar Square a pedestrian-only zone, and re-timed many traffic lights to favor pedestrians over drivers.

But the centerpiece of Livinstone's strategy is to make motorists pay through the nose. This past February he set in motion a plan to charge drivers about $7.80 each time they enter the "congestion zone," an eight-square-mile chunk of central London, between 7 am and 6:30 pm on weekdays. Those who fail to pay could be fined up to $188.

The scheme, which will be introduced in February 2003, is projected to reduce congestion by 15% and raise more than $200 million a year. Livingstone has vowed that "every penny will be used to improve transport for London."

Livingstone views bicycling as "an integral and valuable part of London's transport system," and this spring his office published a series of free guides to cycling in the city.

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