Sunday marked the third time the French capital has experimented with a car ban, but it is by far the most ambitious with the zone set aside for pedestrians or cyclists covering the entire historic heart of the city – 105 square kilometres.
“This initiative requires an enormous amount of preparation,” city mayor Anne Hidalgo told Le Parisien newspaper before the day kicked in. “Particularly because this year the zone has been enlarged to the whole of Paris.”
Hidalgo, a Socialist, was elected in 2014 promising to tackle pollution in the capital and she has focused on building new bus and cycle lanes and reclaiming roads – leading critics to see her agenda as too radical and anti-car.
“What’s it for?”, grumbled Pierre Chasseray, the head of the lobby group “40 million drivers” when asked about the car-free day by AFP. “It’s just PR to say that cars aren’t good.”
The restrictions came into force at 11:00 am local time and lasted until 6:00 pm.
Although billed officially as “The Day without Cars”, some exceptions apply. Taxis, buses and emergency or social services vehicles were allowed to drive.
Residents who needed to use their vehicle to visit an elderly or handicapped person or with a genuine emergency were also allowed to ply the streets, though they were asked to respect a 30 kilometre an hour speed limit in place.
Hundreds of police and city officials have been deployed to check on drivers, with fines for unauthorised driving ranging from 90-135 euros (105-159 dollars).
“The aim is simply to enjoy the city in a different way,” said Paris city transport official Christophe Najdovski on Friday. “It’s a day that is meant to be educational, fun and friendly.”
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