Paris was free from horns and exhaust on Sunday, September 27th. On the city’s first ever day without cars – “Une Journée Sans Voiture” – the atmosphere was idyllic and festive.
City authorities banned all traffic from central Paris on Sunday and are trying to gradually forbid diesel altogether, as they try to clean up the capital’s image. As Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced in March: “Paris will be completely transformed for a day. This is an opportunity for Parisians and tourists to enjoy the city without noise, pollution and therefore without stress.”
As one woman strolled the center of the road, she described the feeling as, “like a headache lifting.”
“Everyone seems to be smiling, and not as stressed,” exclaimed another amazed citizen. But most amazing of all was the sky. “I live high in a tower block in the east of the city and looking out of my window today I saw the difference straight away: the sky has never been this blue, it really is different without a hazy layer of pollution hanging in the air,” she said.
Paris is one of the most polluted cities in the rich world. The Eiffel Tower is frequently shrouded in smog. France’s disproportionately heavy reliance on diesel fuel is particularly embarrassing considering that they will be hosting the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in December.
Mayor Hidalgo announced the no-car campaign in March, at the urging of a citizen collective called Paris Sans Voiture (Paris Without Cars). The city has faced severe air pollution problems in recent years, and has occasionally implemented strict driving restrictions due to dangerously high smog levels.
Paris isn’t the first city to implement a no-car day; Brussels, Sao Paulo, and the English city of Bristol have launched similar campaigns in the past. In an interview with French newspaper Le Parisien this month, Mayor Hidalgo described the effort as “a movement of education and learning,” adding that it aimed to “show that Paris can function without cars.”