Paris went car-free for the first time and we were there!

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Today the 27th September 2015, Paris went car-free and we were there to witness this unprecedented event!

Emerging from the metro station Georges Clemenceau, I was stunned by how different the Champs-Élysées looked.

For one day France’s most prestigious avenue had become a peaceful and quiet place free from car noise and exhaust fumes. All we could hear were the mumbles of people talking to each other while strolling, cycling or skating. The facial expressions on some people were quite amusing: it was like walking in a dream. I had never seen the Champs-Élysées free of cars on a Sunday afternoon with a throng of people so very happy to take the place of motor vehicles for one day.

But was this really true? Would Parisians play along and not take their cars outside the limits of the Champs-Élysées? I wanted to be sure and walked down the avenue to the Place de la Concorde to get to the busy shopping street of the rue de Rivoli.

Rue de Rivoli from the Place de la Concorde to Châtelet was incredibly quiet. Of course, the ban didn’t include buses, taxis, emergency vehicles and delivery vans but still the street looked extremely quiet.

Then I walked through the Tuileries Garden to reach the Quai des Tuileries and the bridges of the River Seine. Same scene again: nearly no cars, just a few buses and taxis.

For the first time photographers were not bothered by traffic and could take beautiful photos of Paris’ most celebrated monuments. We chose to focus on the Louvre:

Based on the successful annual Car-free Sunday in Brussels a citizens collective called ‘Paris sans voiture’ (Paris without cars) convinced Mayor Anne Hidalgo to plan Paris’ first pedestrian and cyclist event.

Then I saw a car that obviously did not have the right to drive through and a pedestrian pointed her finger saying aloud: ‘Hé, mais il n’a pas le droit de circuler celui-là !’ (Hey, this guy doesn’t have the right to drive). So yes the event was taken very seriously indeed!

Between 11am and 6pm this Sunday, the heart of Paris comprising the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements was strictly car-free. Most vehicles were also banned from the hill of Montmartre, the Champs-Élysées, Champ-de-Mars/Eiffel Tower, Luxembourg Garden and Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement.

Outside the car-free zones, the municipality of Paris enforced a speed limit of 20kph (12mph) on all vehicles across the rest of Paris.

The event comes ahead of Paris hosting of the United Nations Climate Conference which will take place in the French capital from the 30th November 2015. The whole word will gather in Paris to discuss global warming issues.

This was a beautiful Autumn day and if only Paris was like this every weekend! Next year we’re hoping the car free day will include the whole of Paris.

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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