If you spent time in Paris in the last few days you would have noticed one thing: pollution.
While residents of other capitals like Beijing are used to the regular high levels of pollution and lowered air quality, Paris is most often thought of as a fresh city, with plenty of parks where it’s a joy to explore and spend time outside. Like any large city, the French capital certainly has its bouts with pollution, but not at the levels that it saw over the last weekend.
Air quality has been so bad that the city issued warnings for the elderly, pregnant women and young children to avoid physical activity outside. Bike rides that were normally meant for filling the lungs with fresh air, left the eyes stinging instead. Tourists in search of a picturesque photo of the Eiffel Tower found it surrounded by hazy, gray air. Not quite what postcards are made of.
Pollution levels this bad haven’t happened since 2007, and over the weekend, public transportation was free of charge. Even the bike and car-share systems were made free to the public.
On Monday, the government went even further, issuing a ban on 50% of car traffic. The “circulation alternée” meant cars with license plates ending in even numbers were banned from driving on Monday, and if the ban had continued, license plates ending in odd numbers would have been banned the next day. Implemented for the first time in 17 years, 700 Parisian police were deployed to monitor the scheme, according to The Guardian. The ban doesn’t go for everyone. There are a few exceptions, like electric and hybrid cars, taxis and people carpooling with at least three people in the same car.
At Monday’s end, however, things were looking up and the car ban seemed to have helped — officials decided to not bring it back for Tuesday, and it ended at midnight local time on Monday.
Do short-term policies like this help? According to officials there were 62 percent fewer traffic jams on Monday, and over the weekend when the Vélib bikeshare system was free, there was a 61 percent increase in use. Delivery companies are already complaining of losses, however, as trucks were banned.
In moments like this, it’s easy to ask the question why do cities only resort to such programs in a time of crisis instead of using them as preventative measures? While all-out car bans seem close to impossible, just imagine if public transportation and bike sharing were free of charge every day.
Photo Credit: House of Hall