Accessibility links

Paris Traffic Leads to Calls for Change - 2001-08-06

Summertime is usually a quiet time in Paris. Many residents leave for holidays in the country or vacations overseas, and those who stay enjoy a rare few weeks of relatively traffic-free living. But an initiative to close a main riverside road has caused traffic jams and frayed nerves.

Members of the city's Green Party staged a small celebration by the Seine River last weekend to unveil a new plaque renaming a stretch of road running alongside the river. Officially, it is called the "George Pompidou route," after France's former president. But some Parisians have recently taken to calling it the "velorution promenade" - the promenade of the bicycle revolution - and want to make the name change official.

The new name applies to a 4.5 kilometer stretch of the road that is closed to auto traffic until August 15. And environmentalists like Alain Lipietz, the Green Party candidate for president in next year's elections, hope the closure will encourage more people to leave their cars at home and walk, bike or use public transportation.

Mr. Lipietz, who arrived at the river celebration on a bike, said 90 percent of the Paris transportation budget should be devoted to public transportation. If mass transit is affordable and reliable, he said, most Parisians will use it instead of driving to work.

More public transportation was a key demand of the Green Party, when it joined the new leftist coalition government of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe earlier this year. And the Green agenda is gaining popularity in other parts of France. In this spring's municipal elections, the party captured 12 percent of the vote in many regions.

And the Green emphasis on better public transportation is appealing to many Parisians. Catherine Hourde does not belong to the party, but she supports its emphasis on public transportation. Mrs. Hourde says she no longer drives in the city because of the traffic jams. And like many Parisians this summer, she complains about pollution in the city.

But not everybody supports closing down the Seine River road. The closure has clogged up other roads in the city, leaving many drivers irate.

Even bikers like Olivier Poro are angry about the measure. Mr. Poro is a courier. And this summer, he says, he is spending much of his workday stuck in traffic jams. But Mr. Poro says he also enjoys being able to bike by the Seine after work.

And conservative politicians accuse the Greens of showing disrespect for Mr. Pompidou by seeking to rename the road. Even Socialist Mayor Delanoe criticized the renaming initiative as "totally uncalled for."

But Mr. Lipietz is unfazed. He says if Mr. Pompidou were alive, he would be pleased to be part of a small transportation revolution.