Mayor wants Paris' historic center to be pedestrian-only


The mayor of Paris wants to pedestrianize the historic center of the French capital, a member of her team says, an area encompassing famous landmarks like the Louvre museum and Notre Dame Cathedral.

The project would see traffic heavily restricted in Paris’s first four arrondissements, or districts, in the center of the city and electric shuttles installed, according to the source close to Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

The plan would be part of Hidalgo’s “next term,” the source said Wednesday, explaining it could be implemented after “in-depth studies, in consultation” with all parties.

A proposal along these lines will be presented at the next municipal council meeting in each of the four districts.

However, Hidalgo first wants to expand a car-free project known in French as “Paris respire” (“Paris breathes”), which sees certain districts pedestrianized on the first Sunday of each month. She hopes it can be extended to every Sunday by 2019.

Her team member’s comments come days after a court ruled in favor of a car-free promenade by the Seine River following a legal challenge.

Hidalgo, who became mayor in 2014, has not yet formally indicated whether she will run for re-election in 2020.

The Paris region also plans to launch a large fleet of electric bicycles in a state-funded program aimed at getting commuters to cycle to work and reducing congestion and pollution.

From September 2019, the regional transport agency Ile-de-France Mobilites (IDFM) will provide up to 10,000 e-bikes for long-term rental, with a view to expanding the program to 20,000, which would make it the world’s largest e-bike rental program.

The aim of the Veligo service is to encourage bicycle commuting, which at the moment accounts for only 1.6 percent of daily trips in the Ile-de-France area.

Veligo will be run by a joint venture including the postal service and transport firm Transdev under a six-year contract. it will have a budget of up €111 million ($127 million).

It will complement Paris’ Velib program, which has served as a model for bike-sharing worldwide but has struggled since a new operator took over this year. Only half the promised 20,000 new Velibs are currently in operation.

Unlike Velib bikes, which are rented on an hourly basis and must be docked in roadside stations after use, Veligo bikes will stay with users, who can rent them for €40 a month, half of which can be subsidized by their employers.

The initiative is a major move for Valerie Pecresse, the conservative head of the Ile-de-France region, who often clashes with Hidalgo over environment and transport issues.

“Electric bicyles have an enormous potential. They are an efficient and ecological way to get to the railway station for short commutes that can replace the car,” said Pecresse.

She said Veligo would allow commuters to try out e-bikes and might convince them to buy their own. A good e-bike costs 1,500-€2,000. Around 250,000 were sold in France last year, compared to 2.7 million regular bikes, IDFM said.

While Velib mainly serves the 2 million residents of central Paris, Veligo is aimed at the capital’s wider region, home to 10 million people and a third of national output.

Velib already offers some e-bikes and in recent months several firms, including California’s Lime and Bird, have launched electric scooters that have taken Paris by storm.