Oh, how strange! I thought I had posted this last week, but somehow didn’t. Was of course meant to be between part 1 and part 3! Better late than not at all…..
This is the second of my Paris posts, which I have been reflecting on since our visit there at the end of September. It was impossible to review this post without also reflecting on how different / horrible it could have been. During our visit we were very aware of the presence of armed police and soldiers, particularly at the major tourist attractions. Whatever our feelings about surveillance and intelligence, about war and politics, we must surely all be grateful for those times when, without knowing it, we have been protected and lives have been saved.
We had no idea beforehand that the weekend of our visit was to be the occasion of the first ever ‘car free Paris’ day (the Sunday) – a massive extension of the normal car restrictions now commonplace in small areas of central Paris on Sundays (Paris Respire – Paris breathes).
It was fascinating to see so many people out enjoying themselves – walking along the roads and the pavements, families, older people, couples, singles. Cyclists adult and children, people on roller blades. Buskers – in one case a whole orchestra outside the Comedie Francaise. I don’t know what car drivers thought, but it certainly seemed to be a great hit with anyone happy to do without a car that day – and no shortage of people to enjoy it.
On ‘car free’ Sunday we walked from the Bibliotheque Nationale to Place de la Bastille, then to the Place des Vosges, had lunch at the Marche des Enfants Rouges (the oldest surviving covered market in Paris, dating back to the early 1600s and named for the red uniforms worn by the children from a nearby orphanage), then continued to the Centre Georges Pompidou, then to the Palais Royal with its beautiful gardens and sitting places, across the road to the Louvre (admiring I M Pei’s glass pyramid), on to and through the Tuilerie Gardens to Place de la Concorde. Then over the river and along all the way to the Tour Eiffel. Everywhere was packed with people, far more than usual even on such a warm sunny day.
Just writing all that down makes me feel tired! No wonder we were all exhausted by the time we finished. Fortunately all the Paris buses are accessible, so we had no problem picking up the bus from near the Tour Eiffel all the way back to where we started, the apartment near the Bibliotheque National. (The metro, which we would normally use without a second thought, was out of bounds – barely accessible). It was interesting to reflect on just how different the city felt without all the cars. The irony of this being the weekend after the VW emissions scandal broke was not lost on us.
A newspaper article confirmed that just that one day had made a huge difference to levels of chemical and nice pollution in those areas of the city that took part (about a third altogether – it was to have been the whole city, but unfortunately the police vetoed that idea). Next month Paris will host the UN Climate Change Conference.
I’ve so enjoyed these posts on Paris (although I wish we didn’t have the events of the 13th as a backdrop now to all references and thoughts of the city).
I’ve often had the (ironic, somewhat hypocritical) thought, when I’m out driving in the middle of the day, “why are all these people out and about; what are they doing?” — (and perhaps they’re wondering the same thing when they see me!) — so when you talk about a car-free Paris day (and the resultant lowering of pollution on that day), it really brings home a couple of things. First: if we can’t take public transit (for whatever reason) it would be great if we all got into the habit of combining errands, so that we aren’t all running into/around the city for only one or two things. And second: how important IS all our running around anyway? I sometimes think that half the things I think are important to run out and get really just AREN’T, and quite often, if I have a day or two’s delay in running out to get them, I usually come to the conclusion that I must not actually need them anyway.
Yes, I know what you mean – most of us have a tendency to think of ‘traffic’ as other people rather than ourselves don’t we.
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, especially prompted by my pedestrian encounters with motorways (walking under or beside them, not on them!) several times. It’s made me think even more about how / when / why I use our car, and try to cut it down. Which I’ve managed to do quite dramatically by using the train for work trips, walking much more for local trips, and as you say, grouping errands that do need a car together so I use the car once instead of two or three times.
My encounters with motorways has also reinforced my commitment to buying local as much as I can – reducing the ‘need’ for long supply chains and the ensuing lorries.
I like to think of it as a snowball effect – if I can influence just two people to do this, and they in turn each can influence two more people, well, it’s the socially responsible (inverse?) version of a pyramid scheme.
A blog post in there somewhere I think!