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Parisian Traffic, Air Pollution Reduction Plan Caught on Political Snag

Parisian clean air politics turn out to be something of a class issue, even for a socialist mayor. The plans are seen as penalizing low income Parisians while benefiting elitist city dwellers who dislike traffic, overshadowing public health benefits.
December 16, 2014, 12pm PST | Irvin Dawid
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As noted here last week, Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris "intends to create four 'semi-pedestrianized' zones near the city center (which) would permit only bikes, taxis, buses, and cars driven by residents of the district (and to) double the number of bike lanes in the city by 2020." Also targeted are diesel trucks due to their high particulate emissions, writes Paris-based New York Times reporter, Dan Bilefsky.

The measures would be among the most far-reaching in Europe for reeling in the harmful particulates from diesel fuel and high-emission vehicles that burden its cities — and would go far toward curtailing the use of cars in Paris’s glittering center.

Shortly before Hidalgo was elected mayor in late March, Paris, as well as much of western Europe, suffered high particulate pollution levels that caused the city to impose driving bans on alternate days and permit free transit usage for three days. 

However, the plans "raised questions about whether the Socialist mayor is catering to the interests of elite city dwellers who dislike traffic over the needs of lower-income Parisians — people who live on the edges of the city and whose cars probably would not pass stricter environmental controls,"  writes Bilefsky.  BBC reported that the mayor wants "only ultra low-emission vehicles on the capitals' main thoroughfares" in order to reduce pollution levels. 

The reaction to the proposals, made public earlier this month in the Journal du Dimanche, is another indication of how difficult it is to keep cars out of the world’s big cities, even as pressure grows to reduce the use of fossil fuels and their climate-changing carbon emissions, and relieve the air pollution that is a growing health menace.

Bilefsky goes on to write in greater depth about the severity of the diesel emissions problem—resulting not only from heavy duty trucks but from passenger cars, indicating that "France has one of the highest concentrations of diesel cars in Europe."

The political problem stems in part from Hidalgo's war on pollution being perceived as a war on cars, even to some extent by urban affairs writers such as Henry Grabar who writes in Salon that "Hidalgo’s plan to fight [air pollution] may be the most drastic anti-car policy undertaken in a major city."

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Published on Monday, December 15, 2014 in The New York Times
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