The Paris ring road is to be transformed into a “green belt” around the capital city, according to Paris’ mayor Anne Hildalgo. The plan which would see the number of lanes of the city’s infamous ring road, the ‘périphérique’, reduced to create space for clean public transport and shared mobility as well as for green space. Last month the Mayor discussed her plans with mayors of neighbouring municipalities. The ultimate goal of the project is to create a more “harmonious and pleasant living environment” for those who live near the ring road, although the proposal is controversial.
Paris’ 35 kilometre-long ‘périphérique’, which runs around the city, is notorious for its high levels of pollution and traffic jams. More than 1.1 million trips are made along the ring road each day, putting those living near the road at risk of noise and pollution. According to Hidalgo, “500,000 people live around and are exposed to very significant noise and air pollution (..), 130,000 people are exposed to very poor air quality and 144,000 residents experience road noise above the limits set in the environmental code for inner Paris”. To improve the living environment along the ring road, “the grey belt will be transformed into a green belt,” said Hidalgo. “Paris is changing to be up to the challenges of pedestrianisation, cycle paths, more nature and less space for the car. It is the same ambition that we have for the transformation of the ring road”.
A key part of the plan to transform the ring road is to introduce a lane dedicated to buses and carpooling and eventually reduce the number of lanes to three each way, whereas the ring road currently has four lanes in both directions on most parts. The measure would reduce traffic on the ring road by 80,000 vehicles per day according to the city. The plan also foresees the planting of 70,000 trees planted in a strip of 500 metres on either side of the ring road in order to create a total of 10 hectares new green spaces by 2024.
Reducing the number of lanes by reserving a lane for public transport and shared mobility is highly controversial. The mayor and the city council hope that traffic management measures during the 2024 Olympics in Paris will act as a catalyst for the plan. A plan to create an “Olympic lane”, which would be reserved for buses, taxis and carpooling for participants (athletes, media, officials), emergency services and law enforcement, has already been approved by the relevant authorities, including the head of police. However, there is currently no consensus on the plan to continue the measure after the Olympics. Paris’ prefect of police has pointed out that the plan would need its approval as it also falls under the jurisdiction of the prefect of police. According to the police headquarters "only the principle of a reserved lane for the organisation of the 2024 Olympics has been validated" and “no plans have been presented to the prefecture for the moment”.
The plans also face opposition from the Île-de-France region. The city and the region have already been discussing the status and the future of the Paris ring road for several years. The region has requested that the French State reconsiders the status of the ‘périphérique’ as municipal infrastructure by reclassifying it as a regional infrastructure. Some 40% of journeys on the ring road are from suburb to suburb and 80% of users are non-Parisians, depending on the region. The President of the Île-de-France region, Valérie Pécresse, responded to the plans on Twitter saying she would refer the plans to the National Commission for Public Debate (CNDP), as “real consultation, a real impact study are necessary. No question of turning the region into a giant traffic jam!”. According to French law, the CNDP is involved in the planning of all major infrastructure projects, on the condition that these are in the national interest and are socio-economically important, or significantly affect the environment or land planning. The CNDP’s mandate is to ensure that the public is able to participate in the planning of these projects.
Paris’ mayor Hidalgo has said that she intends to carry out “all legal consultations” and take broad interests into account. “I cannot ignore the 10 million people who live outside of Paris,” she mentioned in a press conference, where she promised “to listen” to both motorists and “truck drivers and shopkeepers”.
It will take some time before the impact assessment and consultation process will be concluded and a decision on the plan will be made. In any case, the 2024 Olympics will give commuters in and around Paris the opportunity to experience how it is to travel on the ring road with its capacity reduced, or perhaps better, experience an alternative means of travel if not travelling is not an option.