Air pollution down 40%: a look at a pedestrianized Paris | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: July 19, 2024

BY THE OPTIMIST DAILY EDITORIAL TEAM

Paris will seem very different from how it did ten years ago when the Summer Olympics roll around this summer. Since 2014, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has led a substantial makeover in Paris aimed at reducing vehicle dependence and encouraging greener urban living. According to local officials, these measures have resulted in a significant 40 percent reduction in air pollution.

The decline in car dependence

Mayor Hidalgo’s ambition for a greener Paris has resulted in several ambitious initiatives. Over 100 streets have been closed to cars, parking costs for SUVs have been tripled, nearly 50,000 parking spaces have been deleted, and more than 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) of bike lanes have been built. “By assuming a major and radical rupture: the end of car-dependence,” Hidalgo declared in a March statement, attributing the city’s cleaner air to these measures.

Local support and challenges

Despite dropping favor ratings and a failed presidential run, Hidalgo’s environmental policies have received strong local support. A 2023 poll found that most Parisians support her initiatives. Louise Claustre, a resident of the 12th arrondissement, agreed, saying, “I will always be in favor of policies that reduce cars and increase walking and biking.”

Many of these modifications have been inspired by the concept of the “15-minute city,” in which critical services are accessible via a short walk or bike ride. Carlos Moreno, a University of Paris professor and former Hidalgo adviser, was instrumental in formulating this proposal. Moreno emphasized the necessity of moving away from car dependence, stating, “This is no longer the time for cars, and we need to fight against them for a low-carbon future.”

A global perspective

While European cities like Paris are leading the drive to reduce car use, the United States has been slower to adopt similar regulations. Nicholas Klein, a city and regional planning professor at Cornell University, noted the challenges: “For 100 years in the U.S., we have built streets, neighborhoods, and cities around cars, and it’s very hard to undo that.” Klein emphasized the necessity of transportation changes, citing the huge influence of transportation emissions on climate change.

Health and environmental benefits

The push to minimize car dependence is being driven by increased awareness of the health and environmental consequences of air pollution. The American Lung Association has reported that roughly 40 percent of Americans live in polluted environments. Furthermore, the US Energy Information Administration anticipated that motor gasoline and diesel fuel consumption for transportation would account for 31 percent of total US energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2023.

Klein made it clear that these changes must be made immediately: “The No. 1 contributor to climate change is transportation emissions, so everyone we can get out of a gas-powered car and traveling by metro or foot or bike is a hugely important way to help mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Looking forward

As Paris works to become more sustainable, the forthcoming elections will be a watershed moment. Moreno, who hasn’t had a car in 30 years, hopes for more progress. 

Paris’ metamorphosis paints a compelling picture of a future less reliant on automobiles and more focused on sustainable urban living. As the city welcomes millions of visitors for the 2024 Olympics, it demonstrates the power of progressive environmental measures. Other cities across the world may turn to Paris as a model for how to address the critical issues of climate change and urban pollution.

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