Saturday, September 8, 2012

Changes afoot on the Seine River expressways

After fifty years of noisy traffic clogging large parts of the banks of the Seine River, the Paris city council has finally decided to change things in favor of Parisian pedestrians. Following a €35 million plan to renovate the banks of the Seine approved last year, the city completed the first phase of the plan on August 31, and I've made yet another video showing the changes.

The Voie Express Georges Pompidou is a kind of expressway that runs along much of the right (north) bank of the Seine River through Paris. It was a pet project of the late French president Georges Pompidou, after whom it was named. Since the 1960s cars have been racing along the expressway from west to east, except for month-long interruptions for Paris Plages during the summer over the past decade.

The changes made this summer include narrowing the expressway, installing sidewalks and grass for Parisians to enjoy along the river, and installing traffic lights that force traffic to stop and start along the expressway and also provide pedestrians with a way of reaching the water's edge. The results are much prettier than the old expressway. And despite dire predictions made by opponents of the changes, traffic doesn't seem to have become much worse with the new arrangement.

In fact, 80% of Parisians don't even have a driver's license, much less a car, and use public transportation to get around. The cars and scooters whizzing down the expressway are mostly from the suburbs. So Parisians suffer very little from these changes and profit from them substantially, while suburbanites who insist on driving through central Paris are going to find doing so to be even slower than it used to be.

The modifications seem to be partly inspired by Paris Plages, the very successful transformation of the expressway that is carried out every summer, turning it into a kind of giant beach resort. I tried walking down the new sidewalks, and apart from the noise of traffic, it was quite nice. The traffic moves in blobs, because of the traffic lights, and the contrast in noise level between the moments when traffic is passing and the moments when it's not is astonishing.

The video was made on September 4, the first day with any real traffic on the expressway. Things looked pretty smooth to me. The first phase of the changes concerns only the stretch between City Hall and the quai Henri IV. It incorporates an existing riverside park from 1933 that has been completely modernized and renovated.

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