Monday, September 28, 2015

Cycling Car-Free Paris: Journée sans Voiture

Back in August, I read that Paris would go car-free for one day: Journée sans Voiture (Car Free Day). I had always meant to go to Paris and seeing it car-free was irresistable.

GoPro video of cycling Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées during Journée Sans Voiture (Paris' car-free day). The Arc was not included in the car ban but some of us cycled it anyway.

Global Trend

The Journée begins
Like L.A.'s first Ciclavia in 2010, this felt historic. I had to be there to witness the city's high profile shift to the great pleasure of life with fewer cars.

Map of Paris Car Ban

Map of Journée sans Voiture
The actual city plan turned out to involve total closure of a very small subset of the city. The dotted pink line in the adjacent map shows the spots that would be 100% car-free. Other areas included were not contiguous with this center section.

The three key spots I most wanted to see car-free were the iconic:
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Champs Elysées
  • Eiffel Tower
There are pictures below of each one of these with and without cars.

Journée sans Voiture: Grand but limited

SRO at the Champs  Élysées
The actual event was indeed grand. It made headlines around the world with these kinds of iconic shots. Parisians savored with gusto their freedom to roam iconic spots like the Champs Élysées and Eiffel Tower without fear of cars.

However, there were suprising limits to the Journée sans Voiture.

Arc de Triomphe

Never Car-free

Arc de Triomphe avec voiture: boo!
Here's the Arc de Triomphe at night with cars. I had planned to make this a before shot with another shot from the next day showing the Arc "sans voiture". Unfortunately, the event did not include the Arc de Triomphe.

Excluded from Journée sans Voiture

A typical jam at the Arc
That's right, the Arc de Triomphe, perhaps the most iconic point of car domination in Paris, was excluded from the Journée sans Voiture even though it is literally feet from the Champs Élysées. All the pictures of the event make it look like the Arc was included but sadly it wasn't.

Only 99% car-free at dawn

99% car-free but only 
at the crack of dawn
This photo from 6 a.m. Sunday morning, way before any official car bans, is the closest I got to a car-free Arc de Triomphe. Beautiful. How much more beautiful it would have been to see people picnicking all around the Arc de Triomphe. C'est la vie...

Belgians and I take the lane anyway

Belgians taking the lane at the Arc
Nevertheless, that didn't stop these brave Belgians (and myself), no strangers to car-free events, from taking the lane at Arc de Triomphe anyway, right in the middle of the day.

Fast but not furious

Fast but not furious
Although there were quiet moments around the Arc roadway, they were invariably interrupted by cars cutting this big circle as straight and as fast as they could, like this guy. It  is a little frightening but to hell with it. The day of the Journée sans Voiture seemed a good day to die cycling.

Although they were fast, the cars were considerate for the most part. At least on this special day, I got a wide berth from cars and did not get honked or shouted at: fast but not furious.

Eiffel Tower

Mostly car-free already

Eiffel Tower sunrise on 9/27
I visited the Eiffel Tower early before the Journée started to see what it looked like with cars. The Eiffel Tower was included in the Journée sans Voiture. Although it enjoyed some road closures for the special day, it didn't look like it needed much.

Taken post Journée sans Voiture
It turns out, cars are already not much of an issue at the Eiffel Tower. Except for a major boulevard near one edge, the tower enjoys a healthy border around it, which in turn is surrounded by some relatively quiet streets.

Eiffel Tower: already

This adjacent pic shows one of the many gorgeous examples of roads that end at the park that surrounds the tower.

Avenue Gustav Eiffel indeed car-free

Avenue Gustav Eiffel getting a
bath before Journée sans Voiture
The one road closest to the tower is the Avenue Gustav Eiffel which separates the Eiffel Tower from the Champ de Mars, the large lawn adjacent to the tower. Not sure what it normally looks like but it was indeed closed and thoroughly enjoyed by the visitors who took the opportunity to get pictures of the tower from closeup vantage points not possible when you are dodging cars.

The Eiffel Tower is a truly spectacular place to bike and walk every day not just during the Journée sans Voiture.

Champs Élysées

Spectacular with cars, even better without

Champs Élysées on 9/27/2015
The Champs Élysées was almost entired closed to cars, except for the last few yards towards the Arc de Triomphe. Despite the exclusion of the Arc, this was still was huge and spectacular to behold especially as everyone filled the space.

Champs Élysées packed with cars

Champs Élysées: Journée sans
Voiture Eve
Here is the Champs Élysées the night before: stuffed with cars. Gunning your car or motorcycle seems to be a Parisian past time. Luckily, for these pedestrians on this saturday night, the traffic is so bad that speeding in a car is impossible.

Father and Son Can't Wait

The Champs Élysées moments after
temporary car ban.
Here is the Champs Élysées moments after they closed it to cars. This father and son couldn't wait. What a pleasure to see riders, skaters, strollers, et al. enjoying the car-free space.

Pique-nique sur les Champs Élysées 

Picnic on the Champs Élysées
Here is a family that setup a little picnic in the middle of the Champs Élysées. So cute! Too bad it is only for one day.

Champs Élysées packed with People

The Champs Élysées shortly before end
of the temporary car ban.
Here is the space later in the day. Stunning!  So beautiful to see such a huge turnout. Hopefully, the government feels rewarded for their decision and will expand both the geographic scope and the frequency of the the journée sans voiture.

A closer look at Paris' bike infrastructure here. A lot more pics on instragram and here for anyone interested.

Ironique ou tragique. Tu décides!

Just moments after the ban on cars was lifted, down by the L'Hôtel des Invalides this guy decides to park in the middle of the bike lane. He couldn't resist tainting all the good will I guess. I'm using him here to highlight one of many advantages to protected bike lanes. He'd think twice if his oil pan was at risk of hitting a bike lane barrier.