Paris will impose a 30kmh speed limit on almost all the capital from the end of August, fulfilling a campaign promise of the left-Green alliance that runs the city and infuriating motorists already grappling with traffic jams, roadworks and the proliferation of bicycle lanes.
The move is the latest phase of a long struggle between successive Paris governments that have restricted traffic in the city centre, and motorists from the capital and its suburbs who are typically supported by rightwing politicians.
“For safety it’s cool, and for the environment it’s cool, but at 30kmh it’s going to be harder to get around to work,” said Mesa Gomez, a 24-year franchisee of a cleaning business as he gathered equipment from his van in central Paris on Friday. “There’s good and bad in this.”
A taxi driver waiting for a fare nearby and eating his lunch had no hesitation in concluding it was all bad. “The law is the law, but to go from 50 to 30 is pretty annoying,” said the man who had spent the last 30 years of his working life at the wheel of a cab.
“In Paris it’s already really difficult to drive and to park, not to mention all the bike lanes and roadworks everywhere.”
David Belliard, the Green deputy of Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo, said the move to reduce the limit from 50kmh to 30kmh would be good for safety and for the environment, and would cut noise pollution.
“The challenge is to cut the presence of cars, their speed, and their grip on the city to give space to other users,” he told the Financial Times. “We reckon that it will cut the noise nuisance by three decibels, or by half in terms of what people perceive. It’s really a big gain in terms of quality of life.”
Only a few major avenues such as the Champs-Elysées will be spared, while the limit for the Boulevard Périphérique, the congested ring road around Paris, would remain at 70kmh for the time being.
Many big European cities, including London with its 20mph zones, have drastically cut speed limits in different areas in recent years. But Paris is unusual in extending the lower limit to almost all of its streets. “Among big cities we are really pioneers,” said Belliard.
Previously traffic in just over half of the capital was restricted to 30kmh, although congestion means that actual average speeds for vehicles are only 15kmh. “There’s a kind of fantasy about how great cars are for getting around in the city that is very far from reality,” he said.
Pierre Chasseray, who heads a lobby group called 40 Million Motorists, complained that at 30kmh cars in Paris would now be overtaken by bicycles, while Aurélien Véron, a liberal Paris councillor opposed to the new limits, condemned what he called “a brutal announcement” and told AFP that going at 30kmh would be like “driving a hearse”.
The Paris government is not stopping at the new speed limits and is planning further measures to restrict cars, including a low-traffic zone in the heart of the capital that would exclude through-traffic while allowing deliveries and services to continue.