By Lale Arikoglu. Photos: Getty Images/Hemis.fr RM.
A busy Paris highway that runs along the River Seine is set to become a leafy pedestrian-only walkway. The two-mile-long stretch, that begins at the Tuileries Gardens and concludes in the Bastille neighborhood, has been approved by the Paris City Council to go totally car-free in an effort to squash Paris’s high pollution levels.
The closure of the Georges-Pompidou expressway—one of the city's busiest roads—is just the latest push from Mayor Anne Hidalgo to make Paris greener. Air pollution in the city has worsened to the extent that Hidalgo has already been granted powers to call for emergency traffic bans when necessary, and she is also behind the city's plan to get the Seine and the Canal St. Martin so clean that you'll soon be able to swim in them. This isn’t the first time the River Seine-adjacent expressway has shuttered, either: Every summer for the past 15 years, sections of the commuter route have closed down and converted into a temporary riverside park, part of the Paris Plages initiative, which takes vehicles off the roads and transforms the river banks into sandy beaches dotted with deck chairs and umbrellas for city dwellers who can’t escape the humid summer weather.
The plan has not been without its controversy, however. Conservative opponents claim the measures will both unfairly hurt working class commuters and amp up the city’s already severe traffic problems. In anticipation of the plan’s approval, some Paris residents even signed petitions, claiming that traveling in and out of the city would take 20 minutes longer, according to The Guardian.
That said, the pedestrianized expressway will open up far more eco-friendly options for getting to work, like cycling, rollerblading, or even just walking—not to mention a new way for travelers to see the city as they make their way through gardens promised by Hidalgo. It could even improve Parisian’s quality of life: long-term studies have shown air pollution can have truly damaging effects on both residents and short-term visitors. With a highway on the Left Bank already closed to traffic, plastic cutlery banned nationwide, and a pilot scheme of "smart trees" installed at the Place de la Nation, Paris is on track to get greener by the day.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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