Paris takes drastic measures to limit car traffic, in an attempt to fight smog

Paris authorities have put in place 24-hour emergency measures to limit the number of cars in traffic as part of their efforts to fight the smog shrouding the city. Today (Monday, March 23) all cars with number plates that end with an even number will be banned from circulating in the Paris region, unless they’re carrying 3 or more passengers. Clean cars will also be allowed.


A dense smog covered Paris, France’s capital last week, and levels of PM10 particulates (particles with a diameter of 10 microns or less, directly associated with lung cancer) went way above the levels considered safe by the World Health Organization. According to QZ, the Airparif nonprofit monitoring group predicted PM10 levels would drop to safer levels on Sunday (March 22), but then would rise again (link in French).

The mayor’s office announced at the weekend as of Monday, alternating number plate measurements will take place; also, cars carrying 3 or more passengers will be allowed to circulate, as will emergency cars, hybrids or electric vehicles. About 750 policemen are enforcing the restrictions on Paris’ streets.

While some drivers will find these restrictions extremely annoying, for most of the Parisian population this is a godsend.

“Goodness, it’s calm this morning. What a difference.” said Rosa, a concierge sweeping the front of a building near Boulevard Saint Martin. “I can breathe,” she added.

The Basilique du Sacre-Coeur shrouded in smog as French authorities tackle pollution. Photograph: Xavier Laine/Getty Images

Martin Pietz, a German photographer living in Paris, said he could hardly breathe when cycling to work – something experienced by many pedestrians and cyclists in the city.

“The pollution has become extremely noticeable and worrying. Apart from cutting off my breath, I also find these days that when I get a cough it takes two months rather than two weeks to clear up.”

It is only the third time since 1997 the city authorities have resorted to such emergency measures, but it’s the second time in 2 years – a similar two day ban was imposed in 2014, with positive results and a temporary reduction of PM10 particulates. However, the problem that Paris (and many other major cities in the world right now) is facing is that the huge number of cars in the city cause an increase in the number of particulates and whenever there’s a lack of wind to dissipate them, dramatic conditions ensue – like the ones visible in the images above.

Rather hesitantly, also pushed forth by the public view expressed on social media, the ecology minister agreed to the ban, but not without accusing city mayor Anne Hidalgo of failing to have a “real transport policy” to deal with the pollution problem.

Measures like this might become more and more common as pollution – and especially the number of threatening particulates – continues to rise in many parts of the world. Hopefully, we’ll be able to manage a smooth transition to safer, more eco-friendly cars before this becomes a common reality.





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