Paris has long had one of the world’s best public transport systems, but in recent years the city has made giant strides forward in reducing the impact of cars on the quality of the city – including the quality of its air. In 2016 cars were removed from the banks of the river Seine, opening up an amazing new public space for the city:

Source: https://www.dw.com/en/the-seine-river-banks-in-paris-now-car-free/a-38300589

Now Paris is looking at taking the next step, through removing lanes and lowering the speed limit of Paris’s ring-road – known as the Peripherique. This from a CityLab article:

This Tuesday, Paris deputies submitted a report to Mayor Anne Hidalgo proposing a reduction of the speed limit on the Parisian Boulevard Périphériquethe 22-mile-long highway that encircles the central city, to 50 km/h (about 31 miles per hour). Cars and trucks on one of Europe’s most notoriously congested and polluted urban highways would not only be obliged to drive more slowly, they’d have less room to do it: The number of beltway lanes open to all traffic would also be slashed from eight to six. One lane will be reserved for public, emergency, and zero-emissions vehicles. The other one is to be devoted to trees.

It’s not that surprising to see Paris take another step towards improving the quality of their city, but perhaps what might be a bit surprising to some is a major likely benefit from these changes – reduced congestion.

Making a busy highway smaller and slower might seem like a counterintuitive means of defeating traffic in the U.S., where certain states and cities are working on widening, not culling, their traffic-clogged beltways. But during its peak hours, traffic is already moving at a very stately pace on Paris’ inner beltway: Average rush hour speeds are around 35 km/h. And many traffic experts say that lower speeds can improve fluidity and lower travel times by limiting the so-called accordion affect, in which vehicles accelerating and decelerating gradually create build-ups around junctions that turn into fully fledged jams. Driving more slowly, in some cases, can get you where you need to go faster.

It’s also likely that we will see the inverse of ‘induced traffic demand’, where removing vehicle capacity actually results in overall less traffic and less congestion. A classic case study of this recently was in Seattle, where there was a brief gap between the Alaskan Way Viaduct being closed and a new tunnel opening – yet traffic was actually better than usual during this time!

About 90,000 vehicles per day traveled the Alaskan Way Viaduct until it was closed on Jan. 11.

“The cars just disappeared,” he wrote. “Where did they all go?”

A spokesperson for the traffic data company Inrix told Gutman they “disappeared.”

Some people are walking and biking, preliminary city data shows. And some additional people took the bus and train. And a lot of people appear to be telecommuting.

As a result, traffic speeds haven’t been effected much by what everyone predicted would be gridlock.

Viadoom is looking more and more like another much-hyped “Carmageddon” that wasn’t. Time after time, cities anticipate crushing outcomes from the closures of key freeways — but the actual outcome is muted. We saw it with the closure of Los Angeles’s 405 freeway in 2011. And we saw it in more recently with the same highway in Seattle closed for two weeks of maintenance in 2016.

The changes in Paris will be great for safety, noise and air quality in this part of the city, as well as helping to reduce congestion:

That the Périphérique needs change is no secret. Since being completed in 1973, the city’s inner ring has developed a fearsome reputation for jams. It’s a formidable smog machine, too, pumping out >37 percent of all nitrous oxide emissions for the Greater Paris region. And with 156,000 people living within 200 meters of the road, it discharges these pollutants in a heavily populated band of territory…

…Slower traffic is quieter, too—Paris noise observatory Bruitparifreckons that holding vehicles to 50 km/h should reduce average levelsby a moderate but still significant two to three decibels. It is also notably safer, with slower speeds giving drivers more reaction time and lessening the force of collision impact. Past experience in Paris bears this out. In 2014, the Périphérique’s speed limit was reduced from 80 km/h to 70. This ten kilometer drop saw accidents fall by 15.5 percent in a single year.

Despite some backlash, it seems likely the changes will be approved in June.

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64 comments

  1. Its proven here in Auckland right now.

    Vehicular traffic has massively reduced on Albert St between Victoria and Quay, by lane restrictions and no parking and without doubt emissions and vehicle noise have similarly fallen. And the same goes for Quay Street. If you make it difficult to traverse people don’t go there unless they absolutely have to such as the district court, or commuters catching PT on Quay St, it’s not rocket science.

    1. Indeed it’s not rocket science. Some might call it “urban planning”, an altogether simpler affair :).

      Viva le metropole.

  2. These counterintuitive traffic outcomes could in part be because western cities have, for want of a better term, a ‘saturated driving market’.

    We know NZ has a very high level of private vehicle ownership, access to a car for any journey is, by global standards, very high, improving but generally weak alternatives (certainly nothing like Paris, but generally better than US cities).

    My hypothesis is that a significant number of journeys in these cities are entirely avoidable, whether substituted or just not taken, is it 10%?, 20%? I have no idea….?

    Anyway, what I’m proposing is that the doctrine that traffic is 1. Always rising, and 2. Must move somewhere else if a route is reduced or removed, may have been accurate in the 1960s when the market was not saturated, but is not accurate now.

    This matters cos these assumptions are buried firmly in the traffic models that are so relied upon in planning. I see little evidence that the models allow for sufficiently high enough ‘disappearing traffic’.

    What if some significant proportion of driving is actually now more elastic, is discretionary, weak, largely a habit born. Only there till there’s a slight nudge to something else, or away from being so easy?

    1. Meanwhile in Wellington they still go on about needing four lanes to the planes, extra lanes on sh2 from the Hutt and how amazing transmission gully will be. How do we change this percrption?

        1. By which I mean politicians promising every kind of infrastructure, which is not only unaffordable, but also undesirable, are particularly unhelpful.

          1. The mayor of lower hutt is one of the worst, his list of must haves includes melling interchange, cross valley link, extra lanes on SH2, the Petone Newlands road. With the local MP Bishop parroting the same stuff.

      1. In the morning and evening in Wellington, the queue of taxis between the airport and city is so long we may as well tie them end to end and call them a train.

        1. I’m convinced Wellington Airport does not want any ordinary public transport serving its premises. Why would it? The airport makes a tidy sum out of car-parking fees and taxi permits. And the one bus allowed in – the Airport Flyer – has been squeezed out of the region’s branded public transport operation, enjoys no subsidy and, unlike the taxis, is not prominently positioned at the airport.

          The one consolation is that the generation of short-sighted kiwi managers and decision-makers who think that this sort of thing is appropriate, is steadily reaching retirement. They won’t be missed.

          1. That has been NZ’s urban and transport planning since the 1970 – short term planning with quick fix solutions with the long term repercussions.

          2. Some context:
            – Airport Flyer bus is run by NZ Bus (owned by Infratil)
            – Infratil has a controlling stake in Wellington International Airport.
            – Infratil is in process of selling NZ Bus (& want to spend as little as possible on it in the meantime).
            – Keeping Snapper as a payment option required new hardware (readers etc) & thus expense.
            – Bus real time system takes route/service information from fare computer.

            So: minimising NZ Bus spending -> no Snapper -> no real time info.

            Finally, the Airport Flyer was never properly part of the region’s bus network (never used Metlink fares). It also soaks up peak hour capacity in the Hataitai Bus Tunnel & the Golden Mile with relatively poorly loaded services. The sooner it is removed as a commercial service and replaced with a properly integrated Metlink service, the better.

            I understand the local (Rongotai) MP has a private members bill that would force airports to allow access for local bus services – hopefully it gets drawn & passes.

          3. Thanks gk. But it should be more than just a private member’s bill (Paul Eagle) seeking to sort this mess out. Another job for an already overwhelmed Phil Twyford. Interesting how Julie Ann Genter seems to have focused on road safety while Phil struggles with PT, alongside his ‘day-job’ of housing.

      2. 3 or lanes to the airport must happen now, no to extra 2 lanes on the Western Hutt motorway, Melling interchange does need to have some work done on it, Petone/Grenada bypass may by in the future but not a priority and yes to improving the region’s rail infrastructure to make it more reliable and increase train frequencies.

        1. I say a big NO to any more lanes, anywhere. Car-dependency has already gone way too far. Time to re-balance the Wellington region.
          Can start with 4 trains to the planes.

          1. Nearly 70% of non essential vehicle traffic that travels through Wellington city boundaries originate outside the city boundaries.

            How are you going to stop non essential vehicle traffic passing through the city boundaries considering that SH 1N terminates at the airport. Shall NZTA, WCC, GWRC, etc build huge car parks at Johnsonville, Grenada, Petone to transfer drivers and their passengers to walk, cycles, bus or rail to the airport, regional hospital, regional stadium, etc?

            The completion of the missing inner city bypass of SH 1N between the Terrace and Mt Victoria is to deflect non-essential vehicle traffic and Wellington city central zone.

            HR trains to the airport is out of the question unless you replace the entire Matangi EMU fleet with train/trams that would allow to operate on the existing rail corridors as well as street operation. This idea of using train/trams was floated in the late 1970’s when the replacement of the English Electric’s was first discussed.

          2. HR to the airport is only “out of the question” if you continue to insist on spending the bulk of transport funding of more motorways.

            HR to the airport (on its own exclusive right of way, not on streets) is do-able if appropriately prioritized. The idea is that a significant amount of the present through-travel demand would switch to this if the facility was there (just as how rail already accommodates significant demand in areas it already serves).

            Continuing to provide only for the road-mode with more and more traffic lanes will only encourage more traffic, not provide an alternative to it.

          3. “HR to the airport. . . .”

            *Wellington Airport*, I am talking about here, in case it is not obvious.

  3. So as ATAP gets reworked to cope with the rising costs of each project, no-one would decide to trim back sustainable mode projects yet allow the road widening projects to go ahead. Would they?

    Not when the evidence of how the road widening projects will increase vkt, congestion and carbon emissions. Not in a safety crisis and a climate emergency.

  4. Maybe we should flag the whole sky path and just remove a lane. Then spend the $50M-$100M cost on cycleways somewhere else. The whole thing could be done immediately instead of x years/decades down the track.

    (I heard rumours yesterday there is talk of it being built on the western side now, and the plans for the entry/exits at each end are causing issues, not sure how much truth there is to that)

    1. I’ve wondering that myself actually. If we weren’t wedded to maintaining / increasing vehicle capacity, then lots of cost-effective opportunities become possible.

      1. Yes. And once we embrace reducing vehicle capacity, lots of cost-effective opportunities become the only rational option.

          1. Yes and all the money saved could go towards paying for hearing aids for the pedestrians and cyclists who go deaf as a result of being on the bridge.

          2. Wrong, the savings made from not using your car you would be able to afford some Airpods and a Spotify subscription to drown out the noise

  5. All of which is why I strongly believe that the solution to the NW rapid transit line is actually to take two lanes away from cars and allocate them solely to PT. And to turn some four-lane roads into two lanes plus PT. Why are we so scared of this? Especially now that it’s been confirmed by our Council that we have a “climate emergency”?

    1. The good thing about that approach is that it can be ‘trialled’ for a year or two with fairly minimal amount of investment. Once the pattern is set we can move to proper solution easily.

    2. Waterview makes this a bit tricky. Here, neither the two inside lanes or two outside lanes work. I’d love to see what solution the business case is working from, but all we get are renders of Queen St/Dom Road.

    3. The government is scared because in the ensuing battle:

      1/ The media will push the “this will cause congestion” and “this is a war on drivers” narrative, but
      2/ No PR, education or comment will be forthcoming from the government. If there is any, it will be too little, too late and too reactive after the media has already grabbed the public’s attention.

      That you and I can see that the government could change 2/ easily is seemingly irrelevant. They don’t, that’s why we don’t see change.

      What I’d like to know is why. It’s not as if JAG isn’t aware of this problem. Is it Labour party machinery that just doesn’t get some basics?

      1. It’s political expediency, the median voter is probably still scared off by taking existing lanes from a motorway and replacing them with rapid transit.

        If the change is too dramatic then we will just end up with a National government and potentially very little change at all. This incremental change is why we have had a succession of nine year governments since 1990.

        1. Nah, I’m over it, Jezza. There’s no PR, no leadership taking hold of the conversation.

          Who knows whether the public would buy in to the concept of removing lanes, when all we’re getting from NZTA and the government is a vacuum of information about the light rail projects?

          I’m not going to assume the public’s stupid and resistant to the most climate-ready options for LR if NZTA and the government are letting the whole project slip into mud-wrestling through their absence.

          I mean, look at the stupid letters to the Herald. Writers don’t understand the most basic things about the different purposes to which LR and HR can be put, nor about the basic travel journeys that need to be provided, nor about basic levels of cost. That level of misunderstanding should be embarrassing to the writers – there should be enough people out there that these writers get nudged by their friends to educate themselves. The government’s responsible for this lack of available information.

          1. I agree we need much better communications but I’m still not sure that will beat the sound-bite.

            It’s worth remembering the last politician to make unpopular decisions and implement what he truly believed in was Roger Douglas. We have to be very careful what we wish for.

          2. I just don’t even believe it’s worth discussing in those terms until we’ve seen what public education can do.

      2. Yes, the climate emergency may be a legitimate reason for reducing private vehicle capacity. It’s unlikely to be optimal, as we’d ideally price on carbon and road space efficiently. That said we don’t have the luxury to let perfect be the enemy of good. And in the absence of first-best price signals–for whatever reasons–we need to do something. Reducing road capacity is a tool that is very much in our hands.

        1. “It’s worth remembering the last politician to make unpopular decisions and implement what he truly believed in was Roger Douglas. ”
          That is ignoring Ruth Richardson.
          I think it is useful that Douglas was also responding to a crisis – the Labour Govt assumed office with the govt financial accounts in serious problems. The govt survived two terms.

          1. That’s a fair point regarding Ruth Richardson. They got re-elected although Bolger realised he had dodged a bullet thanks to FPP in 1993 and promtly got rid of her. Had the election been MMP we would almost certainly been looking at a Labour-Alliance coalition, possibly with Anderton as PM.

            I agree Douglas was responding to a crisis, although he took it as an opportunity to get his particular beliefs though. Their re-election was a close run thing, had the election been three months later after the stock market crash they would likely have been history.

            I think you and Heidi are right though, there is plenty of scope for politicians to be more bold and still succeed. The problem is the odds of success are always higher if you follow the middle and make incremental change.

        2. “I just don’t even believe it’s worth discussing in those terms until we’ve seen what public education can do.”
          Yes and no Heidi. Here’s what the Colmar Brunton Better Futures survey said last year:-
          “55% of New Zealanders who express high level
          of concern around the impact of climate change on NZ”.

          There’s the mandate to do something, anything; at both a central and government level. The time for talking is well past.

          1. The missing part of the survey is something like “Only 1% of NZdrs want to pay more tax and downgrade their lifestyle in order to deal with the impact of climate change.”

            Everyone is happy to do something as long as it costs them nothing.

          2. Ari, back pocket matters to many, but we’ve left it so long now, we’re all paying for the inaction anyway. I was discussing some local options for street reclamation with students from the local college on Wednesday. A couple of young men were smilingly describing their love of driving to school and disinterest in measures to make walking or cycling easier.

            Then I told them how many billions the government said we’d be paying in carbon abatement costs in the next decade. (I didn’t even go into the costs we’d be spending on repair from climate damage.) I asked them if it would be better to spend that money on making it fun to cycle places.

            Smirks disappeared and they showed me on my map where on their routes to school it was too dangerous on a bike.

          3. “Only 1% of NZdrs want to pay more tax and downgrade their lifestyle in order to deal with the impact of climate change.”

            Disagree Ari, ‘downgrading lifestyle’ isn’t really a tangible measurement. Eating less meat for instance, is actually cheaper thus leaving more money in your pocket. Cycling is cheaper, thus leaving more money in your pocket, plus the health benefits.

            Like Heidi says, its the education that needs to happen.

        3. Patrick, climate change doesn’t care a damn about the public or the right to use a car etc, it will force humans to adopt their living, working and travel habits to suit climate change.

          1. “Like Heidi says, its the education that needs to happen.”

            I see it differently. Education is undertaken for the purpose of educating people and is an end in itself. More than education is required.

            Consultation has the object of bringing a proposal or proposals to fruition. Yes the first part starts with the supply of information (education if you like), but the important part is that this process has the objective of delivering change by the implementation of part, or all of the proposals.

            Auckland desperately needs climate change consultation whereas we don’t simply need more talk inspired by education. This has achieved nothing to date.

            AT is well experienced in running consultation regarding a number of transport issues even if, in the past, they have not been particularly skilled at it.
            https://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/north-shore-times/101129454/high-court-puts-temporary-block-on-takapuna-car-park-sale

            Many people wrongly believe that consultation requires agreement before an organisation can proceed with the implementation of proposals. It doesn’t. It requires the provision of information; an opportunity to respond; consideration of the response; and feedback on the reponses. While there is likely to be a very high level of agreement that change is required there is likely to be much less agreement on the detail of the change required. (cf with a redundancy consultation where a company is loosing money. There is likely to be general agreement of the need for change, but most will not agree that it should be at the expense of their job.)

            At this stage Auckland needs brave leadership (I know, where is that going to come from?) to deliver change given that they have been enfranchised to deliver this from the general agreement that this is required.

      3. But where is the shiny fast service that is so compelling as to leave the car at home? Auckland largely has a crawling AT decored bus service meandering around the streets, ducking and diving into every slow part of every suburb. We get a basic, base model PT, cos it’s cheap. The attraction, therefore, is non-existent. We want to take people out of cars but then have sweet bugger to offer in return to do so.

        Fair enough if both local and central government fund a rapid economic transit system first but we don’t, we give the public the 1960’s version of public transport with a swipe card. Twyfords light rail is what is needed but will it happen, I seriously doubt it.

        If our leaders want people out of cars and really do take climate change seriously, you know, “the nuclear-free moment of my generation” blah de blah blah, then for God sake give them something first that works well and go from there. But not a wee bit more of the same!

        1. Jeeza, I will tell you in 4 months whether it is possible to be elected with a very strong commitment to climate change.

        2. And yet the main issue facing PT in this city during peak hours is lack of capacity. So it seems plenty of other people do find it compelling.

          But Aucklanders love their cars right?

          1. The vast majority do not. find it compelling, 90 plus percent. That there are capacity issues says more about the lack of resources our main mode can provide not that it’s sort after.

            Simply accepting the low standard that is Aucklands PT solves nothing and let’s our leaders off tte hook.

          2. So there are two observations here:
            — the main issue facing PT in this city during peak hours is lack of capacity

            — 83% of commuters is travelling to work by car.

            I would conclude that most people do not find it compelling, and that we do not have a meaningful amount of capacity on public transport.

          3. Keep in mind though that where only an OK level of PT (you can’t even really say a good level) has been supplied to the CBD, the proportion driving has fallen to 50%.

            You can’t say something that doesn’t exist isn’t compelling. I mean you can’t say that good PT isn’t compelling in Auckland because it really only exists.

            It would be like comparing driivng before all the trams were shutdown and the motorways built. You could surely have argued then that riivng wasn’t compelling.

            We should invest 90+% of our transport budget into only PT and cycling for 60 years. Then we will know whether it is compelling as driving. Actually I believe even doing that for 5 years would result in a major shift in mode share.

    1. How many cities can have “one of the world’s best” … anything?

      All cities can reduce their transport carbon emissions and air pollution, though. Auckland’s doing well to improve its public transport; we’re now poised to really tackle some of the big issues to work towards real access for everyone, whether they drive or not.

      Reducing traffic lanes is part of that work. AT was instructed to do so a few years ago so they must ready to really start rolling it out.

    2. Whatever, Singapore also has one of the best PT systems in the world and it is largely built around buses – about 4 million trips per day.
      By using bus lanes Auckland can, and needs to, rapidly scale up PT ridership.
      On of the main things slowing progress is the word “can’t”.

      1. Singapore has cheap taxis and a rapidly expanding underground network.
        It also has huge taxes on cars and Super Low income tax – I paid 30k on a 450k income last year.
        Are you sure Labour and the Greens are ready to follow the Singapore model? Because I for one favour driving only being for the rich. I really don’t want to share any lanes with you poor people from PT Chav.

  6. I often think about the new lanes roadworks at SH16 from Westgate to teAtatu while sitting in the early morning congested traffic. What if these extra lanes were just never opened to normal, mostly SOV, traffic. Instead sort out the Royal Rd, Lincoln Rd and TeAtatu on an off ramps to allow the new lanes to become dedicated PT only lanes, initially buses only then later rail lines.
    I know a few commuters from the NW who already reschedule the work start for a least one day later in morning or a few days per month telecommuting. I have also noticed the not insubstantial morning traffic now using Waitakere Rd to get to Swanson railway station instead of using SH16 to drive into the city.

    1. Paris also has quite high pricing for all city car parking while at the same time removing parking spaces, re-purposing them for shared vehicles and motor bikes. It is on the way to banning diesel vehicles from part of the city.
      France has motorway tolls.
      But not just Paris. Milan has a large part of the city closed to cars. Milan, Rome, London amongst other cities have central congestion charges.
      Sao Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world turns part of its main street over to bikes on Sunday. Here we reduce the price of parking on Sundays.
      I often wonder if we could have done anything less, but then I remember parts of the US.

  7. Just found this on the net. I have been embarrassed about Auckland’s lack ofeffort on climate change and these figures show this.

    “San Francisco, CA (13 Sept 2018) — 27 of the world’s greatest cities, representing 54 million urban citizens and $6 trillion in GDP have peaked their greenhouse gas emissions. New analysis reveals that the cities have seen emissions fall over a 5 year period, and are now at least 10% lower than their peak. City Halls around the world have achieved this crucial milestone, whilst population numbers have increased and city economies have grown. These 27 cities have continued to decrease emissions by an average of 2% per year since their peak, while populations grew by 1.4% per year, and their economies by 3% per year on average. ”

    Yes Auckland is a C40 city and so our leadership knows that they are right off the pace. And yet there has been nothing done.

    If you want to read the whole sorry indictment here it is:
    https://www.globalclimateactionsummit.org/27-cities-have-reached-peak/

  8. I was in Paris in 2005 and observed rush hour traffic, my first expectation was that total chaos would reign given that off-peak was on eye-opener for a Kiwi.
    I was surprised to see that motorists began to completely ignore the traffic signals and introduce common courtesy. The level of co-operation was near 100%, they had obviously learned that any other option resulted in grid-lock.
    Some intersections were manned by gallant Gendarmes, all of whom deserve the Medal of Honor and free mental health care at the end of each shift.
    However, the important fast is that the motorist can make it work when all else fails.

  9. Good post. Good to see some cities doing more radical things. I think Auckland is very close to having similar things happen…. hmmm think I’ve just contradicted my last comment on the climate change emergency.

  10. What is needed in the northwest, in lieu of a rail service to Kumeu/Huapai, is a bus service along Waitakere Road from K/H to Swanson. A bus service already goes from Swanson to Waitakere, why can’t it be extended the 7 or so ks to K/H through Taupaki. I’m one of those who uses Waitakere Road through Swanson to get onto the motorway at Lincoln Road, instead of sitting on SH16 between Kumeu and the Taupaki roundabout for half an hour or so (5ks).

    1. And Bogle mentions it above, too: “the not insubstantial morning traffic now using Waitakere Rd to get to Swanson railway station instead of using SH16 to drive into the city”.

      I’ve been watching the traffic counts. There was nothing since 2016 until they released some last month, which are for Waitakere Rd between an “Access Rd” and Hanham Rd (5-Day Average Daily Total Counts):

      12/8/2015 3380
      22/12/2018 2355
      29/12/2018 2320
      5/1/2019 3446

      They chose the summer break to take these counts – which may be because historically, traffic was a concern at that time? As a local, do you want to ask if they can take some counts in winter when school and university are both in, in order to get a handle on the commuter traffic?

      If commuter numbers can be shown to have risen, I think it’s an ideal road for putting in a bus from H/K to Swanson, with a bus gate which locals and bus drivers can operate, but which prevents the people ratrunning.

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