Paris works to spruce up City of Light

By Richard Carter and Christine Poehlmann, AFP

PARIS–Pedestrianized, diesel-free and open all hours: Paris is cleaning up its act as the City of Light seeks to cement its position as one of the world’s most visited cities. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo hit the headlines over the weekend with an ambitious plan to ban diesel cars from the city within five years and make the central four districts pedestrian-only, with a few exceptions. The inner city is one of the most densely populated in Europe and tourists are often surprised by the pollution and traffic, with a major arterial road thundering along one bank of the River Seine. And visitors hoping for a romantic stroll along the iconic Champs Elysees often find the mood killed by lane upon lane of honking traffic, culminating in a hectic 12-exit roundabout surrounding the Arc de Triomphe.

Earlier this year, a spike in air pollution pushed smog levels to one of the worst ever recorded, forcing authorities to take emergency measures, including banning one in two cars from the center and making all public transport free. So Hidalgo also aims to tackle what she called ��canyons of pollution,�� including along the Champs Elysees and the main east-west trunk road, the Rue de Rivoli, ensuring only the cleanest running cars use these main roads. And from January next year, Paris will throw another log on the fire in the battle against smog by banning wood burning in the capital and surrounding areas.

Not all Parisians are impressed. ��How am I going to get to work?�� complained 29-year-old estate agent Nathan Encaona, who commutes into the center by car. ��Should I just drop my car outside the pedestrian zone and jump on a bus?�� ��Not the main roads. That’s absurd,�� fumed Daniel Zahut, a 71-year-old Parisian. ��The Rue de Rivoli? Ridiculous.�� But visitors appeared more positive. The air in Paris is ��unhealthy,�� complained British tourists Ali Rhind, 60 and Paul Johnson, 67. Such a plan would make Paris a ��better place to live,�� said Johnson. Saturday in Paris, Sunday in London?

Paris welcomed some 32.3 million tourists last year �X including nearly one million from China �X and still claims to be the world’s leading destination, despite howls of protest from rival and neighbor London. But one of the disappointments often faced by tourists is to find shop doors shut on Sundays when searching for a snack, souvenir or the latest in Parisian chic. As in the rest of France, shops in Paris can apply for special Sunday opening rights from city authorities �X but only five times per year.