As the city prepares to end lockdown, Mayor Anne Hidalgo plans to use bike lanes, buses, and social distancing to keep more cars off the roads and reduce pollution.
Returning to a Paris dominated by cars after lockdown ends is “out of the question,” according to the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo. Speaking Tuesday at a special session of the Paris City Council on transitioning after France’s national lockdown eases on May 11, Hidalgo was emphatic about maintaining the anti-pollution and anti-congestion measures introduced during her tenure, even as cities rethink transportation policies to avoid Covid-19 transmission.
“I say in all firmness that it is out of the question that we allow ourselves to be invaded by cars, and by pollution,” she said. “It will make the health crisis worse. Pollution is already in itself a health crisis and a danger — and pollution joined up with coronavirus is a particularly dangerous cocktail. So it’s out of the question to think that arriving in the heart of the city by car is any sort of solution, when it could actually aggravate the situation.”
During the height of lockdowns around the world, car traffic slowed to a trickle and air pollution plummeted with it. But as cities consider how to reopen while avoiding crowding on public transportation, it remains unknown how intense the surge in car use will be. This adds new urgency to Hidalgo’s pre-pandemic agenda to dramatically reduce the footprint of cars on the city. And she is joining several other European city leaders in strengthening commitments to cultivate other modes of transportation, particularly biking.
Hidalgo’s assertion of a link between Covid-19 and pollution is not without foundation. Already in the pandemic’s infancy, studies have suggested a link between poor air quality and Covid-19 deaths. Researchers at Harvard found that an increase in particulate pollution of just one microgram per cubic meter could increase a sufferer’s chances of dying by 15%. Air pollution is also known to exacerbate conditions such as asthma that may make the risk of Covid-19 mortality higher.
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