Picturing a Car-Free Seine: The New Vision for the Paris Waterfront

left_bank_before.jpgThe new plan for the Seine’s left bank will transform space for highways and parking into space for people. The area outside the Musee D’Orsay will host outdoor film screenings. Image: City of Paris.

A few weeks ago, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë announced a plan to transform his city’s waterfront, closing 1.2 miles of expressway on the left bank of the Seine and slowing the highway along the right bank to the speed of a city boulevard. For an added bit of historical irony, the city’s waterfront expressway is named for Georges Pompidou, the president responsible for scarring the nation’s cities with highways — the French Robert Moses, if you will.

Delanoë’s plan is the latest development in an incremental transformation that’s been years in the making. Soon after he became mayor in 2002, he instituted Paris Plage — a month-long transformation of the Pompidou into a riverfront beach, complete with sand and swimming — as a way of bringing summertime recreation to those not able to leave the city for vacation. Paris Plage was itself an expansion of the practice of giving the highway to pedestrians and cyclists for a few hours on summer Sundays. In 2006, it became "Paris Plages," as the popular beaches multiplied along the Seine.

Even this permanent highway closing isn’t the final word in Paris’s rediscovery of its river. "This is only a step," Denis Baupin, Paris’s deputy mayor for the environment, told Time Magazine

The politics of reclaiming so much space from the automobile — "reconquering the Seine," in Delanoë’s words — were a lot easier thanks to the massive investment in walking, bicycling, busways, and commuter rail that Paris has made over the last decade. The Paris city council votes on the proposal in July. 

More pictures below the fold: 

Pont_Alexandre.jpgParisians will have a new vantage point from which to take in the Pont Alexandre III, architectural highlight of the 1900 World’s Fair. Image: City of Paris
Seine_Greenery.jpg Much of the reclaimed space would be converted to parkland, consistent with Mayor Delanoë’s emphasis on bringing fresh air to Paris. Image: City of Paris

Urban_Boulevard_Right_Bank.jpgThe highway along the Right Bank would be reimagined as an urban boulevard. Image: City of Paris

  • What Delanoe has been steadily doing is more radical by far than anything that London, Portland or NYC has been doing. Rather than address mobility issues, Paris has truly tackled livability head on. Their streets were more auto-dominated than any of those cities and tens of miles of them have now been turned into great places to be with BRT that supports its context.

    They have even been talking with us about how to reorganize departments to better support Placemaking.

    Closing the highway along the Seine is the equivalent of removing the FDR and all traffic below the Brooklyn Bridge. Something we could perhaps consider doing…

  • Lars

    Next up: West Side Highway south of Brooklyn Bridge. Right? I mean come on the highway never has anyone in it. Turn it into a boulevard.

  • Luc

    Great points regarding turning FDR into a boulevard. Look out for the the NY proposal in the OUR CITIES OURSELVES exhibit coming up in June at the NY Center for Architecture. http://ourcitiesourselves.org

    Delanoe’s proposal is great (though there is room for improvement in the designs IMO). It is also a clever move in the local political chess game. Delanoe doesn’t have the power to implement this project on his own. Sarkozy holds the key, via the Paris Police Prefect who is appointed by the national government and rules over the roads of national importance in the city. Delanoe is testing Sarko on his commitment to the green cause.

    Anyway, like for Velib, Delanoe found inspiration in Lyon. Check out the awesome and already complete reclaiming of the left bank of the Rhone River:

  • I love how the glowing lights only appear on the after pictures. I guess you can’t add them without also closing the streets to cars.

  • Glenn

    Please do this to the FDR Drive. Please.

  • The FDR needs this, especially with a tram thrown into the mix. It’s not as if SAS will open anytime in the next 50 years. (This isn’t sarcastic.)

  • While Pompidou certainly was a powerful force for modernization in the machine-for-living school of modernity, it was really Jacques Chirac who was the Robert Moses of Paris. Before being elected president, he was the auto-loving mayor of Paris. And like Delanoe, it was HE who had the responsibility for rebalancing Paris’s mobility options.

  • Herzog

    I don’t like all of the plans pictures. The first and third set seem too “top-down” for me, i.e., they illustrate a vision that doesn’t seem very practical.

    For example, notice how there is green grass under the theatre seating. More realistically, the space would feel filled with dirt and trash and would discourage people from taking romantic strolls along the river at night.

  • JK

    Delanoe’s Paris has 1/4th the population of Bloomberg’s NYC. Politically and demographically, Paris is a lot like an NYC composed of Manhattan and West Brooklyn with no New York State to mess things up, and in which the boroughs have no voice. The only other political force Delanoe has to deal with is the president — so in our Paris NY analogy, Bloomberg deals with Obama. Yeah, somehow I think things would be different if that was our political structure.

  • SL

    horrific renderings. this must be a joke.

  • Omri

    I hope Cambridge, Mass could take notes on this…. The Charles River is in the same shape.

  • Herzog

    Omri, you can say that again! The “park” area next to the Charles is narrow and dirty, the path is poorly maintained, and it’s noise!!! The other bank of the river is no better. More room, but you have the horrific Storrow Drive.


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