the car, soon banned from cities (and already absent from the presidential campaign)

This article is part of our “Les focuses de franceinfo” operation, which highlights key topics that were not widely covered in the presidential campaign: housing costs, the crisis in the public hospital, the taboo on mental health and the CO2 footprint of transport.


With 48,000 premature deaths a year attributed to pollution, the issue of private car traffic in urban areas is a public health problem that regularly comes to the forefront of concerns as scientists sound the alarm. But politicians remain cautious about the issue. The presidential candidates of 2022 even ignore almost every topic. However, under European pressure, legislation has evolved in France in recent years, allowing the state and local authorities to implement road traffic control systems based on systems implemented abroad. ZAPA (priority air deployment zones), ZCR (restricted traffic zone), ZFE (low emission zone), ZTL (high traffic zone) limit)… If the acronyms multiply to designate urban areas where we intend to limit or even eliminate private cars that emit greenhouse gases, you will not find them in the presidential candidates’ programs.

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When Emmanuel Macron promised to halve the number of days of air pollution in 2017, the question simply disappeared from his 2022 program. “lawless areas”. No better on the far left: Fabien Roussel as Jean-Luc Mélenchon considers them a factor of social discrimination. To the right, it is feared that the “yellow vests” will ignite. Valérie Pécresse therefore proposes to postpone their deployment until after 2025. Known for her willingness to ban cars from the streets of Paris, socialist Anne Hidalgo has continued to take measures to reduce car traffic in Paris since the 2014 election, cycle lanes, closure of Georges-Pompidou railway, etc. It again recently decided to tighten the rules by promising limited traffic zones by 2024. But in the end, only ecologist Yannick Jadot clearly states in his program his intention to support the deployment of ZFE throughout the territory .

ZFEs (low emission zones) are intended to prevent the most polluting vehicles from circulating in the event of pollution peaks. ZTL (traffic zone) limit)very rare in France (there are only two, one in Nantes since 2012, the other in Grenoble since 2017), aims to permanently limit the circulation of motor vehicles with the aim of also relieving city centers, limiting noise pollution and quiet space available to pedestrians and cyclists.

But giving up the use of his personal car is really difficult, especially for commuters in big cities, who show significant increases in their travel times with an inadequate public transport network. Some even see it as an obstacle to the freedom to come and go. Is this why the candidates for presidential election do not mention it when ecology is at the heart of current challenges and eight out of ten French people say they are “concerned” about the environment and climate change, according to a poll published on March 3? It is not about hampering freedom of movement, but about questioning the car’s place in transport in order to fight pollution first and foremost.

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In France, it was necessary to wait for European justice condemns the French state to his passivity and that the Council of State orders to see a really concrete reaction. The Mobility Orientation Act published in Official newspaper in December 2019 focuses on ZFEs, which are based on the Crit’Air label system introduced since July 2016. The establishment of a ZFE is the responsibility of local authorities. Its implementation is mandatory for cities that regularly exceed air quality standards. These are the Paris metropolitan area (40 municipalities including Paris), the Grenoble metropolis (27 municipalities including Grenoble), the metropolis Lyon and since 2021 the metropolises Aix-Marseille-Provence, Nice-Côte d’Azur, Toulon-Provence -Méditerranée, Toulouse , Montpellier-Méditerranée, Strasbourg and Rouen-Normandiet. By 31 December 2024, the Climate and Resistance Act will establish ZFEs in all metropolitan areas with more than 150,000 inhabitants (35 additional ZFEs).

Some recent and very local initiatives are fearfully trying to reverse the trend with ZTLs (restricted traffic zones). The acronym that emerged in France as part of the National Mobility Conference in 2017 is a concept that city dwellers, it seems, will need to become familiar with. Paris announced in mid-February that it would establish one in 2024, called a “peaceful zone”. It is not a pure pedestrian area, but a limited traffic area, meaning that only a few motorized vehicles will be accepted there on conditions. The sector in question will include the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements and the part of the left bank north of Boulevard Saint-Germain (5th, 6th and 7th). Transit traffic will be prohibited. Only public transport, pedestrians and cyclists get free circulation there, such as taxis and VTC. Only motorists or two-wheeled vehicles that justify a permanent or occasional exemption can drive into it.

Rennes, for its part, will test a ZTL from July to mid-October in its historic city center. And already now the municipality announces changes without any reversal from September. Faced with environmental challenges, “we have no choice: we must act now”, she reasoned. The idea is that vehicles wishing to cross the city should bypass the city center, including the 600 buses that will no longer pass through ZTL, but on the edge. The municipality will just give permission for a free electric shuttle, which is primarily intended for the elderly and people with reduced mobility, which will be deployed before the end of the year. A certain number of vehicles will still be able to enter ZTL: local residents, health and safety services, taxis, craftsmen, delivery people, hotel customers with reservations, etc. But some will have to justify their presence with a fine.

If a quantitative assessment of the impact of ZTLs on air quality or other environmental factors could not be found, Ademe noted in 2019, the incarceration decreed due to the Covid-19 epidemic in March 2020 provides some answers. Between January and April 2020, France saw its CO2 emissions fall by 7% during this period. And the National Institute for Industrial Environment and Risks (Ineris), which has performed simulations, estimates that NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) pollution has been reduced by 50% on average in 100 of the largest cities. In Paris and the Île-de-France region, where road traffic has fallen by almost 80%, the air quality monitoring agency AirParif has registered “an improvement in air quality of around 20 to 30%”. It should be noted that since the establishment of a ZTL in 2012 in Nantes, traffic has been divided by three in the area, from 15,000 vehicles a day to 5,000.

However, the concept of ZTL is not new. Italy began developing them in the 1970s. Its first goal was to protect the heritage of its art cities from pollution. ZTL has thus been set up in Ferrara, Florence and Siena. A massive proliferation followed after 1995 with the installation of electronic gates to control access and camera control was added in the 2000s. the road and then completed. Two years after their implementation in May 2004, there were an average of 100 to 150 unauthorized crossings per day in Turin, which corresponded to a turnover of around 4 million euros per year. With the increase from 9 to 37 portals, these revenues increased to around 20 million euros. The system has even evolved into a city tax in Milan. ZTL falls under the powers of the mayor, but is quite similar in the various Italian cities. It is generally in operation all year round, sometimes only for certain periods of time.

In 2019, Italy alone had 228 ZTLs out of the 238 listed by Ademe (Ecological Transition Agency) in eight countries: Italy, Belgium (1), Austria (1), Spain (3), Latvia (1), Czech Republic (1 )), Slovenia (1) and only two in France. And how many at the end of the next five-year period?

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